In our flat, integrated global battlefield, sophisticated and determined enemies, especially with territory under their control, can pose a threat almost anywhere.
The mitigation of conditions that give rise to al Qaeda and their allies is another strategic objective. In Afghanistan, U.S. and allied efforts have been mixed. Health care and education improved dramatically. In 2001 fewer than 10 percent of Afghans had access to basic health care; a decade later almost two thirds do. Under the harsh Taliban rule, few boys and no girls attended school. By 2011 more than 7 million children, including 2-1/2 million girls, were in class.
Afghanistan’s governance and economic development were languishing, however. The $15 billion in U.S. nonmilitary aid over the last decade failed to help the Afghans establish the rule of law and free markets. The World Bank estimated that 97 percent of Afghanistan’s legitimate gross domestic product (GDP) was derived from foreign aid. And most of that was lost to inefficiencies and corruption. Perhaps as much as half the actual GDP came from illegal drug commerce. The overwhelming majority of Afghans did not want the Taliban back, but they did want security and rule of law.
The Afghan people did not want AQ in their country. Neither did some of the Afghan Taliban, many fighting the United States simple because we were there. Many Afghan Taliban fighters had no desire or even concept of a war beyond their borders.
Other radical groups around the world learned hard lessons about their affiliation with AQ. Varying degrees of counterterrorism success in Southeast Asia and Iraq, as examples, cast doubt on the strategic and operational competence of AQ and their severely depleted leadership. AQ and other transnational threats underscored the common interests of nations and peoples. Nations and various institutions were more aware of the terrorist threat, and cooperation continued to grow. This was one of my primary missions while serving as the U.S. coordinator for counterterrorism, to advance that awareness and cooperation.
The greatest blow to AQ came not with a kinetic strike or a policy initiative, but rather from Muslim masses launching the 2011 Arab Spring protests. Repressive governments fell in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. The people in Yemen, Syria, and elsewhere took to the streets. This had nothing to do with AQ and their allies. This revolution was populist, sparked by a search for justice and dignity and spread through global telecommunication and social networks. The people were attacking the conditions that AQ sought to exploit. Would these conditions be mitigated to the point where AQ’s hateful ideology lost purchase? Would these idealistic citizen rebels be able to build liberal institutions, or would others, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, hijack the revolution? Would AQ gain greater room for maneuvering in the ungoverned space of Yemen and elsewhere? Would there be another attack on the U.S. homeland where homegrown, self-radicalized terrorists were increasingly common?
. . . Randomness and uncertainty, often acute in times of rapid change, can breed anxiety and fear. But change plays to America’s strengths. Our Constitution and our liberal institutions are designed for adaptability. With strong, adaptable, and resilient citizens who demand leaders worthy of the name, the best years may still be ahead of us. We need leaders who embrace intellectual integrity, constructive political discourse, and hard-nosed governance rather than prideful ignorance, dogmatic rhetoric, and divisive ideology on the left and the right. We need leaders, like Washington and Lincoln, who understand intelligence and accept their responsibility for it.
. . . By some unverified accounts, Aristotle said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” So too with intelligence.
– The Art of Intelligence Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton