Stephen Harper has made an initial six month commitment to the war in Iraq. If anyone thinks the war will be over in six months, Jeffrey Simpson writes, he or she has been smoking something funny:
Last week, the U.S. military and civilian leadership gave an off-the-record briefing in Baghdad. The New York Times reported the briefers saying it will be a “multiyear” campaign. In Syria, the briefers predicted that no ground campaign against the Islamic State could begin for 12 to 18 months.
In the words of Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, “the basic goal of degrading and defeating the Islamic State always bordered on the ridiculous.” Air attacks, a more effective Iraqi army and even an improvement in the so-called “moderate” Syrian forces would still leave “some form of violent Islamic extremism.” He says U.S. military officials have told him “that the struggle against violent religious extremism would go on for years, if not more than a decade.”
That kind of commitment will cost money. And last week the prime minister's proposed tax cuts sliced the surplus in half. Harper is increasingly looking and sounding like George W. Bush. The parallels are particularly pertinent when it comes to understanding the situation Harper has pompously walked into:
In an excellent survey for the RAND Corp., Seth Jones has underlined how “Salafist-jihadi” groups have grown in size and number. Since al-Qaeda first gained international notoriety, these groups have split into four types: al-Qaeda itself, headquartered in Pakistan; groups affiliated with al-Qaeda whose leaders have sworn loyalty to it; other Salafist-jihadi groups; and inspired individuals (perhaps such as the Canadian terrorists who killed two soldiers last week) and networks.
Lumping these groups together is a fundamental mistake easily made by the media and politicians swimming in their own rhetoric. For example, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s leader, cut off all ties between his organization and the Islamic State in February because it would not accept his leadership.
Groups affiliated with al-Qaeda exist in Yemen, Syria, Somalia and Algeria. These groups, and other sorts of terrorist organizations, differ greatly about how much, if at all, to target Western countries and interests. Some wish to concentrate on the “near enemy,” states near to where they operate; others do want to strike Western interests that represent the “far enemy.”
Years after the the United States left Vietnam in humiliation, Robert McNamara admitted that the fundamental mistake American leaders made was not understanding their enemy.
We've seen this movie before.