In engaging in the Cold War and, ultimately, invading Afghanistan, the United States created its own worst enemy. While the American occupation of Afghanistan was originally intended to stop the spread of communism in Central Asia, the US’ drive to form a passionate, well-trained, deadly army with Pakistan’s ISI provided the first candidate pool for organisations like Al-Qaeda. While the first terrorist groups sprung from the Cold War and modern ISIS groups were formed during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the hate, fear, and desperation that fuels terrorism is the direct result of the pseudo-colonialist violence and destruction perpetuated and supported by the American military. Now, with widespread islamophobia and paranoia, our ideological wars have become societal conflicts within our borders. Regardless of the instance or the perpetrator, violence and cruelty only breed resentment and further violence.
LINK TO PART I: COLD WAR BEGINNINGS
A War for the 21st Century
Prior to the attacks on September 11th, 2001, the idea that the United States, with its more or less isolated geography and unrivalled military, could be attacked at home was simply not a reality. However, 9/11 brought home the threat of international terrorism and alerted the US government to the dangers of a new kind of transnational, asymmetric warfare. In response, the Bush administration reassigned terrorism from a law enforcement issue to a military affair warranting of counterattack and declared that it would no longer differentiate between terrorist groups and countries that harbour or aid them. Within several months, the “War on Terror” became America’s new perogative and the United States turned first to Afghanistan.
After the Cold War, mujahideen mercenaries who had been trained by Pakistan’s ISI in conjunction with the US government to defeat the Soviets, instituted the Taliban regime, which allowed al-Qaeda, led by former ISI agent Osama bin Laden, a safe haven and training ground. One month after 9/11, the United States invaded Afghanistan and managed to topple the Taliban through air strikes and by cooperating with the Northern Alliance, a local resistance militia, and most of the supporters of the old regime and al-Qaeda fled to tribal regions bordering Pakistan. Following America’s victory, President Bush pledged $4 billion in reconstruction but, in February 2003, one year into the Afghan occupation and a month before the Iraq invasion, in what was called a “stunning oversight”, Bush’s proposed federal budget left out the promised funds.
Though the US invasion of Afghanistan could be deemed a military success, there was an overwhelming demand for the United States to react more dramatically to 9/11. Al-Qaeda had managed to strike a blow so powerful that it shook the world and the American military felt it had to initiate a counterattack of equal intensity to restore its image domestically and internationally. Therefore, the Pentagon redirected its attention to Iraq, what it considered, at the time, to be the biggest global threat in the War on Terror. In removing infamously violent and supposedly terrorist-friendly dictator Saddam Hussein, it would be a demonstration of American military might and prove a “willingness to use force” in the face of a seemingly invisible enemy.
This was not the first time America had faced Hussein. In the First Gulf War, when Iraq invaded Kuwait and refused to withdraw despite United Nations Resolution 678, the UN instructed its member states “to use all necessary means [to] bring Iraq into compliance with previous Security Council resolutions”. In response, the United States, directed by then-President George H. W. Bush led the coalition that forcibly drove Iraq out of Kuwait and helped to contain Hussein’s violent regime.
Many active politicians during the Gulf War later saw the Iraq War as an opportunity to take care of unfinished business. Senior officials in the Bush administration took the chance the War on Terror provided and combined their desire for “pre-emptive self-defence” with their agenda of finally overthrowing Saddam Hussein. The main proponents of the Iraq War were Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and Deputy Defence Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who were all members of the Project for the New American Century, an organisation that had lobbied government for years to invade Iraq, even sending an open letter to then-President Bill Clinton in 1998 urging him to do so. In fact, in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Wolfowitz actually suggested skipping the occupation of Afghanistan altogether and going directly for Iraq. Additionally, there was potentially a patrimonial motivation for the Iraq invasion. It’s a common belief that George W. Bush had a desire to finish what his father had started with Hussein and his having described the dictator as “the guy who tried to kill my dad” suggests a personal motive.
