A new and perhaps apocalyptic phase of the Long War is underway with the Paris attacks coupled with spreading threats across Europe. In a replay of September 11, Europe now will swing further to the anti-immigrant Right politically, to increased police and surveillance crackdowns, and increased rhetoric about a "war of civilizations."
The new Dark Ages are well underway, and will not end soon. The US military's original projection of the Long War, voiced by Gen. John Abizaid in 2004 and elaborated by counterinsurgency architect David Kilcullen, was for 50-80 years of fighting across the "arc of crisis" in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. The conflict may well last even longer and inevitably is coming "home" to Europe as happened in the US in 2001.
The immediate fallout in American politics will be a new boost to the already-swollen military budget. Questions about CIA torture and cover-ups are likely to fade. The Congress is more likely than ever to authorize the war against ISIS with minimal conditions. Efforts to demilitarize domestic policing will stall. Barack Obama's agenda on climate change, immigrant rights and economic inequality may be under siege.
While the progressive preference should be for addressing domestic priorities over foreign military adventures, it is also true that important social change has occurred in wartime conditions. Whatever the next stages of the Long War, insistent struggles over police shootings, immigrant rights, wage increases, climate emission reductions, and tuition fights will continue. The danger, of course, is the diversion of mass attention to terrorism and the swelling of military spending at the expense of the shrinking discretionary budget of the federal government. Those in despair over this bind should remember that progressives achieved Medicare despite the Vietnam War and important environmental laws despite Richard Nixon and the Vietnam/Watergate debacle. Defending progressive gains must remain an imperative in the next two years. And electing a Democratic president and Senate is a strong possibility in 2012.
What to do then about the current terrorism crisis?
It may be temporarily unpopular, but the reasons for the immediate chaos and violence are explainable, and don't require mindless attacks on Islam as "inherently" bloodthirsty.
First, the Obama administration should not be blamed for "prematurely" withdrawing our troops from Iraq, as the likes of FOX and John McCain are claiming. The fault was in leaving intact a Shiite-controlled Baghdad regime installed and protected by American power, free to impose their will violently against the Sunni population in Iraq where Al Qaeda and, later, ISIS gained power. We still don't know why an Iranian ally was left empowered in Baghdad to inflict its sectarian will in the vacuum left by the US. The Obama administration has tried to correct course by pushing former Prime Minister al-Maliki out of power and rebuild an Iraqi Sunni base against ISIS. But the "rebalancing" has not gone far enough, and may be too late to put a Humpty-Dumpty regime back together again.
The second historic misjudgment was the US paralysis towards the sectarian [Alawite] minority regime in Damascus, which has held power in family hands for forty years. While the US correctly chose to avoid direct militarily intervention in another sectarian war, it never made a priority of assuring that Assad would fall, fearing chaos and the rise of extremists. That policy assured that a vast territory would be open for the rise and consolidation of the Islamic State, which also created a strategic "rear area" for the Sunni resistance in Iraq.
These were the immediate causes of the rise of ISIS, which is frequently compared to the genocidal Khmer Rouge at a peak period of the Indochina War. In those days, North Vietnamese troops were needed to attack and defeat the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge, but there is no such force available against the Islamic State today.
Additional reasons are the US decision to side with Saudi Arabia in its de facto war with Iran; the decision to tolerate the coup in Egypt against the elected Muslim Brotherhood; and of course the endless disaster of defending Israel's resistance to Palestinian statehood. The other menus of disastrous judgments have been the overthrown of the Libya regime and Obama's related definition of Yemen as a model for tamping down the US counterterrorism strategy.
A Crusader mentality seems to flow, at least unconsciously, in Western thinking about the current crisis. For a Crusader power like France, its colonial history in North Africa seems compartmentalized and forgotten in its national narrative of "liberte, egalite, and fraternity." Even though encircled by banlieues of oppressed immigrants from their own colonies, the stark contradiction so far remains beyond fundamental reform.
The American Right and the neo-conservatives are correct insofar as they claim that addressing these causes will not end the rise of Islamic terrorism embodied by groups like ISIS. But that is an opportunistic partisan argument against liberals. No one has argued that recognition of a Palestinian state will resolve the Middle Eastern crisis, but it is sheer opportunistic idiocy to claim the issues are unconnected. No one argues that a diplomatic agreement with Iran will bring Hezbollah and Hamas to shake hands with Tel Aviv, but it's irresponsible and even unpatriotic to remain blind to the consequences of America's overthrow of the 1954 democratically elected Teheran government. No serious person believes that a diplomatic gesture will calm the Islamic State, but the record is clear that the US Iraq war created Al Qaeda in Iraq and spawned the creation of ISIS.
In short, the thrust of American foreign policy as a whole diminishes our national security, undermines diplomacy and undercuts our democratic hopes at home. Once all causes of the current crisis are disregarded, the only course is an escalating spiral of terrorism and counterterrorism. A fateful decision by Congress to authorize US ground troops in Iraq and Syria will open the gates of hell.
The courage to responsibly and intelligently define an alternative to the Long War on Terrorism is as important today as questioning the Cold War at the time of the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.