The incumbent authority in Afghanistan collapsed very quickly, and the extremist militant Taliban swept vast swathes of the country to reach the capital Kabul even earlier than expected, announcing the end of the pluralist political system that was founded under Western American and European auspices. The Taliban announced its determination to re-establish the Islamic Emirate, which it had lost following the American attack against it in 2001. The Taliban was held responsible for plotting with Al Qaeda to strike the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001.
This sweep was only surprising to those who saw a new defeat for the US strategy in the greater Middle East, in addition to Washington’s recently reported obligation to enforce a balanced withdrawal of its forces stationed in Iraq. Besides, the US has arguably failed to bring the Houthis to the negotiating table to discuss the future of Yemen, as promised before. It is also unable to curb the Iranian nuclear program, which is getting closer to developing a nuclear bomb.
However, the historical trend of American foreign policy shows that Washington's interest in the Greater Middle East and North Africa is constantly declining. This is not only due to the emergence of new challenges that are more crucial and with detrimental implications for American global leadership, but also because of the conviction developed in US decision-making circles that issues in this region are too complex and difficult to solve due to the intertwining facts and overlapping dimensions. In this case, Americans are best placed to deal with the region in a way that manages crises rather than solves them, and thus it is not to get too much involved.
Disengagement means accepting the fact that these issues and subsequent problems and disputes will remain, but all the while trying to contain them and control their development in order to prevent their explosion and their negative impact on the real American interests. Washington has found political movements disguised under religious cover to be the best way to keep the region tense and on alert, while its peoples’ resources are depleted, and the rest of the world look at the region with caution, suspicion and precaution.
Therefore, facilitating the Taliban's return to political power in Afghanistan should not be seen as an isolated event, but in the context of a set of similar steps that preceded it, albeit on a smaller level, and with less impact in terms of media and diplomacy. These steps are part of a strategy that generalizes the practice of politics under a religious cover in order to generate a kind of fanaticism that inevitably leads to counter-intolerance. Hence, a gap of trust and a hostile climate are formed inside and among Middle East societies.
There is no dispute now that Biden administration’s decision to remove the Houthi Ansar Allah movement from the list of terrorist organizations had a great impact in fueling the conflict in and around Yemen because of the movement's intransigence towards Gulf and international peace initiatives. This has exacerbated the military and humanitarian situation and spread instability in the Arabian Peninsula, in addition to the continued bloodshed there.
From the same direction came the current attempts to revive the remnants of ISIS, which has strongly resumed its massive terrorist operations in east Syria and western Iraq. The security situation there, especially inside Iraq, has been restored to its past state of deterioration and mutual apprehension among various components of the Iraqi people, who still distrust each other.
Political Islam plays a significant role in the American strategy dealing with MENA issues, which is based on crisis management, rather than crisis resolution, while controlling the region’s future. This is evident in Washington's stances towards various branches of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that it was not able to protect some of these branches, but it never gave in to the pressure to designate the group as a terrorist organization.
American diplomats may justify this direction by pointing to the absence of any practical and tangible evidence of the involvement of the group or some of its branches in terrorist operations. They would also argue that such designation will be problematic for Washington in the region, where some MB branches are allied with the regimes in Pakistan, Turkey and Qatar and other branches are somehow sharing power, such as in Morocco and until recently in Tunisia. However, a European diplomat specialized in MB affairs assured me that Western powers still view the group as a tool to stop the nationalist and leftist tide in the Arab world, and that American intelligence is not naive to lose an inexhaustible source of information and severe ties with a group that has hundreds of commercial, financial, social and educational institutions across the world. He added, with a grin that is sly rather than sarcastic, that he would not be surprised if MB hordes began to migrate to Kabul in search for a shelter under the Taliban.
Abdul Qadir Zawi is former Moroccan Ambassador to the UAE.