However, the media version of the Bush administration’s justification to invade Iraq was far more convincing. In his State of the Union address in 2002, Bushed claimed that “Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and support terror…States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an Axis of Evil, aiming to threaten peace of the world.” This is dramatic rhetoric against Hussein who had no verifiable links to al-Qaeda, especially coming from the Commander-in-Chief of a military that’s 2004 military expenditure totalled $401.3 billion compared to Iraq’s $615.4 million but, to the American people and, apparently, to the Bush administration, the threat seemed very real.
This is not meant to imply that there was not reasonable suspicion that Hussein may have been linked to terrorist groups. In an interview with the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks or the “9/11 Commission”, Judith S. Yaphe, a Distinguished Research Fellow for the Middle East at the Institute for National Stategic Studies (INSS) claimed that “Baghdad actively sponsored terrorist groups, providing safe haven, training, arms, and logistical support, requiring in exchange that the groups carry out operations ordered by Baghdad for Saddam’s objectives” While Hussein and bin Laden are often associated with one another, the only “terrorist” groups being harboured in Baghdad were the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and the Mujahideen-e-Khalq, rebel groups fighting the governments in Turkey and Iran respectively, and several Palestinian anti-Israel factions. While these organisations could easily be classified as terroristic, none posed a direct threat to the United States. If America were to invade Iraq, it would need its people’s support.
In an environment stricken with paranoia, Bush’s next step was enough to secure his plans for Iraqi occupation. In his State of the Union, the then-president presented the concept of Weapons of Mass Destruction, or WMDs, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons that were supposedly at the disposal of a terrorist-harbouring dictator. “The Iraqi regime has plotted to develop anthrax and nerve gas and nuclear weapons for over a decade”, Bush warned, “This is a regime that has already used poison gas to murder thousands of its own citizens, leaving the bodies of mothers huddled over their dead children. This is the regime that agreed to international inspections then kicked out the inspectors. This is a regime that has something to hide from the civilised world”. Bush’s theory was based off of Hussein’s notorious use of chemical weapons like Mustard gas and the nerve agent Tabun from 1983 to 1988 during Iraq’s war with Iran and to squash Kurdish rebellions domestically. After the First Gulf War, the UNSC passed Resolution 715, which stated that the Iraqi government must destroy its presumed store of WMD and its means of WMD manufacturing and it must “accept unconditionally the inspectors and all other personnel designated by the Special Commission”. In May 1992, Iraq admitted to having “defensive” biological weapons and, later, in August 1995 “Hussein Kamel, the former director of Iraq’s Military Industrialization Corporation, responsible for all WMD programmes, defected to Jordan. As a result, Iraq admitted to a far more developed biological weapons programme than it had previously disclosed.” After three years of political stalemate, in 1998, the United States initiated UN-approved Operation Desert Fox, a four-day air strike that was meant “to strike military and security targets in Iraq that contributed to Iraq’s ability to produce, store, maintain and deliver weapons of mass destruction.” Operation Desert Fox was, up until 9/11, considered to have finally destroyed the last of Iraq’s WMD infrastructure.
While there was virtually no proof that Saddam Hussein had once again built WMDs, in 2002, there was a large enough pile of evidence attesting to his character that the threat was highly believable. When discussing Hussein’s nuclear capabilities with Wolf Blitzer in January 2003, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that “there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly [Saddam] can acquire nuclear weapons, but we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”. On November 8th, 2002, UN Resolution 1441 sent inspectors into Iraq once again to search for WMD. Despite American outcry that Hussein was hiding his weapons and his manufacturing programme, it was officially concluded that there was no proof of such WMD. However, the damage had already been done. By the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003, 72% of Americans supported occupation of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein.
