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    The Pashtun-led Taliban Could Break Apart Both Afghanistan and Pakistan

    More than a century ago, the Russians and the British played the Great Game for the control of Afghanistan. Immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s “Kim,” this game defined three generations of soldiers, spies and diplomats. As the remarkable Rory Stewart records, the Great Game never ended. The Soviets and the Americans carried on where the Russians and the British left. Now, a new great game is about to begin.

    Is Afghanistan Going to Break Apart?

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    As is well chronicled, Afghanistan emerged as a buffer state between the Russian and British empires. Dominated by the Pashtuns, this state remained an inchoate entity of competing ethnic groups, feuding clans and autonomous villages. As Tabish Forugh and one of the authors noted in an earlier article on Fair Observer, this Pashtun-dominated order crumbled when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The Taliban brought back this order in the 1990s and are establishing Pashtun primacy yet again.

    New Life to Old Identities

    Modernity has not been kind to Afghanistan. Until the 1970s, this country was a land where hippies showed up to smoke pot and have a good time. Older Pakistani friends reminisce about driving from Peshawar to Kabul to buy videotapes of Bollywood movies and bask in the relatively liberal milieu of Afghanistan. When the Soviets intervened in 1979, this idyllic version of the country disintegrated. For all the efforts of Soviet troops, engineers and administrators, communism failed.

    By February 1989, Soviet troops withdrew from Afghanistan. Later that year, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union itself imploded in 1991. The loosely allied mujahideen turned their guns on each other and a bloody civil war followed. The Tajiks, the Uzbeks and the Pashtuns were at each other’s throats. Eventually, the Pakistani-trained, Islamabad-backed, Pashtun-led Taliban triumphed in 1996. Their rule was cut short by the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which brought American intervention and began a 20-year experiment with democracy.

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    Sadly, the democratic experiment has failed too. In June 2021, Forugh and one of the authors wrote that President Ashraf Ghani occupied “his fancy palace in Kabul thanks to the barrels of American guns,” and, once the Americans left, he would be toast. Americans established a presidential system based on their own model that was destined to fail in a famously diverse and fractious society. Note that the US leaders after World War II chose parliamentary democracy for Germany and Japan, two industrial societies with a far higher degree of homogeneity. If Washington blundered at the beginning, its decisions were catastrophic at the end. Today, democracy is dead and buried, the fanatical Taliban rule the roost and ethnic identity is replacing fragile multiethnic Afghan nationalism.

    The Rise of Ethnic Nationalism

    As stated earlier, Afghanistan is where two expanding empires met. The British had digested modern-day Bangladesh, India and Pakistan, then British India. The Russians had taken over an odd assortment of clans and khanates in Central Asia, many of whom were descendants of Genghis Khan and Timur. Just like the boundaries drawn by the British or the French, the Russian ones were arbitrary too. As ethnic nationalism rises in Afghanistan, it will spill over into Central Asia.

    As late as February 2020, the US State Department declared that “a secure and stable Afghanistan [was] a top priority for the Central Asian governments.” It encouraged these governments to boost economic and trade ties with their Kabul counterparts. American hopes for “stable governance of multi-ethnic, Muslim-majority countries” now lie in tatters. Kazakhstan demonstrates that Russian realpolitik of supporting strongmen has triumphed.

    Yet even the Kremlin cannot hold back the tide of ethnic nationalism that is unfolding in Afghanistan and spreading to Central Asia. The Tajiks led by Amrullah Saleh and Ahmad Massoud have the tacit, if not explicit, support of the Tajikistan government. The Uzbek warlord Rashid Dostum fled to Uzbekistan when the Taliban took over. As the Pashtuns leave not even scraps at the table for others, it is only natural that minority ethnicities are looking across the border for a better future. Just as in former Yugoslavia, ethnic nationalism is now on the rise in Central Asia.

    Pakistan’s Frankenstein Monster’s Problem: Radical Islam

    To a large degree, Pakistan has fostered, if not created, the ethnic nationalism now rising in Afghanistan and spilling over into Central Asia. It is an open secret that Pakistan’s military elite created the Taliban. As Ishtiaq Ahmed explains, “the Garrison State” has always been paranoid about its lack of strategic depth. The loss of East Pakistan that won independence as Bangladesh in 1971 has scarred the Pakistani psyche and made the country’s political elites double down on political Islam. In the 1980s, General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq moved Pakistan along a fundamentalist arc. Jihad became the order of the day not only against the Soviets in Afghanistan but also against India, which he sought to “bleed through a thousand cuts.”

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    Zia was not an exception to Pakistani hostility to India. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the man Zia ousted through a military coup and hung on the gallows, vowed to wage a “thousand year war against India.” In 1974, Pakistani mobs massacred thousands of Ahmadis and, instead of delivering them protection or justice, Bhutto brought in a constitutional amendment declaring the Ahmadis non-Muslims. The same year, he declared Pakistan would go nuclear, claiming “We shall eat grass but have our bomb.” Islamic fundamentalism and Pavlovian anti-India ethos drive Pakistani state policy regardless of whether the country is under civil or military rule. 

    Backed by the US and Saudi Arabia, the Pakistan-backed mujahideen brought the Soviet Union to its knees. Against India, Pakistan has followed an asymmetric strategy of championing irregulars, insurgent and terrorists from its very inception. In the first of a three-part series analyzing the fallout of the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Rakesh Kaul points out how Pakistan supported a Pashtun jihad in Kashmir as early as 1947. The marauding tribesmen killed Kaul’s great-grandfather, “tied his dead body to a horse and dragged it through the streets to terrorize the local population into submission.”

    Starting from the 1980s, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) unleashed terror as an instrument of state policy against India. First, the ISI backed the violent Sikh insurgency for an independent state of Khalistan, a strategy that it continues with till today. Second, the ISI supported the insurgency in Kashmir that blew up in 1989 and persists till today. Third, the ISI created and supported militant jihadist groups such as Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammed to overwhelm India through multiple terrorist attacks. With a crisis-ridden economy and much smaller military, Pakistan has bet on asymmetric terror tactics and nuclear deterrence to tie India down.

    However, Pakistan is discovering that when you sow the wind, you reap the whirlwind. Like Victor Frankenstein, the Garrison State has created a monster: radical Islam. Since the 1980s, Pakistan has become intolerant, sectarian and violent. Minorities have faced persecution and suffered ethnic cleansing. The case of the animistic Kalash people in Chitral is a case in point. Many documentaries have recorded how they have faced persistent persecution and forced conversion. As a result, a mere 3,500 Kalash are left and they may not survive for too long.

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    Radical Islam was meant to be a tool the Pakistani state used against its neighbors. Now, it has spread like cancer throughout all aspects of the country’s life. Instead of Pakistan’s corrupt and inefficient government, madrasas now provide education for refugees and lower-class Pakistanis. Many of them are hardline and churn out jihadis by the thousands. For instance, most of the Afghani Taliban leadership graduated from the madrasa Dur-ul-Uloom Haqqania.

