The So-Called War on Terrorism, Failure or...
This September marks the nineteenth year since the attacks in New York and Washington, D.C. and for those nineteen years, terrorism underpinned U.S. foreign policy decision making.
The War on Terrorism, is an international military campaign launched by the United States government after the September 11 attacks. U.S. president George W. Bush first used the term "war on terrorism" on 16 September 2001. U.S. President Barack Obama announced on 23 May 2013 that the Global War on Terror was over, saying the military and intelligence agencies will not wage war against a tactic but will instead focus on a specific group of networks determined to destroy the U.S.
Critics assert that the term "war" is not appropriate in this context since terror is not an identifiable enemy and it is unlikely that international terrorism can be brought to an end by military means. The notion of a "war" against "terrorism" has proven contentious, with critics also charging that it has been exploited by participating governments to pursue long-standing policy/military objectives, reduce civil liberties, and infringe upon human rights.
“Afghanistan and Iraq were to be the first two of seven countries in which regime change was to be carried out. The Obama administration tried to finish the plan in Syria and Libya, and the Trump administration has continued the effort in Syria.” Said David Ray Griffin who believes that former Vice-President Richard Cheney his buddy Donald Rumsfeld engineered the September 11 attacks to pave the way for US to establish a worldwide empire.
What were the costs of the so-called war on terror?
After 9/11, in deliberate violation of international law, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen and conducted counter-terrorism in 80 countries. Two decades later proponents and opponents agree that the War on Terror failed abysmally to meet its stated objectives, the terror threat wildly exaggerated, and the military intervention grossly mistaken. Historian Gwynne Dyer deemed the War on Terror the biggest hoax in history.
There is no widely agreed on figure for the number of people that have been killed so far in the War on Terror. The International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Physicians for Social Responsibility and Physicians for Global Survival give total estimates ranging from 1.3 million to 2 million casualties.
Brown University at Providence Rhode Island initiated the Cost of War Project to determine the human and financial costs. Due to its report in November 2019:
- Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: Afghanistan & Pakistan 2001-2019; Iraq 2003-2019; Syria 2014-2019; Yemen 2002-2019 lists over 800,000
- Direct deaths: 7,000 U.S. military; 8,000 U.S. defence contractors; 12,000 allied military; 175,000 national military; 250,000 opposition military; 335,000 civilians.
Many times more died indirectly through malnutrition, damaged infrastructure, and habitat degradation. Over 20 million Afghan, Iraqi, Pakistani and Syrian war refugees barely survive under horrific conditions.
Moreover, according to the Costs of War Project, the war cost the U.S. over $6 trillion plus $8 trillion in future interest. Most U.S. reconstruction funding for Iraq and Afghanistan was spent on their military development and much of the rest lost to fraud and waste.
Due to the latest Cost of War Project report published in September 2020, this war have forced 37 million people — and perhaps as many as 59 million — from their homes. According to the Soufan Group in July 2015, the U.S. government was spending $9.4 million per day in operations against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
Other policy mistakes have also been made as a part of this war that continue to have consequences today. The detention of hundreds of suspects without trial in Guantanamo Bay, the practice of "extraordinary rendition" - blindfolding terror suspects and flying them across the world to CIA "black sites" where they were subjected to prolonged and "enhanced interrogation".
Some people believe the war on terror has taken a kind of perpetuity, morphing from hot to cold war against Muslims and others who challenge the status quo. People of color and Muslims around the world were the primary targets of both military and police agencies. The Trump administration’s response to the Portland protests and its manifestly bigoted, discriminatory “Muslim ban” policies, along with the more general destruction of asylum rights, among others, has predictably woven together different threads of post-9/11 national security policies into a single ugly tapestry.
Did the war on terrorism work?
In the short-term, the war against terrorism may appear to be going well, but the long-term outlook is much more troubling. Al Qaeda and like-minded groups like ISIS continue to draw numerous recruits throughout the world. Even if the United States captures or kills their leaders, they could easily reconstitute themselves.
While there should be no sympathy for dead terrorist leaders, some found that the decapitation approach seldom works and arresting rather than killing leaders tends to be more effective in ending terrorist campaigns. After the death of ISIS overall founder Zarqawi and despite heavy territorial losses in, during the U.S.-led surge in 2007, ISIS rebounded and was able to inflict extraordinary terrorist attacks throughout Iraq. From 2008–2010, over 200 people were killed per month by terrorism in Iraq. Before and after the death of Omar Al Baghdadi, ISIS assassinated over 1345 Awakening leaders according to one estimate and also it carried out 24 bombings and eight prison breaks. So, even after the death of its top leader and U.S. claims that it had dealt catastrophic and “final” blows to the organization, the organization mustered the necessary capabilities to continue their terror campaigns, remain relevant, and at times outdo what it had done in previous years.
In addition, what is evident in Baghdadi’s rhetoric is that deaths and loss of territory do not amount to detrimental loses, instead they represent loses as part of a predetermined plan that will “ultimately” lead them to victory and they’ll be rewarded. By this logic, the U.S. inability to recognize this, and continue with a finite military-led counter terrorism (CT) approach of maiming and bombing terrorists’ leaders, only played to what they expected and was/is “comfortable” dealing with.
The governments should know that terrorism has been used as a tool by non-state actors to achieve their goals throughout history and it will almost certainly continue to be used by groups around the world for generations to come. Therefore, conceptualizing terrorism as something that can be defeated is as illogical as declaring war on a hammer. Although, the U.S. has not suffered 9/11-like attacks, the role of military-led CT operations is surely overestimated while the vast changes to airport security, intelligence capabilities, international law enforcement cooperation, and other safety mechanisms, are underestimated. So the approach towards countering terrorism should change. It particularly means employing all aspects of national power, including diplomatic, economic, military, and others.
Another outcome of this current CT strategy, is that the United States appears to be failing to win support in the Muslim world. Popular antipathy toward the United States is particularly intense. The US and in particular the Trump administration is continuing the “you are either with us or against us” theory of George Bush. By this uncompromising position, the US turned potential allies into enemies.
Last but not least, younger Americans are uncertain that counter-terrorism efforts were worth its cost. About one-third of 18-to 30-year-olds (35%) say it was not worth the cost.
Will there be an end?
It is unlikely that there is an end to the war. Because, like crime, terrorism can only be reduced to what officials call "manageable levels". And today there is already a newly emerging threat, that of far-right extremism, something that will likely breathe new life into what appears to be a War without End.
In his 2020 report, Terrorism in America After 9/11, U.S. counter-terrorism authority Peter Bergen shows that for the period 2002-19 a grand total of 237 persons were killed by terrorists within the U.S.; 110 by far right-wing terrorists, 107 by jihadists, 20 by other extreme ideologists. Since 9/11 no foreign jihadist organization has directed a deadly attack inside the U.S., nor any deadly jihadist attacker received training or support from abroad. Bergen states “America’s terrorism problem today is homegrown.”
However, there is a hesitation in calling these white supremacist ‘shooters’ and ‘attackers’ as terrorists. Remarks such as ‘went on a rampage, attacker snapped, flipped, was psychologically unstable, had behaviour problems, a frenzy of rage, out of hatred’ and adjectives like hysterical, mad, mentally fickle, emotionally weak etc. are examples of it.
While white supremacist is a major problem in the US, according to some officials, Trump administration is creating the conditions for domestic extremism to flourish. "They borrowed from ISIS's playbook and they learned how to radicalize people online," said White House Communications Director Alyssa Farah.
Some of these huge resources for war on terror need to move to counter white supremacist violence.