Iraq, Afghanistan, Terrorism and a Word on Turkey

July 18, 2016

On July 6, 2016, Mr. Tony Blair responded to the Report of the Iraq Inquiry during a two-hour-long press conference. Answering a question, he said that there was a decision and it was a controversial decision – a decision to remove Saddam and a decision to be with America. “Now many people would disagree with both of those decisions,” he added, “Sir John Chilcot came quite close to it this morning. That’s fine, but if you’re going to do that, you have to say what the consequences of the opposite decision would have been.”

Of course, the decision to invade Iraq was not taken in London but in Washington. Mr. Blair joined in under enormous pressure from the other side of the Atlantic. However, he was not being fair in criticizing the Iraq Inquiry for not having speculated on what would have happened had the decision not been taken. This was not the purpose of the Inquiry. Nonetheless, one can make two observations, the first on Afghanistan and the second on terrorism.

In his address to the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2013, President Obama said:
“… Together, we’ve also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago, nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harm’s way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.
“For the United States, these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing…”

Indeed, in December 2014, America’s combat mission in Afghanistan came to an end. Thereafter, US forces focused on training and advising Afghan forces, and supporting counterterrorist operations against the remnants of al Qaida as well as other terrorist groups, including ISIL.

A year later, in October 2015 the President announced that he had decided to maintain current US posture of 9,800 troops in Afghanistan through most of 2016, before dropping to 5,500.

Lastly, the same day the Report of the Iraq Inquiry was made public, and only two months before the fifteenth anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mr. Obama announced that instead of going down to 5,500 by the end of the year, the US will maintain approximately 8,400 troops in Afghanistan into the next year and that the US forces will be given more flexibility to support Afghan forces on the ground and in the air. He said, despite progress made, the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious.

And, on July 9, NATO’s Warsaw Summit reiterated Alliance’s continuing commitment to Afghanistan’s peace and stability.

It may be worth remembering that 9/11, created a wave of worldwide sympathy and support for the US. NATO invoked Article 5 of the Washington Treaty for the first time in its history. The UN Security Council recognizing the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense in accordance with the Charter, unequivocally condemned the attacks. On 7 October 2001 the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom was launched against the Taliban. Kabul was captured by the coalition forces on October 13, 2001. The last major Taliban stronghold Kandahar fell on December 7, 2001, marking the end of the Taliban’s rule in Afghanistan. All of this took two months but then came the more difficult phase of ensuring national reconciliation in a country bitterly divided on ethnic, sectarian and regional lines, the rebuilding of state institutions, the rebuilding of the economy in one of world’s poorest countries, meeting the basic needs of the people, restructuring and training of the army and the police, eradicating corruption. These constituted a huge challenge not only for the new Afghan regime but also the international community. It required a focused endeavor, particularly in view of the threat of terrorism.

The invasion of Iraq shifted Washington’s attention away from Afghanistan. It divided the international community. It led to controversy within NATO. Two major military operations proved to be costly even for the world’s only superpower. So, one may conclude with a good degree of certainty that had the Bush administration not got entangled in Iraq, Afghanistan could have been in a somewhat better position today.

As the Nice terrorist attack has showed once again, the invasion of Iraq also spawned terrorism. The world reacted strongly to this monstrous act but everybody recognizes that this not going to be end of the story because this more than a security issue. This is why European countries have to look at the root causes of homegrown terrorism such as exclusion, alienation. Americans have to address the question of what some refer to as the racial divide. Islamic countries have to openly challenge the jihadist ideology of terrorist organizations such as ISIL, al Qaida and al Nusra. The BBC reported that among the 84 who died in Nice was Fatima Charrihi, whose son said she was the first to die. “All I can say is she wore a veil and practiced Islam in the proper way. A real Islam, not the terrorists’ version.” Islamic countries have to elaborate on that going beyond timidly mentioned generalities. And, the world will have to agree on a broad common strategy to fight the scourge of terrorism, a herculean task under current international circumstances.

The coup attempt of last Friday was yet another blow to Turkey’s democratic evolution; with nearly three hundred dead, the darkest page in the history of the Republic. In October 2005 Ankara had launched accession talks with the EU. A decade later, in a dramatic reversal of fortune, we are fully integrated into the Middle East mayhem, leaving our friends and allies gasping.

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