Iraq did not have a significant al Qaeda presence before the 2003 U.S. invasion, but our occupation of that country and attempt to remake it in our image caused a massive reaction that opened the door to al Qaeda, leading to thousands of US soldiers dead, a country destroyed, and instability that shows no sign of diminishing.
In Libya we worked with, among others, the rebel Libyan Fighting Group (LIFG) which included foreign elements of al-Qaeda. It has been pointed out that the al-Qaeda affiliated radicals we fought in Iraq were some of the same groups we worked with to overthrow Gaddafi in Libya. Last year in a television interview I predicted that the result of NATO’s bombing of Libya would likely be an increased al-Qaeda presence in the country. I said at the time that we may be delivering al-Qaeda another prize.
Not long after NATO overthrew Gaddafi, the al Qaeda flag was flown over the courthouse in Benghazi. Should we be surprised, then, that less than a year later there would be an attack on our consulate in Benghazi? We have been told for at least the past eleven years that these people are the enemy who seeks to do us harm.
There is danger in the belief we can remake the world by bribing some countries and bombing others. But that is precisely what the interventionists – be they liberal or conservative – seem to believe. When the world does not conform to their image, they seem genuinely shocked. The secretary of state’s reaction to the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was one of confusion. “How could this happen in a country we helped liberate, in a city we helped save from destruction,” she asked.
The problem is that we do not know and we cannot know enough about these societies we are seeking to remake. We never try to see through the eyes of those we seek to liberate. Libya is in utter chaos, the infrastructure has been bombed to rubble, the economy has ceased to exist, gangs and militias rule by brutal force, the government is seen as a completely illegitimate and powerless U.S. puppet. Is anyone really shocked that the Libyans do not see our bombing their country as saving it from destruction?
Currently, the U.S. is actively supporting rebels in Syria that even our CIA tells us are affiliated with al Qaeda. Many of these radical Islamist fighters in Syria were not long ago fighting in Libya.
Doesn’t it seem strange to anyone that this week the head of Al Qaeda, Zawahri, released a video calling on all Muslims to back the rebels in Syria, saying the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad would bring them closer to the ultimate goal of defeating Israel?
We must learn from these mistakes and immediately cease all support for the Syrian rebels, lest history once again repeat itself. We are literally backing the same people in Syria that we are fighting in Afghanistan and that have just killed our ambassador in Libya! We must finally abandon the interventionist impulse before it is too late.
I sincerely hope that we may finally have learned something in the aftermath of the tragedy in Libya. I hope it might finally serve as a wake-up call that our interventionist foreign policy is causing us real harm. It is bankrupting our economy and it is turning the rest of the world against us.
Paul is a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee.