The US likes to claim that it is fighting its last battle against Daesh, and President Donald Trump is keen to announce the end of the group and the battles to defeat it in Syria. However, these are misguided remarks intended to deceive American voters and public opinion. The simple truth is that Daesh cannot be defeated by war.
Experience of fighting extremist organisations demonstrates this. In 1996, the US Air Force bombed Al-Qaeda sites in Sudan and camps run by Osama Bin Laden. In 2001, US forces invaded Afghanistan, ousted the Taliban regime, and then told the world that it had crushed Al-Qaeda, which stands accused of the 11 September attacks against New York and Washington. In 2003, the US more or less destroyed everything in Iraq, apart from, it soon became clear, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi’s camps, which were not only spared, but also thrived by attracting the youth who are more extreme than Al-Qaeda and the like.
All the wars waged by the US and its allies to eliminate extremist organisations have failed, and their results are manifest now for all to see. We don’t need expert reports about their failure. If the US attack on Sudan had been successful in 1996, Al-Qaeda probably would not have been capable of carrying out the 9/11 attacks. If the occupation of Afghanistan had achieved its goals, Al-Zarqawi and his camps in Iraq would not have appeared. If the American war on Iraq had succeeded and expelled the so-called terrorists from the country, we would not have found Daesh in Syria subsequently. Reality tells us that wars have failed to eliminate terrorism and extremist thought completely.
Every time that terrorism pockets and cells are eliminated, more appear and weaken the state. What’s more, it is ultimately civilians who pay the price for the US “war against terrorism”, which hasn’t eliminated the scourge.
Why so many failures? Terrorist organisations are not formal military structures, such as national armies, that can be defeated by normal warfare. More importantly, the human resources of terrorist groups are usually desperate and frustrated youth, who have given up on peaceful political change and are frustrated by political participation. Most of these individuals are from countries that lack democracy and human rights, including freedom of speech. In their frustration, such people believe that violence is the only way to bring about change. This explains why Daesh emerged on the ruins of the Arab Spring revolutions and in response to the counter-revolutions that have destroyed people’s hopes for peaceful political change across the Middle East.
The bottom line is that democracy, the promotion of freedom and respect for human rights are the only way to eliminate violence and terrorism and the armed groups behind them. Armed insurrection should be completely unnecessary in countries promoting such values in society. Young people will feel that it is worthwhile to participate in peaceful political processes, and keep away from delinquency, extremism and violence.
Bombs, missiles and “boots on the ground” may kill some Daesh fighters, but won’t kill the ideology fuelling their struggle. If the United States and its allies want to eliminate Daesh and all of its manifestations, it must stop supporting tyrannical regimes in the Arab world and work instead to establish modern democratic states.
Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 12 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.