The United States consequently declared war on Iraq and launched a campaign of “Shock and Awe”, a massive air strike that destroyed huge portions of Baghdad and Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul. Defence Secretary Rumsfeld later identified this showy and violent demonstration of American military power as the first step in “Operation Iraqi Freedom”, a military operation that’s objectives included defending Americans from Iraqi WMDs, ridding the Gulf country of such terrible weapons, and ending the regime of Saddam Hussein, in turn, liberating the Iraqi people. Rumsfeld boasted that the strike had taken place “on a scale that [indicated] to Iraqis that Saddam and his leadership were finished”. Despite Rumsfeld’s confidence, socialist journalist Henry Michaels reacted quite differently to “Shock and Awe”, stating that “purely military considerations cannot explain such savagery. Bush’s war plans [were] driven by political aims—to terrorize and demoralize the Iraqi people and the Arab masses and send a message of violence and intimidation to the entire world”
History seems to stand on Michaels’ side. The Iraq War cost the United States $1.7 trillion with an additional $490 billion in veterans’ benefits, attributed to the 2008 Great Recession and increased oil prices, and, most importantly, led to 4,486 American casualties, and the massacre of 405,000 Iraqis, including 133,000 confirmed civilians. “Operation Iraqi Freedom” that Bush, Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld endorsed as a shining beacon of democracy for the Middle East left Iraq’s population decimated, its economy destroyed, its people hopeless and resentful, and its ancient cities and art in ruins.
Further Implications of the War on Terror
The political climate with regards to terrorism today is virtually unrecognisable to that before 9/11. The ever-growing threat of ISIS, the terrorist organisation that sprung from American-run Iraqi military prisons, is constantly present on every news channel, a 24-hour cycle of updates on global terrorism grips the media with an unshakeable hold. With every suicide bombing or even threat of attack, the media gets more fervent, city police get more militarised, and the American public gets more paranoid.
Though ISIS and other terrorist organisations have killed exponentially more Muslims in the Middle East and South-East Asia than they have Americans, the Western-centric American media paints them to be the United States’ biggest threat. Propaganda justifies the money and lives spent on the War on Terror and keeps Americans afraid and ready to accept invasive policies like the Patriot Act. What’s not on the news is that, according to Charles Kurzman, professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina and Author of The Missing Martyrs: Why There Are So Few Muslim Terrorists, terrorism committed by Muslims “has not been growing” and that the threat of Muslim terrorism is actually “very, very low”. Actually, according to data collected by the New America Foundation, “since 9/11, jihadists have killed 26 Americans on US soil and Right Wing extremists have killed 39”, the largest death toll by Muslim terrorists was 13 at the Fort Hood attack and the largest by Right Wing terrorists was six after a strike on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. While Islamic terrorist attacks tend to result in more casualties, the 26 victims of jihadists are but a tiny quantity of the 150,000 murders that have taken place in the United States since September 11th, 2001.
(Since this article was written, 49 individuals were killed in the Pulse nightclub shooting on June 12th, 2016. However, the FBI and the Obama administration were unable to find any links or communication between the shooter, Omar Mateen, and ISIS/ISIL. Though the FBI warned Mateen’s wife not to disclose his homosexuality, the shooter himself was gay, had allegedly used a gay dating app, had frequented the Pulse nightclub, and his father explained that there was an incident shortly before the attack where Mateen had been livid upon seeing two men of colour kissing in Miami. While the perpetrator was a Muslim who had been influenced by ISIS propaganda via the Internet, the attack is legally classified as a hate crime against LGBTQ+ individuals, particularly those of colour, and an act of independent terrorism.)
Despite what the media propagates, the ones living in the West who are impacted the most by Islamic terrorist attacks are Muslims. Before 9/11, there were 20-30 hate crimes against Muslims committed in the United States every year but that number has risen to anywhere between 100 and 150 and hate crimes against Muslims, like the Chapel Hill murders, make up 14% of hate crimes in this country. If we respond with anger and Islamophobia in the face of terrorism, or label all crimes committed by Muslims as “terrorist attacks”, we will only enforce anti-Muslim behaviour. The American media first created the “us v. them” dialogue during the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979 and it has only intensified since with 9/11, the Iraq War, and ISIS. Paranoia-fuelled war mongering has formed a fearful and easily manipulated America in the face of terrorism, one that has lost the ability to differentiate between a hate crime and pre-emptive self-defence.
LINK TO PART I: COLD WAR BEGINNINGS
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