    Religious figures can now bring the country over a standstill in an instant. Violent protests repeatedly erupted after French President Emmanuel Macron said that Islam was in crisis. Terror attacks within Pakistan have shot up. Roohafza, a sugary syrupy drink, has replaced whiskey in officer messes. Many officers now sport flowing beards and offer prayer five times a day. In the words of Javed Jabbar, Pakistan has experienced “a steady retreat into showy religiosity and visible piety in the public domain and in most media.” A new law makes it compulsory for every child to learn Arabic.

    Pakistan finds itself in a bind. It has to direct the thousands of jihadis graduating from madrasas against external enemies to avoid internecine strife. In fact, it is only a question of time before radical Islamists will infiltrate all organs of the Pakistani state. The Taliban’s victory has convinced them that Allah is on their side. The risks of a general like Zia or a cleric like Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini taking over and unleashing nuclear terror or nuclear war are getting higher by the day.

    Radical Islam and Pashtun Pride Make an Explosive Cocktail

    If radical Islam is dangerous, radical Islam combined with ethnic nationalism is terrifying. After 20 years, the Pashtun-led Taliban is back in power. They are surging with confidence after humbling the world’s superpower. This time, they are battle-hardened, better trained and savvier than their predecessors from the 1990s. The Taliban also have a strong sense of history and look back to the expansionist 18th-century Ahmed Shah Durrani as a model to follow. 

    Durrani was a historic figure who sent troops to Central Asia, defeated the Marathas in the historic 1761 Third Battle of Panipat with assistance of local Muslim rulers and created the modern nation of Afghanistan. Durrani’s young nation soon fell victim to the Great Game and lost much territory to the British. Led by Sir Henry Mortimer Durand, the British delineated the modern-day border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. Till date, many Pashtuns have not accepted this border.

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    The Taliban are expansionists. In the north, the Tajiks and the Uzbeks will fight a guerilla war, ensuring their eventual retreat. To the west lie Turkmenistan and Iran, two ethnically distinct entities where the Taliban cannot expand. To the south and east lies Pakistan where the Taliban trained and where their Pashtun kin reside. Furthermore, the Pashtuns have a deep memory of raiding and ruling the plains of Indus and the Ganges. When Babur swept down from modern-day Uzbekistan to modern-day Pakistan and India through the Khyber Pass, he defeated a Pashtun sultan who was ruling Delhi.

    When Pakistan won independence, Pashtun opinion was divided. Some like Sardar Abdur Rab Nishtar wanted a homeland for Muslim Indians in the shape of Pakistan. Others like Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a friend of Mahatma Gandhi, fought for a unified India and then for an autonomous Pashtunistan. Still others wanted reunification with Afghanistan. Worryingly for Pakistan, Pashtun refugees have streamed into the country from Afghanistan since 1979. Encyclopedia Britannica tells us that there were “about 11 million Pashtun in Afghanistan and 25 million in Pakistan in the early 21st century.” Multiple estimates indicate Pashtuns to be over 15% of Pakistan’s population. In Afghanistan, they comprise about 42% of the population. Once all-out ethnic conflict erupts in Afghanistan, Pashtun identity is only likely to strengthen.

    So far, the Punjabi elite running Pakistan has co-opted the Pashtun elite by giving it plum positions in the state apparatus, especially the military. The ruling elite has also used Pashtuns to fight wars and proxy wars in Kashmir since 1947 when both India and Pakistan emerged as two independent entities after the partition of British India. During the 20 years of US presence in Afghanistan, cross-border incursions into and violent incidents in Kashmir declined because Pashtuns were too busy fighting a jihad at home. Now, these jihadis will turn their attention to Kashmir.

    Not all jihadis are fixated with Kashmir. Some of them are sworn enemies of the Pakistani state such as the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan. With the victory of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistan may have achieved its long-cherished strategic depth against India, but it now has the tail of the Pashtun tiger in its hands. Pakistan’s ISI has no option but to deploy Pashtun jihadis against India in Kashmir. Failure on the Kashmir front could trigger Pashtun dissatisfaction against Punjabi leadership.

    A tiny wrinkle many forget is that Pashtuns see themselves as a warrior people and the natural leaders of Muslims in the Indian subcontinent. They have successfully beaten back the British, the Soviets and the Americans. Pashtuns see the Punjabis as soft, loud and showy. Like the Balochs, the Sindhis, the Muhajirs and others, Pashtuns resent the Punjabi domination of Pakistan. Furthermore, many Pashtuns regard the banks of the Indus, not the Durand Line, as their natural border.

    Blood Borders

    Pakistan’s Pashtun problem is a particular example of a more widespread phenomenon. Most of the current borders in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are colonial legacies that do not make sense. In 2006, Ralph Peters published a controversial article in Armed Forces Journal titled “Blood Borders” where he argued for redrawing “arbitrary and distorted borders.” Peters took the view that “significant ‘cheated’ population groups, such as the Kurds, Baluch and Arab Shia” deserved their own states. He blamed “awful-but-sacrosanct international boundaries,” not Islam, for much of the violence in the Middle East and South Asia.

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    Since 2006, many analysts have slammed Peters. The US has resolutely upheld the stability of the borders in former British and French colonies even as it has championed the independence of nations once under the Soviet yoke. That policy might be nearing the end of its shelf life. In its moment of triumph in Afghanistan, Pakistan might have set wheels into motion that will lead to its own disintegration.

    Today, Pakistan is held together by an anti-India Islamic identity. The different linguistic ethnic groups that comprise Pakistan have long been pulling in different directions. Therefore, Pakistan has fostered a siege mentality among its people and created an identity that looks to Arab, Turkish and Pashtun conquerors of India for inspiration. Pashtun identity is far more cohesive, time-tested and real. After humbling the US, Pashtuns are unlikely to play second fiddle to the Punjabis for much longer. Inevitably, they are bound to take charge of their own destiny as they have done many times in the past.

    To add fuel to the fire, Pakistan’s economy is in dire straits. Last year, the International Monetary Fund instituted yet another bailout and released $6 billion to Islamabad in November. Over the last three years, the Pakistani rupee has fallen by 30.5% against the US dollar. Inflation and unemployment are running high. In such circumstances, anti-India rhetoric is useful, desirable and essential to keep the country together. 

    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has repeatedly condemned India’s “descent into fascism” and claimed that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s parent organization, of being Nazi-inspired entities. This puts pressure on Khan’s government and his military backers to act against such a toxic neighbor and evil enemy. The trouble for Khan and his delusional friends in Islamabad is that state coffers have little money to fund conflict with a far more prosperous and numerous India. Khan and co are riling up a mob that they are bound to disappoint. The last-ditch effort to keep Pakistan together would be war with India and, if Islamic radicals were to seize power in Islamabad, the risk of nuclear war would only turn too real.

