Containment Begins at Home

NEW YORK – Earlier this month, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a 24-year-old US citizen of Middle Eastern descent, opened fire at two military sites in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing five. This act of local horror was also one of national significance, for it vindicated the late US diplomat and strategist George F. Kennan’s warning that American foreign policymakers should hold in check their urge to act, especially militarily. One can never know when the blowback will come, Kennan warned, but it will.

Indeed, unforeseeable consequences were precisely what concerned Kennan when the United States charged into Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq two years later. After all, it was no coincidence that many of those the US was fighting in Afghanistan, including Osama bin Laden himself, had been associated with the Mujahedeen, the guerilla-style units of Muslim warriors whom US forces trained as insurgents during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. Likewise, the US had armed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to go to war with Iran in the 1980s.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Americans asked, “Why do they hate us?” Yet, though the US has experienced no attack on its soil since then, US President George W. Bush’s administration pursued, virtually unchecked, the destruction of two Muslim countries – and the devastation has continued beyond Bush’s tenure with an ever-intensifying campaign of drone strikes.

These policies have helped push Afghanistan to the precipice of state failure, while opening the way for the Islamic State to take over more than one-third of Iraq’s territory. The resulting discontent in those countries and across the Muslim world has increasingly been felt in Europe – and now is emerging in the US, too.