Barack Obama says that the war on terror is over. David Goldman replies that it is just beginning.
Thus far, Goldman has a far better record analyzing the situation in the Muslim world, so we do well to take his view seriously.
Here, Goldman describes the situation that Obama believes is not fraught with danger:
The collapse of Middle Eastern states from Libya to Afghanistan vastly increases the terrorist recruitment pool, while severely restricting the ability of American intelligence services to monitor and interdict the terrorists. In addition, it intensifies the despair that motivates Muslims like the Tsarnaev brothers or Michael Adebolajo to perpetrate acts of terrorism. That makes President Obama’s declaration that America is winding down the “war on terror”–a misnomer to begin with–the worst decision by an American commander-in-chief since the Buchanan administration, perhaps ever.
Syria’s crack-up is at the top of the agenda, but the breakdown of putative nation-states extends across nearly all of the Muslim world. As Amos Harel reported in the Tablet symposium, the prime minister of Libya “has to cross checkpoints manned by five different militias, on his way home from office.” In place of regular armies controlled by dictators, Libya is crisscrossed by ethnic and sectarian militias (including the one that murdered our ambassador last September). Egypt is on the brink of economic collapse and state failure; Iraq is in the midst of a low-intensity sectarian war; Syria’s civil war already is being fought out in Lebanon; and Turkey’s border has become unstable.
A vast number of young men have been drawn into irregular combat. Syria has become the cockpit of a Sunni-Shi’ite war, with Turkey and the Gulf states funneling money and jihadists into Syria while Iran sends Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah irregulars to the aid of the Assad regime. The young men of Libya already are mobilized into militias; Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood cells and Salafists and football mobs are not yet armed, but are organized. Iraq’s sectarians are armed to the teeth, in part thanks to American funding of the “Sunni Awakening” during the 2007-2008 surge. Very large numbers of young men are ready to fight to the death, while the breakup of the fragile civilian society of these countries draws more and more of them into the maelstrom. Terrorism has become a way of life in Syria, where both sides instigate atrocities, in part to intimidate their opponents and in part to bind their own fighters to the cause by making them complicit in such crimes.
Finally, Goldman emphasizes a point that I have often made on this blog. A civilization that has shown itself incapable of building will assert its false pride by destroying what others have built:
Radicalized Muslims must now contemplate the ruin of their civilization from Tripoli to Kabul. Millions of Syrians are displaced and have no homes to go back to. Millions of Egyptians are hungry. Not only the suffering, but the humiliation of the national ruin of Egypt and Syria leave radical Muslims with little to hope for. The motivation to take as much of the world down with them has mushroomed in the context of state failure.
By his analysis, the end of the war on terror is nowhere in sight.