    Whether conflict with India is conventional or nuclear will be determined by circumstances in the future. It is clear that the Taliban have unleashed ethnic nationalism not only in Afghanistan but also in neighboring Central Asian states. Inevitably, the Pashtuns in Pakistan will be infected by that sentiment as well, especially as Islamabad leads the country to economic and military disaster. The scenario Peters conjured of Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier tribes reuniting with their Afghan brethren and creating Pashtunistan would then come true. Both Afghanistan and Pakistan would no longer be the same again.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    How the Legal Landscape Is Changing for War Crimes

    War crimes, genocide, torture, forced disappearances, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international law have been characteristic of conflicts in the Arab world since even before they were codified in law. These crimes still occur in many Arab countries, most notably in Syria and Yemen. Not only do perpetrators often go unpunished, but they also find themselves rewarded and promoted.

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    So, when on November 30, 2021, a court in Frankfurt, Germany, handed down a life sentence to an Iraqi man who joined the Islamic State (IS) group for genocide against the Yazidi minority — the first time a former member of IS had been convicted of genocide and the first verdict for genocide against Yazidis — it was celebrated as a landmark case in the fight for justice and accountability. Taha al-Jumailly was found guilty of genocide, crimes against humanity resulting in death, war crimes, aiding and abetting war crimes, and bodily harm resulting in death.

    “Today, ISIS member Taha AJ was convicted of genocide and sentenced to life in prison. This is the first genocide verdict against an ISIS member. This verdict is a win for survivors of genocide, survivors of sexual violence, & the Yazidi community,” tweeted Nadia Murad, a 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner and a Yazidi survivor of IS enslavement.

    Universal Jurisdiction

    The trial was also the first in Germany based on the principle of universal jurisdiction addressing crimes under international law committed abroad by a perpetrator who is not a German citizen and was only extradited on the basis of an international arrest warrant. Universal jurisdiction is the principle that some crimes are so serious that states should be allowed to claim jurisdiction over an accused person regardless of where they were committed or any other relation with the prosecuting entity. None of the crimes in the Jumailly case were committed in Germany, and neither the victims nor the suspect were German nationals.

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    Though universal jurisdiction has been practiced in just a few countries in recent years, it has become an increasingly important tool for achieving accountability and justice for the survivors and victims of international crimes. Hundreds of investigations are ongoing and dozens of convictions have been obtained.

    The blossoming of universal jurisdiction is attributable to several factors, one of which is that the alternative route to prosecuting international crimes through the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court (ICC) has effectively been closed by geopolitics. The Syrian conflict, for example, has never been appraised by the ICC because Russia backs President Bashar al-Assad.

    The Pursuit of Cases

    In recent years, there has been a greater capacity and willingness on the part of some domestic authorities to pursue cases involving international crimes, at least in certain circumstances. More and more countries have also passed laws allowing them to conduct the kind of landmark prosecution that took place in Frankfurt. More countries are following the Dutch example in setting up specialized units within the police, prosecution and even immigration services dedicated to identifying perpetrators of international crimes and bringing them to trial.

    Another important factor in the power of universal jurisdiction is that victims and their advocates can contribute to investigations and prosecutions, and sometimes even influence the direction they take. In some countries, such as France and Belgium, victims and NGOs can initiate criminal proceedings. Even where this is not possible, victims and their advocates can still drive cases forward in other ways, such as by tracking perpetrators’ movements, sharing information with the authorities and exerting pressure on them to act.

    Dutch authorities have even issued directions for Syrians in the Netherlands on how to file a criminal complaint against other Syrians relating to violations in Syria. In February, after Germany’s top court ruled that war crimes committed abroad can be tried in the country, a court in Koblenz became the first court outside of Syria to rule on state-sponsored torture by the Assad regime when it sentenced a former member of the secret police to four and a half years in prison for being an accomplice to crimes against humanity. Another former Syrian intelligence officer is currently on trial in Germany for overseeing 58 counts of murder and at least 4,000 cases of torture, rape or sexual abuse.

    Many Challenges

    Despite this recent progress, enormous legal, evidentiary and logistical challenges remain before international criminal cases can be brought to trial. Investigating and prosecuting international crimes in domestic courts is not straightforward, especially in a complex conflict such as the Yemen war where crimes have been committed over many years by different actors.

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    Foreign investigators cannot easily gather evidence on the ground, so they have to rely on the cooperation of different parties to the conflict to build cases. UN bodies like the group of eminent experts, international organizations, local NGOs, and organizations such as Airwars assist with investigations.

    Even if evidence linking an individual perpetrator to war crimes can be established, the suspect still has to be apprehended. In some countries practicing universal jurisdiction, those accused of committing war crimes do not need to be within reach of authorities for an investigation to be opened, but they need to be physically brought to court before any trial can take place.

    Though international cooperation can be used to apprehend and extradite international pariahs like IS militants, pirates and slave traders, war criminals who are still serving members of Arab regimes are not about to be handed over. Only when they set foot in a country practicing universal jurisdiction — whether for work, vacation, claiming asylum or for any other reason — can they be arrested immediately, providing they do not benefit from immunity.

    Jumailly’s conviction “sends a clear message,” said Natia Navrouzov, a lawyer and member of the NGO Yazda, which gathers evidence of crimes committed by IS against the Yazidis. “It doesn’t matter where the crimes were committed and it doesn’t matter where the perpetrators are, thanks to the universal jurisdiction, they can’t hide and will still be put on trial.”

    *[This article was originally published by Arab Digest, a partner of Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    9/11 and the American Collective Unconscious

    A little more than a month ago, the most newsworthy controversy surrounding the imminent and highly symbolic 20th anniversary of 9/11 concerned the message by families of the victims that Joe Biden would not be welcome at the planned commemoration. They reproached the US president for failing to make good on last year’s campaign promise to declassify the documents they believe will reveal Saudi Arabia’s implication in the attacks.

    That was the story that grabbed headlines at the beginning of August. Hardly a week later, everything had changed. Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, fell to the Taliban and soon the 20-year war would be declared over.

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    Though few paid attention to the phenomenon, this also meant that the significance of a commemoration of the attacks, would be radically different. For 19 years, the commemoration served to reinforce the will and resolution of the nation to overcome the humiliation of the fallen twin towers and a damaged wing of the Pentagon.

    Redefining the Meaning of the Historical Trauma

    In the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, 2001, politicians quickly learned to exploit the date as a painful reminder of a tragedy that had unified an otherwise chaotically disputatious nation in shared horror and mourning. Ever since that fatal day, politicians have invoked it to reinforce the belief in American exceptionalism.

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    The nation is so exceptional in generously providing its people with what President George W. Bush called “our freedoms” — and which he identified as the target of the terrorists — that it was logical to suppose that evil people who didn’t possess those freedoms or were prevented from emigrating to the land of the free would do everything in their power to destroy those freedoms. To the degree that Americans are deeply thankful for possessing such an exceptional status, other ill-intentioned people will take exception to that exceptionality and in their unjustified jealousy will threaten to destroy it.

    On a less philosophical and far more pragmatic note, the remembrance of the 9/11 attacks has conveniently and consistently served to justify an ever-expanding military budget that no patriotic American, interested in preserving through the force of arms the nation’s exceptional status, should ever oppose. It went without saying, through the three previous presidencies, that the annual commemoration provided an obvious explanation of why the forever war in Afghanistan was lasting forever.

