Once again the West has been stirred to outrage. Two bombs were set off in a bustling airport and one in crowded subway car in Brussels. Now we #PrayForBelgium. The West has long turned a blind eye to the violence it wages around the world, but this is different. Once again, ‘they’ are attacking ‘us’ here at home.
The attack is tragic, but it shouldn’t be a surprise. To say the West’s ‘War on Terror’ has been an extraordinary failure is inaccurate. In actuality, it is accelerating terrorism.
In fact, during the 14 years of the ‘War on Terror’, the West has failed to eliminate even one terror organization, yet groups like ISIS have risen from the ashes of the West’s counterterror policy.
My analysis of US State Department data shows that terror attacks have increased by a staggering 65 times since 9/11. This massive escalation in terror really skyrocketed during the US War in Iraq. British Intelligence has dubbed this the ‘Iraq Effect’.
According the US State Department, in 2003, there were 208 terror attacks around the world, but that number had jumped to 11,000 attacks just 2 years later. In the years since the number of attacks has generally been above 10,000. It’s tragically fitting that the attack in Brussels occurred just 2 days after the 13th anniversary of the US War in Iraq. The Iraq War, the centerpiece of the US ‘War on Terror’, gave rise to ISIS, the very terror organization, which claimed responsibility for the attack in Brussels.
Many of the US’ counterterror failures have their roots in the colossal disaster that was the US war in Iraq. ISIS exploited the destruction and instability of war to attract foreign jihadists, gain local support, and create a deeply rooted organizational structure.
Anger over the US war is a common motivation cited for why individuals join ISIS, according to interviews with captured militants.
Most of ISIS’ leadership is Iraqi and the group’s rise reflects the political failures in Iraq and Syria. The discrimination and violent repression of the Sunni community by the Iraqi government and Assad regime created a situation where many Sunnis see ISIS as a preferable option to the state structures ISIS has replaced.
In response to the rise of ISIS, the West has taken its preferred form of action, violence. The US-led coalition has launched almost 11,000 strikes, which have killed 10,000 ISIS fighters, on an ISIS military force, which the CIA officially estimates to be 30,000, though this is likely a large underestimate.
This enormous use of force has predictably been largely unsuccessful. In fact, it actually fuels resentment by the local population by leaving communities caught between ISIS’s harsh rule and the West’s indiscriminate violence. Military destruction without a political solution has only deepened the crisis and aided ISIS recruitment.
The US-Russia/Iran rivalry is another serious problem. It only sows division in the effort to fight terrorism in Iraq and Syria. The effect is that the US is turning its back on some of the most effective partners in the fight against ISIS. Anyone hoping for a change of course in the West’s reaction to terror was quickly disappointed this week.
The US Secretary of Defense quickly announced the Pentagon will increase funding for the US air strikes on ISIS, and Obama is even concerned a major terror attack in the US may force the US into a “large and costly war in the Middle East”.
But more violence abroad wasn’t the only response to Brussels the US offered. We also saw Donald Trump renewing his pledge to ban Muslims from entering the US, and Ted Cruz calling for police patrols in ‘Muslims neighborhoods’.
Not to be outdone by politicians, ordinary citizens exhibited some of that famous ‘Western civilization’ with the hateful hashtag #StopIslam, which was trending worldwide on Twitter.
Hillary Clinton also got in on the action. She called for censoring the Internet and for Muslims to rat on their friends and family if someone they know catches the ‘extremism’ bug.
Based on these responses, it seems the West will be unable to stem the tide of terror in the West, and worse yet, there doesn’t seem to even be an understanding of what drives individuals towards ‘jihadism’.
The two major aspects of the West’s ‘War on Terror’, an enormous amount of violence, and the demonization of Muslims, are only recipes for increased terrorism. ISIS may lose territory, but if the underlying sectarian polarization and political crisis is unresolved, the conditions that allow ISIS to exist will remain in place in Iraq and Syria.
Ultimately, if the vast majority of the West’s resources continue to go to escalating the risks of terror, and the West continues to ignore the Persian Gulf’s funding for extremism, then all the police and intelligence integration imaginable will fail to stop terrorism. The fundamental goal of counterterror should be to prevent the conditions, which draw people to become terrorists, rather than just attempting to prevent attacks from being carried out.
A seismic shift is needed in the West’s counterterrorism policy, or the attacks in Belgium are sure to be but a small taste of what is to come for Europe and the US.
Paul Gottinger is a staff reporter at RSN whose work focuses on the Middle East and the arms industry. He can be reached on Twitter @paulgottinger or via email.
The Afghan Tribune | Paul Gottinger | Published: March 27, 2016, 12:17 PM