Fallujah has fallen to al-Qaeda: The failure that has led us here

The failure is not the fault of President Bush or President Obama, but of their combined failures. Photo: Gunman celebrate after overtaking Fullujah/ AP

WASHINGTON, January 7, 2014 — There is no way to sugar coat this: Al-Qaeda, through its regional affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), has captured Fallujah. ISIS set up shop in Iraq ten years ago as al-Qaeda’s own franchise insurgency group. It was formed to do as much damage to the invading allies and cause as much destabilization as possible. After a fierce firefight against Iraqi security forces and tribal militia loyal to the Iraqi government, the scene of one of the fiercest battles of the Second Gulf War has been taken by al-Qaeda.

Didn’t President Barack Obama tell the country during his reelection campaign that al-Qaeda has been “decimated”? Didn’t he and Vice President Joe Biden tell the country that al-Qaeda was on the run?


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How have we come to this?

To be fair, the blame for the rise of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the region is not just Obama’s, nor is it President George W. Bush’s. They share the blame because they failed to understand the dangers their foreign and military policy decisions posed. Theirs was a fundamental failure to properly address those dangers.

ISIS was formed because the United States invaded Iraq and stayed too long. The United States was a slow moving leviathan which tore up the earth and drove fresh recruits into the arms of the enemy. We went into Iraq with a vast occupying force which was incapable of minimizing collateral damage. As a result, men who would not otherwise pick up a rifle against the West decided to fight against American and allied troops.

President Bush could not or would not see that prolonged wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan with conventional occupying troops would lead to a fierce and relentless insurgency. ISIS was founded by al-Qaeda in Iraq to specifically run insurgent operations and destabilize the region.


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We invaded Iraq and defeated the conventional forces of the Iraqi army, but then we stayed to rebuild a nation with tens of thousands of troops, and tanks, and planes. We failed to adapt to the new enemy as our forces converted from invading to occupying. An Abrams rolling through the streets of Baghdad to an Iraqi, radical or not, is a sign of oppression. Such occupying measures by the U.S. armed forces and their allies only served to swell the ranks of the enemy, as well as supply them with ample fighting experience against trained American security assets.

We were stuck in the mud in Iraq, swatting mosquitos with artillery and drone strikes, but we were still getting bitten. What is more, we continued to stay and believe that the best way to defeat the insurgency was by making a larger military footprint.

President Obama has fared no better; while Bush helped create the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama did nothing to address them. Why would he? A struggling mission in Iraq we beneficial to him politically, and should he be questioned on his foreign policy he could simply point to Iraq and blame his predecessor.

His failure is another inability to predict the outcome of his actions. He readily supported revolution in Egypt which brought the Muslim Brotherhood to power. He readily supported Libya which destabilized the region, allowed for further fighting after their civil war, and cleared the way for another al-Qaeda affiliated group, al-Qaeda on the Islamic Maghreb, to make gains and run an insurgency in the area. In Syria, al-Nusra, the Syrian civil war group founded by al-Qaeda, has made territorial gains in the northern half of the country, prompting the U.S. to partially cut off some aid.


SEE RELATED: Obama’s Syria speech stirs Iraq deja vu


The United States has directly, through both Presidents Bush and Obama, contributed to the strengthening and the rise of al-Qaeda in North Africa and the Middle-East. Osama-bin Laden is dead, but that does not seem to matter lately. His death may even have marked the end of a centralized and stagnant leadership unable to make moves without bin Laden’s permission. His death could have allowed for a greater degree of movement among the various affiliated groups, leading to the gains that we have seen time and time again in the news. 

President Bush completely threw two nations into chaos by invading without a cohesive and effective occupation plan. He failed to learn from previous empires that large occupying forces do not do well in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.

But what Bush broke, Obama has done nothing to fix; he’s broken it worse than it was. He completely withdrew from Iraq in 2011, deciding to fill the vast power vacuum with billions of dollars instead of working to form a real Iraqi government. But those options were arguably denied him after eight years of occupation and fighting.