    The fall of Kabul on August 15, followed by the panicked retreat of all remaining Americans, caught everyone by surprise. It unexpectedly brought an official end to the war whose unforgettable beginning is traced back to that bright September day in 2001. Though no one has yet had the time to put it all in perspective, the debate in the media has shifted away from glossing the issues surrounding an ongoing war on terror to assessing the blame for its ignominious end. Some may have privately begun to wonder whether the theme being commemorated on this September 11 now concerns the martyrdom of its victims or the humiliation of the most powerful nation in the history of the world. The pace of events since mid-August has meant that the media have been largely silent on this quandary.

    So, What About Saudi Arabia?

    With the American retreat, the controversy around Biden’s unkept campaign promise concerning Saudi Arabia’s implication in 9/11 provisionally took a backseat to a much more consequent quarrel, one that will have an impact on next year’s midterm elections. Nearly every commentator has been eager to join the fray focusing on the assessment of the wisdom or folly of both Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Afghanistan and his seemingly improvised management of the final chaotic phase.

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    The human tragedy visible in the nightly news as throngs of people at Kabul airport desperately sought to flee the country easily eclipsed the genteel but politically significant showdown between a group of American citizens demanding the truth and a government committed to protecting the reputations of friends and allies, especially ones from oil-rich nations.

    The official excuse turns around the criterion that has become a magic formula: national security. But the relatives of victims are justified in wondering which nation’s security is being prioritized. They have a sneaking suspicion that some people in Washington have confused their own nation’s security with Saudi Arabia’s. Just as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt not long ago revealed that plenty of people within the Beltway continue to confuse US foreign policy with Israel’s, the families may be justified in suspecting that Saudi Arabia’s interest in hiding the truth trumps American citizens’ right to know the truth.

    To appease the families of 9/11 victims and permit his unimpeded participation in the commemorations, Biden offered to release some of the classified documents. It was a clever move, since the new, less-redacted version will only become available well after the commemoration. This gesture seems to have accomplished its goal of preventing an embarrassing showdown at the commemoration ceremonies. But it certainly will not be enough to satisfy the demands of the families, who apparently remain focused on obtaining that staple of the US criminal justice system: “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

    Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, may have shown the way concerning the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Like MBS, the White House prefers finding a way to release some of the truth rather than the whole truth — just the amount that doesn’t violate national security or tarnish the reputations of any key people. Those two goals have increasingly become synonymous. If the people knew what actual political personalities were doing, the nation’s security might be endangered, as the people might begin to lose faith in a government that insists on retaining the essential power of deciding how the truth should be told.

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    Here is how the White House officially formulates the legal principle behind its commitment to unveiling a little more truth than is currently available. “Although the indiscriminate release of classified information could jeopardize the national security — including the United States Government’s efforts to protect against future acts of terrorism — information should not remain classified when the public interest in disclosure outweighs any damage to the national security that might reasonably be expected from disclosure.”

    The White House has thus formulated an innovative legal principle brilliantly designed to justify concealing enough of the naked truth to avoid offending public morals by revealing its stark nakedness. Legal scholars of the future may refer to it as the “indiscriminate release” principle. Its logical content is worth exploring. It plays on the auxiliary verbs “could” and “should.” “Could” is invoked in such a way as to suggest that, though it is possible, no reasonable person would take the risk of an “indiscriminate release of classified information.” Later in the same sentence, the auxiliary verb “should” serves to speculatively establish the moral character of the principle. It tells us what “should” be the case — that is, what is morally ideal — even if inevitably the final result will be quite different. This allows the White House to display its good intentions while preparing for an outcome that will surely disappoint.

    To justify its merely partial exposure of the truth, the White House offers another original moral concept when it promises the maximization of transparency. The full sentence reads: “It is therefore critical to ensure that the United States Government maximizes transparency.”

    There is of course an easy way to maximize transparency if that is truly the government’s intention. It can be done simply by revealing everything and hiding nothing within the limits of its physical capability. No one doubts that the government is physically capable of removing all the redactions. But the public should know by now that the value cited as overriding all others — national security — implicitly requires hiding a determined amount of the truth. In other words, it is framed as a trade-off between maximum transparency and minimum concealment. Biden has consistently compared himself to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Perhaps that trade-off between transparency and concealment is what historians will call Biden’s New Deal.

    But the White House’s reasoning is not yet complete. The document offers yet another guiding principle to explain why not everything will become visible. “Thus, information collected and generated in the United States Government’s investigation of the 9/11 terrorist attacks should now be disclosed,” it affirms, “except when the strongest possible reasons counsel otherwise.” Those reasons, the document tells us, will be defined by the Federal Bureau of Investigation during its “declassification reviews.” This invocation of the “strongest possible reasons” appears to empower the FBI to define or at least apply not only what is “strongest,” but also what is “possible.” That constitutes a pretty broad power.

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    The document states very clearly what the government sees as the ultimate criterion for declassification: “Information may remain classified only if it still requires protection in the interest of the national security and disclosure of the information reasonably could be expected to result in damage to the national security. Information shall not remain classified if there is significant doubt about the need to maintain its classified status.” The families of the victims can simply hope that there will not be too much “significant doubt.” They might be forgiven for doubting that that will be the case.

    One September Morning vs. 20 Years of Subsequent Mornings

    Twenty years ago, a spectacular crime occurred on the East Coast of the United States that set off two decades of crimes, blunders and judgment errors that, now compounded by COVID-19 and aggravated climate change, have brought the world to a crisis point unique in human history.

    The Bush administration, in office for less than eight months at the time of the event, with no certain knowledge of who the perpetrator might have been, chose to classify the attack not as a crime, but as an act of war. When the facts eventually did become clearer after a moment of hesitation in which the administration attempted even to implicate Iraq, the crime became unambiguously attributable, not to a nation but to a politically motivated criminal organization: Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda that back then was operating out of Afghanistan, which was ruled by the Taliban.

    The administration’s choice of treating the attack as an act of war not only stands as a crime in itself, but, as history has shown, as the trigger for a series of even more shameless and far more destructive — if not quite as spectacular — crimes that would roll out for the next two decades and even gain momentum over time. Had the 9/11 attacks been treated as crimes rather than acts of war, the question of national security would have had less importance in the investigation. By going to war with Afghanistan, the Bush administration made it more difficult to investigate all the possible complicities. Could this partially explain its precipitation to start a war?

    Bin Laden, a Saudi, did not act alone. But he did not act in the name of a state either, which is the fundamental criterion for identifying an act of war. He acted within a state, in the territory of Afghanistan. Though his motive was political and the chosen targets were evocatively symbolic of political power, the act itself was in no way political. No more so, in any case, than the January 6 insurrection this year on Capitol Hill.

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    Though the facts are still being obscured and the text describing them remains redacted in the report of the 9/11 Commission, reading between the redacted lines reveals that bin Laden did have significant support from powerful personalities in Saudi Arabia, many of them with a direct connection to the government. This foreknowledge would seem to indicate complicity at some level of the state.

