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Al-Baghdadi Is Dead. But Who Will Hold The West Accountable For Its Adventurism?

Miranda Husain
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While groups like IS must be stopped, so, too, must the West’s hit-and-run armed-adventurism across international borders, writes Miranda Husain

Ding dong! The leader of the Islamic State (IS) is dead. And Donald Trump wants everyone and their cat to know that he should be the one getting the cream. Never mind that it was a pedigree chum of a different kind which did the needful. Steadfastly undeterred, the un-quiet American enjoys reminiscing about how taking out Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had been his long-cherished foreign policy dream.

While Trump Town is keen to focus on this and not the potential blowback, analysts warn that al-Baghdadi was no typical jihadi commander.  But one who had succeeded where others — including Bin Laden — had failed. Namely, in establishing a caliphate over vast swathes of territory that had come under IS control. Thoughts of reclaiming this short-lived glory will likely reinvigorate the terror outfit. Ditto the US retreat from the Turkish-Syrian border. Thus the future for ordinary Syrians and neighbouring Iraqis looks anything but hopeful.

IS has committed mass rapes, beheadings and genocide. That the world would be better off without this group is understood. Yet the western powers continue to exploit this sentiment for their own self-serving ends. Meaning neither the US nor the UK has ever admitted that their illegal war of aggression in Iraq (2003) ignited the flames that engulf the region today. Instead, in a superbly raucous nod to the national love of irony, sidekick Britain connives to have Baghdad put IS fighters alone on trial for war crimes. So it and that other aggressor nation can kick back in their cheap seats; enjoying the show.

From the offset, the internationalisation of the Syrian conflict — reframed as a mission to defeat IS — has been profoundly troubling. In 2014, the US formed a global coalition to target insurgent strongholds in both Iraq, which consented to aerial strikes, and Syria, which did not. The latter remains a sovereign state. Even if it did not entirely fulfil this criteria under international law; including being in control of a defined territory with a permanent population. (This uncivil war triggered the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War.) Nevertheless, concerns about threats to international peace and security were not taken to the UNSC with a view to green-lighting the bombing of a foreign land. The excuse that geo-strategic rival Russia would veto the use of force simply underscores how the US still views the world body through the prism of self-interest, regardless of who is in charge. Ultimately, Washington approached the UN to outline the case for collective self-defence; stressing that IS was attacking Iraq from safe-havens in Syria and that the Assad regime was either unable or unwilling to flush these out. Next came a dangerous repeat of the pre-emptive self-defence card that precipitated the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and that has been played here in Pakistan to justify the US drone programme.

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And herein lies the rub. Evolving American geo-strategic interests determine which erstwhile allies suddenly fall out of favour. Then even before the cat is fully out of the bag, it is already amongst the pigeons; stumbling upon fully-loaded bullets and bombs aimed at unleashing chaos on the ground that includes arming local rebels to do the dirty job of regime change. Thereby catastrophically upending local power dynamics. All of which neatly plays into the false narrative that the Middle East is not ready for democracy; despite a belligerent superpower’s ‘best intentions’  masquerading as a pretext for prolonged military presence. From Afghanistan to Iraq to Libya. That being said, Syria is proving the thorn in the American side. For as the world lurches towards a multipolar order — the US encounters increasing resistance to its waning hegemony. Here, Russia, Turkey and Iran represent formidable challengers to the throne.

When state actors become consumed by proxy wars, the breathing space opens up for so-called enemy combatants to stake their own claim to certain spheres of influence. Unfortunately, it appears that the Americans have no intention of breaking this vicious cycle.

Washington’s big cats are well aware that eliminating global jihadi groups is no mean tweet. The Taliban are still standing after nearly two decades of US aggression in Afghanistan. While Al Qaeda is enjoying a resurgence in the post-Bin Laden era. Pundits have been whispering about how the outfit is winning the numbers game. By boasting a larger presence in more countries than in any other time in its history. Some think-tankers warn that Al Qaeda could now pose more of a risk to Afghan stability than IS.

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So, what is to be done?

The first step must be debunking western propaganda that whitewashes military intervention as being for the greatest good. No matter that the likes of Saddam or Gaddafi or Assad were once feted as men with whom the ‘civilised’ world could do business. Which begs the question as to who gets to identify red-lines and decide when these have been crossed. Secondly, it is imperative to hold the West to account for its hit-and-run armed-adventurism across international borders. Preferably before a UN that has miraculously found its bite. For now, however, an ad hoc tribunal would do. The moral compass needs to be reset. Because when nations operate outside international legal norms to bomb other countries — they pose the biggest threat to global peace and security. 

Thus instead of coming up with new multilateral alliances designed to wage war on others, world leaders would do well to prioritise bringing an impotent UN back to life. But, then, as every man, woman and cats knows, there is no money to be made from peace.

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