September 27, 2013
By Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D.
All wars end eventually. But some don't end when and where you think they will.
Take the civil war in Syria. When that conflict ends, the forces opposing Assad will move elsewhere, including to Europe. We may not want to intervene in Syria, but Syria is likely to intervene in us.
In the Middle East, strong governments, like Iran's, are often bad. But an absence of government is no better: Islamist radicals happily fill the vacuum. With a weak regime in Egypt, a weaker one in Libya, and the near-collapse of Syria, these vacuums are multiplying.
The radicals have one weakness: They try to control territory. They tried earlier this year in Mali. Now they are trying in Syria. That makes them vulnerable, because radical Islamists dislike Western-style states. To them, national boundaries are merely arbitrary lines: Religion is the true divider of humanity.
The radicals are superb at overthrowing regimes, but less good at building governing institutions that can mobilize power. This paradox of radical Islam means that, sooner or later, its adherents lose control and flow elsewhere, looking for another regime to drag down.
On Tuesday, 11 rebel groups in Syria declared allegiance to an al-Qaida affiliate and demanded "Shariah law for the country." They will not simply quit when they lose Syria.
Jordan and other countries in the region are most at risk when the fighters move on. But several hundred of these radicals reportedly come from Europe, and they will likely return. Others will move there illegally or as refugees. These fighters will pose a direct threat to Europe, and an indirect one to the United States.
Robin Simcox, a leading British authority on al-Qaida attacks, recently testified to Congress on this danger. He offered one sliver of comfort: To date, most attacks in the West have been by terrorists who trained abroad and came back with a target and a plan.
But Simcox also pointed out that Syria poses dangers apart from direct attacks. The fighting there will give inspiration to a new generation of radicals, just as the Taliban did in the 1990s. Others will blame us for failing to intervene in Syria and, like the Tsarnaev brothers in Boston, mix Islamist radicalism and Western anti-Semitism into a noxious home brew.
Of course, the flow of radicals is not one way. Two or three Americans and a British subject are said to have participated in the recent massacre in Kenya. Participating in mass slaughter marks a dangerous escalation from earlier reports indicating that approximately 40 U.S. radicals have joined al-Qaida affiliates in Somalia.
We need to recognize that jihadism is, indeed, a religiously motivated ideology. If we cannot be honest about why its proponents fight, we cannot hope to understand them.
We should also be honest about the prominence of radicalism among the Syrian rebels. Secretary of State John Kerry's assertion that the rebels there were "increasingly . . . more defined . . . by moderation" was obviously aimed only at justifying U.S. intervention.
We also need better cooperation from our allies. The European Parliament has repeatedly held up efforts to share passenger data on incoming flights to the United States, a common-sense measure that would make us all more secure. We also need to be a supportive ally ourselves to Kenya, which has led the fight against al-Shabab in Somalia, and has now been attacked in retaliation.
Above all, we need to recognize a fact: No matter how much the president says that al-Qaida is on "a path to defeat," our enemies do not see it that way. We may not want to be interested in them, but they are going to stay interested in us.
- Ted R. Bromund, Ph.D. is a Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations at the Heritage Foundation.
Originally appeared in Newsday
Theodore R. Bromund, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations
Read More >>
Request an interview >>
Please complete the following form to request an interview with a Heritage expert.
Please note that all fields must be completed.
Heritage's daily Morning Bell e-mail keeps you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.
The subscription is free and delivers you the latest conservative policy perspectives on the news each weekday--straight from Heritage experts.
The Morning Bell is your daily wake-up call offering a fresh, conservative analysis of the news.
More than 200,000 Americans rely on Heritage's Morning Bell to stay up to date on the policy battles that affect them.
Rush Limbaugh says "The Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell is just terrific!"
Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) says it's "a great way to start the day for any conservative who wants to get America back on track."
Sign up to start your free subscription today!
The Heritage Foundation is the nation’s most broadly supported public policy research institute, with hundreds of thousands of individual, foundation and corporate donors. Heritage, founded in February 1973, has a staff of 275 and an annual expense budget of $82.4 million.
Our mission is to formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense. Read More
© 2014, The Heritage Foundation Conservative policy research since 1973