    On this 20th anniversary of a moment of horror, the families of the victims quite logically continue to suspect that if a state was involved that might eventually justify a declaration of war by Congress (as required by the US Constitution), the name of that state should not have been Afghanistan, but Saudi Arabia. It is equally clear that the Afghan government at the time was in no way directly complicit.

    When the new version of the 9/11 Commission’s report appears with its “maximum transparency,” meaning a bare minimum of redaction, the objections of the victims’ families will no longer be news, and the truth about the deeper complicities around 9/11 will most probably remain obscured. Other dramas, concerning the state of the COVID-19 pandemic, the increasingly obvious consequences of climate change and an upcoming midterm election will probably mean that next year’s 21st commemoration will be low-keyed and possibly considered unworthy of significant mention in the news.

    In 2021, the world has become a decidedly different place than it has been over the past two decades. The end of a forever war simply promises a host of new forever problems to emerge for increasingly unstable democracies to deal with.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Will the US Wake Up From Its Post-9/11 Nightmare?

    Looking back on it now, the 1990s were an age of innocence for America. The Cold War was over and our leaders promised us a “peace dividend.” There was no TSA — the Transportation Security Administration — to make us take off our shoes at airports (how many bombs have they found in those billions of shoes?). The government could not tap a US phone or read private emails without a warrant from a judge. And the national debt was only $5 trillion, compared with over $28 trillion today.

    We have been told that the criminal attacks of September 11, 2001, “changed everything.” But what really changed everything was the US government’s disastrous response to them. That response was not preordained or inevitable, but the result of decisions and choices made by politicians, bureaucrats and generals who fueled and exploited our fears, unleashed wars of reprehensible vengeance and built a secretive security state, all thinly disguised behind Orwellian myths of American greatness.  

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    Most Americans believe in democracy and many regard the United States as a democratic country. But the US response to 9/11 laid bare the extent to which American leaders are willing to manipulate the public into accepting illegal wars, torture, the Guantanamo gulag and sweeping civil rights abuses — activities that undermine the very meaning of democracy. 

    Former Nuremberg prosecutor Ben Ferencz said in a speech in 2011 that “a democracy can only work if its people are being told the truth.” But America’s leaders exploited the public’s fears in the wake of 9/11 to justify wars that have killed and maimed millions of people who had nothing to do with those crimes. Ferencz compared this to the actions of the German leaders he prosecuted at Nuremberg, who also justified their invasions of other countries as “preemptive first strikes.” 

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    “You cannot run a country as Hitler did, feeding them a pack of lies to frighten them that they’re being threatened, so it’s justified to kill people you don’t even know,” Ferencz continued. “It’s not logical, it’s not decent, it’s not moral, and it’s not helpful. When an unmanned bomber from a secret American airfield fires rockets into a little Pakistani or Afghan village and thereby kills or maims unknown numbers of innocent people, what is the effect of that? Every victim will hate America forever and will be willing to die killing as many Americans as possible. Where there is no court of justice, wild vengeance is the alternative.” 

    “Insurgent Math”

    Even the commander of US forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, talked about “insurgent math,” conjecturing that, for every innocent person killed, the US created 10 new enemies. Thus, the so-called global war on terror fueled a global explosion of terrorism and armed resistance that will not end unless and until the United States ends the state terrorism that provokes and fuels it. 

    By opportunistically exploiting 9/11 to attack countries that had nothing to do with it, like Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Syria and Yemen, the US vastly expanded the destructive strategy it used in the 1980s to destabilize Afghanistan, which spawned the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the first place. In Libya and Syria, only 10 years after 9/11, US leaders betrayed every American who lost a loved one on September 11 by recruiting and arming al-Qaeda-led militants to overthrow two of the most secular governments in the Middle East, plunging both countries into years of intractable violence and fueling radicalization throughout the region.

    The US response to 9/11 was corrupted by a toxic soup of revenge, imperialist ambitions, war profiteering, systematic brainwashing and sheer stupidity. Lincoln Chafee, the only Republican senator who voted against the war on Iraq, later wrote, “Helping a rogue president start an unnecessary war should be a career-ending lapse of judgment.”

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    But it wasn’t. Very few of the 263 Republicans or the 110 Democrats who voted in 2002 for the US to invade Iraq paid any political price for their complicity in international aggression, which the judges at Nuremberg explicitly called “the supreme international crime.” One of them now sits at the apex of power in the White House. 

    Failure in Afghanistan

    Donald Trump and Joe Biden’s withdrawal and implicit acceptance of the US defeat in Afghanistan could serve as an important step toward ending the violence and chaos their predecessors unleashed after the 9/11 attacks. But the current debate over next year’s military budget makes it clear that our deluded leaders are still dodging the obvious lessons of 20 years of war. 

    Barbara Lee, the only member of Congress with the wisdom and courage to vote against the war resolution in 2001, has introduced a bill to cut US military spending by almost half: $350 billion per year. With the miserable failure in Afghanistan, a war that will end up costing every US taxpayer $20,000, one would think that Representative Lee’s proposal would be eliciting tremendous support. But the White House, the Pentagon and the Armed Services Committees in the House and Senate are instead falling over each other to shovel even more money into the bottomless pit of the military budget.

    Politicians’ votes on questions of war, peace and military spending are the most reliable test of their commitment to progressive values and the well-being of their constituents. You cannot call yourself a progressive or a champion of working people if you vote to appropriate more money for weapons and war than for health care, education, green jobs and fighting poverty.

    These 20 years of war have revealed to Americans and the world that modern weapons and formidable military forces can only accomplish two things: kill and maim people and destroy homes, infrastructure and entire cities. American promises to rebuild bombed-out cities and “remake” countries it has destroyed have proved worthless, as President Biden has acknowledged. 

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    Both Iraq and Afghanistan are turning primarily to China for the help they need to start rebuilding and developing economically from the ruin and devastation left by the US and its allies. America destroys, China builds. The contrast could not be more stark or self-evident. No amount of Western propaganda can hide what the whole world can see. 

    But the different paths chosen by American and Chinese leaders are not predestined. Despite the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the US corporate media, the American public has always been wiser and more committed to cooperative diplomacy than their country’s political and executive class. It has been well-documented that many of the endless crises in US foreign policy could have been avoided if America’s leaders had just listened to the people.

    Weapons and More Weapons

    The perennial handicap that has dogged US diplomacy since World War II is precisely our investment in weapons and military forces, including nuclear weapons that threaten our very existence. It is trite but true to say that, “when the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” 

    Other countries don’t have the option of deploying overwhelming military force to confront international problems, so they have had to be smarter and more nimble in their diplomacy and more prudent and selective in their more limited uses of military force. 

    The rote declarations of US leaders that “all options are on the table” are a euphemism for precisely the “threat or use of force” that the UN Charter explicitly prohibits, and they stymie the US development of expertise in nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. The bumbling and bombast of America’s leaders in international arenas stand in sharp contrast to the skillful diplomacy and clear language we often hear from top Russian, Chinese and Iranian diplomats, even when they are speaking in English, their second or third language.

