Michael Krull was the nation campaign manager for Newt Gringrich 2012 and teaches courses at Georgetown University. Read his full biography!
With recent attacks on Americans in Libya and Algeria, militant Islamist insurgencies in Mali and Nigeria, and Islamist political victories across North Africa, is this region becoming yet another major front in the unpleasantness formerly known as the War on Terror?
The short answer seems to be yes.
In a broad arc from Pakistan in the east, through Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Mali and Nigeria, the Arab Spring, which began in late 2010, has fractured the stability that these sometimes-oppressive regimes imposed on their people. Add to these the failed state of Somalia in the Horn of Africa and the long-troubled country of Sudan – now technically two countries: Sudan and South Sudan – and we can see that the region as a whole is growing more dangerous.
While the Arab Spring may eventually in the end be good for the countries in question, the region and the world as a whole, the short-term consequences include the seemingly sudden appearance of Islamic militants in countries where there was once stability and calm.
As central governments in North Africa disintegrated and social and political chaos ensued, long-simmering feuds between tribes and religious philosophies emerged to the fore. Those who would rather settle matters by force of arms rather than by political means, took advantage of the situation and helped themselves to weapons and military hardware, and set up camp in relatively uninhabited areas of these countries where they have become a motivated and relatively effective fighting force.
Militants from across the Arab world, who had been trained and fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan also decided that it was a good opportunity to join in the fight with their brothers against the West and Muslims who to them seemed too cozy with the West, and arrived in North Africa to continue the fight.
In remarks on “Meet the Press” this past weekend, outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey sounded the right messages, but how on earth were we caught so flat-footed?
One need only look to the recent history in Eastern Europe to see that once the Cold War was over and the old framework was lifted, ethnic tensions flared. Certainly the military should have learned this lesson – they are still in what was once Yugoslavia under NATO auspices. Panetta, too, should have learned these lessons. He was White House chief of staff under President Bill Clinton when tensions flared in Yugoslavia. He was Director of Central Intelligence when the Arab Spring started.
It is unfathomable.
One real problem we have is that if you overlay the artificial bureaucratic framework for looking at the world from the State Department with that of the Department of Defense’s regional commands, you begin to see the problem. Regional bureaus in State do not match those of DOD commands. Added to this is the problem that the entire region I outlined above is split between more than one bureau at State and more than one command within DOD. The intelligence agencies also have their own artificial way of splitting up the world. Intra- and inter-agency coordination is stretched to the limit.
One also needs to keep in mind that North Africa – long before Afghanistan – was the safe haven for al Qaida in the 1990s, again, when Panetta was chief of staff. An al Qaida-trained group in 1993 bombed the World Trade Center in New York. In 1998, al Qaida bombed our embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. In response, President Clinton ordered air strikes against al Qaida targets in Libya and Sudan.
Our bureaucracies have for 20 years failed to catch up with reality. Like the Cold War, we are in for the long haul in our struggle against militant Islam. Republicans need to take the lead to realign bureaucracies for this fight, as well as to make sure that we can pay for it. Damn the internal Congressional fights over Members’ power and control of committee oversight; this needs to happen – the sooner the better.
Since we cannot go it alone, we need to ensure that we engage our allies and willing partner countries in Africa and throughout the region in this fight as well. European nations naturally have a deep interest in this, since they have long historical ties with the countries of Africa, and also because the Mediterranean Sea is not much of a deterrent. Once in Europe, the free movement throughout the continent stemming from the creation of the European Union, plus the emigration to Europe of millions from North Africa and the Middle East over the past five decades makes the spread of Islamic militancy an existential threat.
If you don’t believe that, read history. Muslims crossed the Straight of Gibraltar in 711 and occupied most of Spain until almost 1500; in the East, the Ottoman Empire in 1483 invaded Europe as far as Hungary. They later penetrated Europe as far as Vienna and lay siege to the city in both 1529 and 1683. Faced with this threat, European kings unified to expel the Ottomans.
If it can happen in the days of wooden ships, horses and slow communications, it can certainly happen now. Right now, militant Islam seems to have the momentum and the will. We need to summon our political will and engage fully in the fight.