The lessons of Libya and Afghanistan

Friday 26/02/2016
Damaged buildings in Benghazi

More than 14 years after they smashed into Afghanistan and almost 13 years after they destroyed the state structures of Iraq, there is one small sign that US policymakers are starting to grasp the real cause for the rise of radical extremism across the Middle East and Central Asia.
US State Department Deputy Spokesman Mark Toner on Febru­ary 19th publicly expressed a cru­cial truth: The Islamic State (ISIS) has been able to put down roots in Libya and Afghanistan because it found areas where the writ of a weak or non-existent government did not run.
Toner was questioned on the uncomfortable truth that after all these years of major US military involvement in Afghanistan and the creation of a new, central and supposedly democratic govern­ment, crafted precisely to plans micromanaged by successive US administrations, the forces of ISIS, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are resurgent again in that unhappy country and creating new centres of activity there.
The same story applies in Libya where, more than four years after US President Barack Obama and his then-secretary of state and likely successor Hillary Clinton master­minded the toppling of longtime ruler Muammar Qaddafi, at least 3,000 ISIS activists and by some estimates as many as 6,000 have established a secure operational base in that country, too.
Toner predictably refused to acknowledge that US policy sup­porting the toppling of Qaddafi had been a mistake but he did at least admit that more than four years of anarchy since Qaddafi’s violent death had allowed ISIS to securely penetrate Libya, something ter­rorist groups never managed to pull off during Qaddafi’s 42 years of rule.
“I can say that we’ve seen ele­ments of (ISIS) or (ISIS)-affiliated groups spring up in Afghanistan,” Toner said during the briefing. “I mean, they look for ungoverned spaces. There are parts of Pakistan that are havens for some of these terrorist organisations.”
And why had the same thing happened in Libya? Toner put his finger on the same reason there, too: “Due to lack of a… unified gov­ernment in Libya for some years now, it has led to, as we talked about, some of these ungoverned spaces where groups like (ISIS) can establish a foothold.”
At first glance, Toner’s points seemed innocuous. After all, where else would you expect ISIS to establish itself but in “ungoverned spaces” and “ungoverned places”?
But why exactly were those un­governed spaces and ungoverned places that way in the first place? Why did they not exist in Libya and Iraq while Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, tyrannical though they both undoubtedly were, were still alive?
The answer, of course, is simple and clear: It was relentless Ameri­can policymaking, the ceaseless undermining of traditional govern­ments and then their destruction in the name of creating brave new worlds of democracy, free markets and a mythical “freedom” that allowed previously marginal and despised extremists to emerge and metastasise in power and vicious­ness.
Nor is this unique to the Arab world: We see the same phe­nomenon today in the Orthodox Christian nation of Ukraine where, a mere two years after a democrati­cally elected constitutional govern­ment was toppled in a violent revo­lution to the enthusiastic applause of the European Union and the United States, neo-Nazi brigades openly flaunt their infamous ban­ners and wreak havoc in a vicious civil war.
There is not the slightest chance that Toner’s inadvertent words of wisdom will convince him or any­one else in the Obama administra­tion to change US policies. Indeed, under Hillary Clinton or Marco Rubio as president they could get much worse.
The mad repetition of ancient crimes and crazed fantasies contin­ues unabated.