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    By contrast, US leaders rely on threats, coups, sanctions and war to project power around the world. They promise Americans that these coercive methods will maintain US “leadership” or dominance indefinitely into the future, as if that is America’s rightful place in the world: sitting atop the globe like a cowboy on a bucking bronco. 

    A “new American century” and “Pax Americana” are Orwellian versions of Adolf Hitler’s “thousand-year Reich” but are no more realistic. No empire has lasted forever, and there is historical evidence that even the most successful empires have a lifespan of no more than 250 years, by which time their rulers have enjoyed so much wealth and power that decadence and decline inevitably set in. This describes the United States today.  

    America’s economic dominance is waning. Its once productive economy has been gutted and financialized, and most countries in the world now do more trade with China and/or the European Union than with the United States. Where America’s military once kicked open doors for American capital to “follow the flag” and open up new markets, today’s US war machine is just a bull in the global china shop, wielding purely destructive power.    

    Time to Get Serious

    But we are not condemned to passively follow the suicidal path of militarism and hostility. Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan could be a down payment on a transition to a more peaceful post-imperial economy — if the American public starts to actively demand peace, diplomacy and disarmament and find ways to make our voices heard. 

    First, we must get serious about demanding cuts in the Pentagon budget. None of our other problems will be solved as long as we keep allowing our leaders to flush the majority of federal discretionary spending down the same military toilet as the $2.26 trillion they wasted on the war in Afghanistan. We must oppose politicians who refuse to cut the Pentagon budget, regardless of which party they belong to and where they stand on other issues.

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    Second, we must not let ourselves or our family members be recruited into the US war machine. Instead, we must challenge our leaders’ absurd claims that the imperial forces deployed across the world to threaten other countries are somehow, by some convoluted logic, defending America. As a translator paraphrased Voltaire, “Whoever can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.”  

    Third, we must expose the ugly, destructive reality behind our country’s myths of “defending” US vital interests, humanitarian intervention, the war on terror and the latest absurdity, the ill-defined “rules-based order” — whose rules only apply to others but never to the United States. 

    Finally, we must oppose the corrupt power of the arms industry, including US weapons sales to the world’s most repressive regimes, and an unwinnable arms race that risks a potentially world-ending conflict with China and Russia. 

    Our only hope for the future is to abandon the futile quest for hegemony and instead commit to peace, cooperative diplomacy, international law and disarmament. After 20 years of war and militarism that has only left the world a more dangerous place and accelerated America’s decline, we must choose the path of peace.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Did 9/11 Change Everything?

    Twenty years ago, the United States sustained the first substantial attacks on the mainland since the War of 1812. It was a collective shock to all Americans who believed their country to be impregnable. The Cold War had produced the existential dread of a nuclear attack, but that always lurked in the realm of the maybe. On a day-to-day basis, Americans enjoyed the exceptional privilege of national security. No one would dare attack us for fear of massive retaliation. Little did we imagine that someone would attack us in order to precipitate massive retaliation.

    Osama bin Laden understood that American power was vulnerable when overextended. He knew that the greatest military power in the history of the world, deranged by a desire for vengeance, could be lured into taking a cakewalk into a quagmire. With the attacks on September 11, 2001, al-Qaeda turned ordinary American airplanes into weapons to attack American targets. In the larger sense, bin Laden used the entire American army to destroy the foundations of American empire.

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    The commentary on this 20th anniversary of 9/11 has been predictably shallow: how the attacks changed travel, fiction, the arts in general. Consider this week’s Washington Post magazine section in which 28 contributors reflect on the ways that the attacks changed the world.

    “The attack would alter the lives of U.S. troops and their families, and millions of people in Afghanistan and Iraq,” the editors write. “It would set the course of political parties and help to decide who would lead our country. In short, 9/11 changed the world in demonstrable, massive and heartbreaking ways. But the ripple effects altered our lives in subtle, often-overlooked ways as well.”

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    The subsequent entries on art, fashion, architecture, policing, journalism and so on attempt to describe these subtler effects. Yet it’s difficult to read this special issue without concluding that 9/11, in fact, didn’t change the world much at all.

    The demonization of American Muslims? That began long before the fateful day, cresting after the Iranian Revolution in 1979. The paranoid retrenchment in American architecture? US embassies were rebuilt not in response to 9/11, but the embassy bombings in Beirut in 1983-84 and Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

    The impact of 9/11 on the arts can be traced through a handful of works like Spike Lee’s “25th Hour” or the TV series “24” or Don DeLillo’s “Falling Man,” but it didn’t produce a new artistic movement like Dada in the wake of World War I or cli-fi in response to the climate crisis. Even the experience of flying hasn’t changed that much beyond beefed-up security measures. At this point, the introduction of personal in-flight entertainment systems has arguably altered the flying experience more profoundly.

    And isn’t the assertion that 9/11 changed everything exceptionally America-centric? Americans were deeply affected, as were the places invaded by US troops. But how much has life in Japan or Zimbabwe or Chile truly changed as a result of 9/11? Of course, Americans have always believed that, as the song goes, “we are the world.”

    More Than a Mistake

    In a more thoughtful Post consideration of 9/11, Carlos Lozado reviews many of the books that have come out in the last 20 years on what went wrong. In his summary, US policy proceeds like a cascade of falling dominos, each one a mistake that follows from the previous and sets into motion the next.

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    Successive administrations underestimated al-Qaeda and failed to see signs of preparation for the 9/11 attacks. In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Bush administration mistakenly followed the example of numerous empires in thinking that it could subdue Afghanistan and remake it in the image of the colonial overlord. It then compounded that error by invading Iraq in 2003 with the justification that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with al-Qaeda, was building up a nuclear program, or was otherwise part of an alliance of nations determined to take advantage of an America still reeling from the 9/11 attacks. Subsequent administrations made the mistake of doubling down in Afghanistan, expanding the war on terror to other battlefields and failing to end US operations at propitious moments like the killing of Osama bin Laden in 2011.

    Lozado concludes by pointing out that Donald Trump is in many ways a product of the war on terror that followed 9/11. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate—and using that lie as a successful political platform,” he writes. “Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a ‘battle space’ to be dominated.”

    But to understand the rise of Trump, it’s necessary to see 9/11 and its aftermath as more than just the product of a series of errors of perception and judgment. Implicit in Lozado’s review is the notion that America somehow lost its way, that an otherwise robust intelligence community screwed the pooch, that some opportunistic politicians used the attacks to short-circuit democracy, public oversight and even military logic. But this assumes that the war on terror represents a substantial rift in the American fabric. The 9/11 attacks were a surprise. The response wasn’t.

    The United States had already launched a war against Iraq in 1991. It had already mistakenly identified Iran, Hamas and jihadist forces like al-Qaeda as enemies linked by their broad religious identity. It had built a worldwide arsenal of bases and kept up extraordinarily high levels of military spending to maintain full-spectrum dominance. Few American politicians questioned the necessity of this hegemony, though liberals tended to prefer that US allies shoulder some of the burden and neoconservatives favored a more aggressive effort to roll back the influence of Russia, China and other regional hegemons.

