On the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi
This is a good piece on the death of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. Bush did a fine job taking out Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi. Obama did a fine job taking out Osama Bin Laden. Trump did a fine job taking out Baghdadi. US soldiers – especially Special Forces – and US intelligence did a heroic job in each case.
And yet, the enemy kept coming back, morphing into something new. The origins go back before the Iraq invasion, obviously. Bin Laden and Al-Zawhiri got their start in Afghanistan in the 1980s, inspired by Sayd Qutb in the 1960s. The history of mutating violent jihadism, the hydra of terrorism that never really goes away, is well-known. There were important new iterations with each step. For ISIS it was the existence of a “Caliphate” and the slick usage of social media to prey upon alienated people worldwide much like white nationalists do.
The Caliph was wiped out by our Kurdish allies a year ago. The same Kurdish allies did the hard work in recapturing ISIS territory and in providing intelligence for US Special Forces to hunt Baghdadi down in Turkish-controlld Idlib. That’s right: Turkish-controlled Idlib. It’s almost like Turkey was nod-nod-wink-wink sheltering Baghdadi just like Pakistan’s ISI was sheltering Bin Laden. How else did Baghdadi get over to Idlib, which is nowhere near the old “Caliphate.” And now we have abandoned those Kurdish allies so the Turks can ethnically cleanse them. Which takes us back to this piece: The forever war.
Is there an answer to the underlying root causes? Sure, but it means abandoning US “strategic” priorities in the region, whether oil, Israel, shipping lanes, “democracy”, water rights, natural gas pipelines, you name it. And yet, yanking back from existing commitments creates a vacuum filled by even worse terrorists. A bipartisan, multi-generational quagmire. Big powers fill up the vacuum and experiment with weapons and slogans of mass death. It’s Lebanon in the 1970s, the eastern European Bloodlands between 1930 and 1945, the Balkans a century ago, China’s Taiping Rebellion of the 1860s or the Paraguayan War of the same decade that annihilated a whole country (not to mention the US Civil War), civil wars in Kongo-Angola, Benin and Senegambia in the 1700s that fueled a trans-Atlantic slave trade, or the decaying remains of the German Holy Roman Empire in the 1600s, which produced its own global refugee crisis (including emigration to North America). Each crisis was exploited by extremists. Usually rival extremists, with predatory regimes eager to secure its piece of the pie.
There are no easy answers, but there should be no illusions either that these perpetual crises will be solved with a targeted assassination, regional peace deal or strong man who takes charge. It will take some more imagination.