That withdrawal left an enormous power void, one which an emboldened al-Qaeda was more than happy to fill. Obama not only fails to see their rise, he helps it. He helped destabilize Libya, allowing al-Qaeda to take advantage of the unstable clime. He maintains a sizable force in Afghanistan, which only serves to perpetuate insurgency and call more men to the al-Qaeda banner. And lastly, the most egregious and damning failure of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy, is that it actively funds and arms al-Qaeda in Syria.

Al-Qaeda seems to have our number down. They have a simple plan, and are carrying it out with some degree of success. First they seek to destabilize the region, then wait until the Americans are gone, wait until national government is too weak to adequately respond, wait until American retaliation would be politically unpopular, and then seize territory. That is exactly what is going on in Iraq and in Libya, and their allies in Syria are receiving American arms and money while undermining American interests elsewhere.

What danger do they pose to us? What is the real danger that al-Qaeda poses to American interests should they gain control of a nation?

Our presence in the Middle East is a result of our national interests in energy as well as other natural resources, and we have made enemies as a result of those efforts. A United States withdrawn from the Middle East will still continue to be a target of radical Islam. Sheiks and Imams will still call for our demise, jihad will still be carried out upon us and our interests, and we will still be at war with the radical Muslims.

We are seen by many radicals as the evil Christian West, and while it would certainly remove much of the cause for their hatred if we withdrew from the area, those in power need an enemy to continue preaching their hate and maintaining their support. Radical Islam and those who seek to establish governments in line with that cause will be a constant threat to the United States and their allies. The United States will continue to support Israel, and because of this they will be a target of radical Islam, which constantly seeks their destruction. 

Until al-Qaeda and their affiliates are taken as seriously as they should by this administration, we will continue to see small territory grabs by local jihadist affiliates in the wake of American and allied withdrawals, as well as North African and Middle Eastern civil wars. In time, if this threat is not countered with swift and decisive action backed by a coherent and tangible foreign defense policy, then the next ten years will see the rise of a nation governed and ruled by al-Qaeda. Not governed and ruled through the shadows and by corruption and bribes, but at the forefront, enacting laws and waging their wars and funding terror operations against the United States with all the natural resources even the poorest of susceptible nations could muster.

Fallujah is just a stepping stone. ISIS will seek to gain the support of the people and consolidate their power. If they can stave off the inevitable counterattack by the government and the tribal militias, ISIS will have established themselves in a significantly populated area, gain international support, and seek to expand their influence. Failure to address this threat would be a monumental foreign policy failure.

We will not be able to bomb this problem away; that would only create more enemies and animosity towards the U.S. The only thing that will counter this growing threat is swift, brutal, unrelenting force in the form of small operations teams in conjunction with larger tribal and allied forces on the ground. It needs to be done quickly, before ISIS has a chance to replenish their numbers and make adequate defense preparations.

Swift and decisive decision making has not been the modus operandi for this administration, and right now measures need to be taken in order to prevent ISIS from pressing the momentary advantage that they have. Perhaps President Obama can divert some of the aid he is sending al-Qaeda in Syria, to equip the tribal militia fighting al-Qaeda in Iraq.

Unless the current administration recognizes the territory grab by radical groups as a credible threat, this will not be the last time we hear of a city falling to al-Qaeda linked forces. 


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Conor Higgins

Conor Higgins has a B.A. from Catholic University in DC in American History, with a concentration on guerrilla warfare on American soil. He has an M.A. in US History from George Mason University in Fairfax, VA, with a concentration on Cold War insurgency. He believes that all news and all information should be taken with a grain of salt, and implores people everywhere to seek news stories everywhere. 

Higgins is also a fervent believer in the traditional role of media, in terms of acting as a balanced check on government policies and individuals regardless of party affiliation. But in the end, he believes that no matter how heated an issue is, there is nothing that can't be discussed over a smoke and some whiskey. 

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