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    The “war on terror” effectively began in 1979 when the United States established its “state sponsors of terrorism” list. The Reagan administration used “counterterrorism” as an organizing principle of US foreign policy throughout the 1980s. In the post-Cold War era, the Clinton administration attempted to demonstrate its hawk credentials by launching counterterrorism strikes in Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    What changed after 9/11 is that neoconservatives could push their regime-change agenda more successfully because the attacks had temporarily suppressed the Vietnam syndrome, a response to the negative consequences of extended overseas military engagements. Every liberal in Congress, except for the indomitable Barbara Lee, supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, as if they’d been born just the day before. That just happens to be one of those side-effects of empire listed in fine print on the label: periodic and profound amnesia.

    In this sense, Trump is not a product of the war on terror. His views on US foreign policy have ranged across the spectrum from jingoistic to non-interventionist. His attitude toward protesters was positively Nixonian. And his recourse to conspiracy theories derived from his legendary disregard for truth. Regardless of 9/11, Trump’s ego would have propelled him toward the White House.

    The surge of popular support that placed him in the Oval Office, on the other hand, can only be understood in the post-9/11 context. Cyberspace was full of all sorts of nonsense prior to 9/11 (remember the Y2K predictions?). But the attacks gave birth to a new variety of “truthers” who insisted, against all contrary evidence, that nefarious forces had constructed a self-serving reality. The attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon were “inside jobs.” The Newtown shootings had been staged by “crisis actors.” Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

    The shock of the United States being so dramatically and improbably attacked by a couple dozen foreigners was so great that some Americans, uncoupled from their bedrock assumptions about their own national security, were now willing to believe anything. Ultimately, they were even willing to believe someone who lied more consistently and more frequently than any other politician in US history.

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    Trump effectively promised to erase 9/11 from the American consciousness and rewind the clock back to the golden moment of unipolar US power. In offering such selective memory loss, Trump was a quintessentially imperial president.

    The Real Legacy of 9/11

    Even after the British formally began to withdraw from the empire business after World War II, they couldn’t help but continue to act as if the sun didn’t set on their domains. It was the British who masterminded the coup that deposed Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1953. It was the British at the head of the invasion of Egypt in 1956 to recapture control of the Suez Canal. Between 1949 and 1970, Britain launched 34 military interventions in all.

    The UK apparently never received the memo that it was no longer a dominant military power. It’s hard for empires to retire gracefully. Just ask the French.

    The final US withdrawal from Afghanistan last month was in many ways a courageous and successful action by the Biden administration, though it’s hard to come to that conclusion by reading the media accounts. President Joe Biden made the difficult political decision to stick to the terms that his predecessor negotiated with the Taliban last year. Despite being caught by surprise by the Taliban’s rapid seizure of power over the summer, the administration was able to evacuate around 120,000 people, a number that virtually no one would have expected prior to the fall of Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sure, the administration should have been better prepared. Sure, it should have committed to evacuating more Afghans who fear for their lives under the Taliban. But it made the right move to finally end the US presence in Afghanistan.

    Biden has made clear that US counterterrorism strikes in Afghanistan will continue, that the war on terror in the region is not over. Yet, US operations in the Middle East now have the feel of those British interventions in the twilight of empire. America is retreating, slowly but surely and sometimes under a protective hail of bullets. The Islamic State group and its various incarnations have become the problem of the Taliban — and the Syrian state, the Iraq state, the Libyan state (such that it is) and so on.

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    Meanwhile, the United States turns its attention toward China. But this is no Soviet Union. China is a powerhouse economy with a government that has skillfully used nationalism to bolster domestic support. With trade and investment, Beijing has recreated a Sinocentric tributary system in Asia. America really doesn’t have the capabilities to roll back Chinese influence in its own backyard.

    So that, in the end, is what 9/11 has changed. The impact on culture, on the daily lives of those not touched directly by the tragedies, has been minimal. The deeper changes — on perceptions of Muslims, on the war on terror — had been set in motion before the attacks happened.

    But America’s place in the world? In 2000, the United States was still riding high in the aftermath of the end of the Cold War. Today, despite the strains of MAGA that can be heard throughout America’s political culture, the United States has become one major power among many. It can’t dictate policy down the barrel of a gun. Economically it must reckon with China. In geopolitics, it has become the unreliable superpower.

    Even in our profound narcissism, Americans are slowly realizing, like the Brits so many years ago, that the imperial game is up.

    *[This article was originally published by FPIF.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Tony Blair’s Stand-Up Number

    Is there any reason to pay attention to what Tony Blair, the British prime minister between 1997 and 2007, has to say after the Afghan debacle? The former member of the comedy duo, composed of George W. Bush (the inarticulate gaffer) and Blair (the sanctimonious moralizer), that performed prominently on the world stage in the first decade of this century, no longer has any serious connection to political power. Still, Blair manages to make occasional appearances in the news cycle, thanks principally to the inertia that so relentlessly drives the media’s choices.

    Now that the war the Bush and Blair team enthusiastically launched in 2001 has been officially lost, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) was curious to hear what the former leader might have to say. Would Blair offer some insider perspective on an episode of history now judged to have been a vainglorious attempt to punish a spectacular criminal act by mounting a military campaign that turned out to be more spectacular, equally criminal, much more costly and far more self-destructive of the civilization that was presumably defending itself? Would he apologize for his own mistakes? Would he coldly analyze the political and ideological sources of those mistakes?

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    Blair did admit that “maybe my generation of leaders were naive in thinking countries could be remade.” That was neither a confession nor an apology, especially as he immediately followed up by implicitly critiquing President Joe Biden’s precipitated withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan, adding that “maybe the remaking needed to last longer.” He then used the now obligatory example of the plight of Afghan women to assert that “we mustn’t forget … that our values are still those which free people choose.”

    Instead of confessing and clarifying, the monologue he delivered resembled a self-parody of the reasoning that drove his error-ridden decision-making in 2001. “Islamism,” he proclaimed, “both the ideology and the violence, is a first order security threat… COVID-19 has taught us about deadly pathogens. Bio-terror possibilities may seem like the realm of science fiction, but we would be wise now to prepare for their potential use by non-state actors.” In short, once again, we need to be afraid, very afraid.

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Potential use:

    A term used by politicians to describe an unlikely event that usefully inspires fear in the public’s mind to justify aggressive efforts labeled “defense,” but which objectively appear to take the form of offensive assault against other nations and peoples

    Contextual Note

    In such moments, Blair can appear as if he is vying to become a stand-up comedian, a kind of one-man Monty Python, satirizing his nation’s historical institutions. Unfortunately, despite Blair’s notoriety, they are not in the same league. The Flying Circus boys came together initially as irreverent university wits, who targeted post-colonial British culture and the pompous establishment’s status quo. As the former living symbol of that pompous establishment, Blair’s comic ambition is fraught with insurmountable obstacles. Even when his discourse manages to sound as surreally unhinged as that of any of the characters invented by the Python, Blair will never break free from his former identity as the real-life representative of the establishment’s fake wisdom and pseudo-sanity.

