Whether or not America won in Afghanistan is a question that will have to be answered by history. What can be said with certainty, however, is that the West did not slink away with its tail between its legs the way the Soviets did. The Soviets, for those with short memories, were shredded by the Taliban, who, with American weapons and the cunning of the Afghan cheetah, outmaneuvered the clumsy Soviet special forces and their fleets of tanks, APCs and attack helicopters.
The unfortunate part of the saga is that the Taliban and its rotten fruit, Al-Qaeda, repaid its American benefactors by ramming two planes into the World Trade Center and are plotting to do worse. However, the Pentagon seems to have come to the realization that radical Islam will not honor a treaty made with a non-Muslim regime or government. As far as Islam is concerned, treaties made with infidels are ephemeral and function only as leverage for Islamic goals, and are fated to be unilaterally violated when the Muslims feel the time has come. Once the ultimate goal of Muslim world domination has been achieved, the treaties will be worthless and non-Muslims will be forced to convert.
The Israelis made a mistake in the 1970s when they allowed Sheikh Yassin to set up the social organization called Mujama al-Islamiya in the Gaza Strip as a counterweight to the PLO. The organization later took the name Hamas, committed endless terrorist activities against Israeli citizens and has never given up its stated goal of destroying the State of Israel. The Israelis made a similar mistake when they helped the Shi'ite Amal party and the various associations in the Lebanese villages in their efforts to get the Palestinians terrorist organizations -- which harassed the Shi'ite villagers and raped their women -- out of Lebanon. As soon as Arafat and his cronies had been driven out, with Israeli help, the Shi'ites founded Hezbollah, which, thanks to Iran, has the military capabilities of a small country and has been using them to attempt to obliterate Israel.
The American road to hell in the Middle East is paved, as usual, with good intentions and terrible results. When the Americans pulled out of Iraq, after toppling Saddam Hussein, the Shi'ites took over the country: the men of President Al-Maliki work for Iran, along with the Assad regime in Syria. Now, when the Americans are getting ready to pull out of Afghanistan, the future of the country remains an open question and the issue of President Karzai vs. the Taliban remains unresolved. The Taliban's demand to establish an Islamic emirate in Afghanistan based on the Sharia, Islamic law from the 7th century, does not bode well for President Karzai.
Despite the lessons of the past, the Americans continue to support various Islamic organizations, such as Egypt's threatened Muslim Brotherhood, in the vain hope that they will cooperate and create "stable" institutions, or at least have a positive relationship with the West. The Americans have deluded themselves into thinking that the Islamists will somehow forget both their anti-Crusader agenda -- the driving force behind everything they do -- and the Islamists' ultimate goal of Muslim world domination.
Free Syrian Army soldiers (Source: WikiMedia Commons)
Their problem is what weapons to send; to whom to send them; how to send them so that they do not find their way into the hands of the Islamist gangs operating side by side with the Syrian opposition, and how to keep the arms from being turned, in the future, against the Americans and their allies.
Recently, in Doha, Qatar, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry promised Prime Minister Hamad al-Thani, before he turned his country over to his son, that the Americans would supply the Syrian opposition with arms to stop the slaughter of the Sunni population. Apparently the Americans have understood that the civil war in Syria is only the tip of the iceberg of Iranian-Russian interests, and will have consequences not only for the Middle East but also for the regional and global status of the United States.
America's decision to support the Syrian opposition signals a change in policy that overcomes its previous hesitation. It has now formulated a plan that takes all possibilities into account. Supplying weapons to General Salim Idris, the (secular) commander of the rebel so-called "Free Syrian Army" forces may neutralize the forces of Iran and Hezbollah which operate with Russian support.
If the weapons do in fact influence the balance of power on the ground, this change might send a message to the Iranians and the Russians, telling them that America is not prepared to have Russia erode its status in the Middle East and will not accept more procrastination and threats -- and that America has decided to take action. Both the Russians and the Assad regime openly warned Europe not to supply arms to the rebels. Sending American arms to the opposition is the first step in stopping Russia and cutting off both direct and indirect (through Iraq and Lebanon) Iranian support for the Assad regime. It can only be hoped that the American weapons will force Assad to move toward an interim government. In the final analysis, the Syrian civil war may end with a radical Islamic takeover of Syria, a risk one can only hope -- what with all the other Arab Spring Islamist takeovers -- that the West has no intention of taking.
The Syrian regime responded to the American decision to arm the rebels with anger and threats, and declared it would not be blackmailed. After the Geneva II conference was sabotaged, largely by the Russians, it should have become clear that the time for procrastination and naiveté was over. The rebel announcement of the Al-Qadissiya operation in Aleppo in recent weeks meant a Sunni counterattack was on the table, overtly supported by the Western countries in response to the organized Shi'ite slaughter of Syria's Sunnis. The arms race between the United States and Russia is escalating in Syria. Relations between the two superpowers are heading for an unavoidable -- and unprecedented -- clash. Which country is the world betting will back down?
Ali Salim is a scholar based in the Middle East.