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    In the later years of his reign as the young and glamorous prime minister, even before the devastating findings of the Chilcot report on the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War, many politically aware Brits were already tempted to change the spelling of his name from Blair to Bliar, to highlight his habit of solemnly lying his way into disastrous wars, alongside his buddy, President Bush. Together, those two men led an enterprise that some observers assess as a complex and long-enduring war crime.

    That both of those men should still be welcomed on the world stage, treated as sages and counted on to deliver wise commentary on current events should shock only those who are unaware of how today’s media works. It systematically honors those who have been the boldest in committing crimes, so long as such crimes are committed in the name of national security. That rationale has become so fundamental and so obsessively inculcated by those who exercise any form of political or economic power that committing extreme violence in the name of “national security” will always be lauded in the media as proof of a politician’s courage to go beyond the call of duty. 

    Historical Note

    Tony Blair’s comedy appears to be based on a simple premise. His onstage character assumes the stance of taking seriously the startling idea formulated in 1989 by Francis Fukuyama, as the Cold War was ending. According to the young political scientist, a golden age governed by the principles of Western liberalism was dawning. Fukuyama claimed that “we are witnessing… the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

    Fukuyama himself eventually abandoned that thesis or at least corrected our understanding of what he meant by it. Blair thinks we can return to 1992, a year in which the book, “The End of History and the Last Man” was published and the Soviet Union only existed in the past tense. In his secular preaching, Blair maintains the faith in the triumph of liberal values. “Recovering confidence in our values and in their universal application,” he affirmed, “is a necessary part of ensuring we stand up for them and are prepared to defend them.”

    Blair’s forward-looking aims at new battlegrounds. “Britain should work more closely with European countries on how best to develop capacity to tackle the threat in areas such as Africa’s Sahel region,” he said. This stands as a scintillating demonstration of how the neocolonialist mind works. It seeks a region of interest and then invents the threat. 

    Why is Blair singling out the Sahel? The answer should be obvious. It is the logic used by 19th-century European colonialist powers, who opportunistically looked for occasions to exploit the weakness of their rivals to dominate a particular part of the world. France is currently retreating from its futile engagement in the Sahel, an area it dominated to a large extent as a colonial power and in which it has been active as a neocolonial defender in the “global war on terror.”

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    Blair’s plan reads like a comic book version of traditional British imperialism. “We need some boots on the ground,” he said. “Naturally our preference is for the boots to be local, but that will not always be possible.” Let the natives die as we secure our rule. It is already laughable to suggest that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain might “work more closely with European countries” on its relations with the African continent.

    Blair is obviously thinking of a tandem with France, whose citizens have lost all patience with their nation’s inept military operation across the Sahel region. He imagines France and Britain together renewing the glory formerly achieved by the US-UK duo in the Middle East. Together they will ensure that the “remaking” lasts longer. France’s Jupiterian president, Emmanuel Macron, humiliated by the current pressure to withdraw troops, would clearly welcome the chance of participating in such an alliance, even if the French people are reticent.

    For Blair, it isn’t about power and money, though he is clearly attracted to both, especially the latter, which he has shown a talent for accumulating. No, it’s about universal values, Blair’s own singularly enlightened values. That’s a language dear to the president of the French Republic, a nation that has tirelessly sought to exercise its “mission civilisatrice” across the globe for the last three centuries. Blair, the stand-up comedian, will “stand up for” those values and be “prepared to defend them.”

    “Be prepared” is the Boy Scouts’ motto. In the final act of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” the young prince of Denmark declared to his friend Horatio that “the readiness is all.” Unlike Blair, however, Hamlet wasn’t interested in magnifying real or imaginary threats to his well-being. Instead, he was affirming a certain equanimity and trust in his own capacities. No need to invest in his training before what turned out to be a rigged fencing match. Hamlet refused to let fear be his guide.

    From the beginning of Shakespeare’s play, Denmark was in a state of war, feverishly building its armaments to defend itself from a “hot and full” Norwegian prince, Fortinbras. But it was Denmark’s own criminal king who brought the country down, leaving bodies strewn across the stage just as the young Fortinbras is about to arrive, survey the damage and take control of the state.

    *[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary on Fair Observer.]

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    The War on Terror Was Never Turkey’s Fight

    Do you know where you were on August 14, 2001? Perhaps not, since it isn’t a defining day in world history in quite the same way as September 11, 2001, or 9/11, as it’s become known. Yet in the Turkish political landscape, August 14, 2001, can now be seen as something of a watershed moment.

    It was on this day that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was founded. One of its founding members was a man named Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It was the latest in a long list of parties catering to a religiously devout and socially conservative constituency in Turkey. All the previous ones had been banned.

    360˚ Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

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    What makes August 14, 2001, so significant is the simple fact that the AKP was never banned. Despite the party’s daring to tread on secularist principles that few others had dared, this time, the country, with strong European Union support, had no appetite for military-backed bans.

    Turkey Says No

    Just as September 11 didn’t really come out of a clear blue sky for anyone observing the tide of Islamist militancy, so too the success of the AKP in Turkey did not come unannounced. It was a long time in the making, but its assumption of power, so soon after 9/11, has been defining for the country.

    By 2003, when George W. Bush’s war on terror was swinging into action in Iraq, the AKP took control of Turkey‘s government. Despite repeated attempts to shutter the party and even a failed 2016 coup, the AKP remains in power. As perhaps the most successful Islamist party in the Middle East, its relationship to both the events of 9/11 and the ensuing war on terror has always been a strained one. The Turkey of the 20th century would have been an unquestioning supporter of US policy. The new Turkey was not.

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    I was in Turkey on 9/11 and I saw the immediate reaction of ordinary people to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In the hours after the towers fell, there were wild, yet in retrospect on-the-mark rumors that the US was about to bomb Afghanistan. The mood among ordinary Turks was not one of support.

    Visceral anger and anti-American sentiment were clearly palpable. While not outright cheering al-Qaeda, it was obvious that most people wouldn’t take the US side in a fight. This mood was reflected when Washington eventually went to war with Iraq and hoped to use the airbase at Incirlik in southeastern Turkey.

    The parliamentary vote that vetoed the use of the base for flights into Iraq was a pivotal one. It was the first strong sign of demonstrable national action in reflection of a national mood. In the post-Cold War world, Turkey’s Islamist government was ready to plow its own furrow.

    Who Defines Terrorism?

    The years that have followed have seen an ambiguous and often highly contorted relationship with the war on terror. Sometimes, Turkey has used the anti-terrorism concept to its own ends, as have many other US allies. At other times, it has turned a blind eye to activity that surely fell under the banner of terrorism.

    The Arab Spring of 2010 offered Islamists across the Middle East their big moment. Secular autocrats, long propped up by the West, tottered. Turkey’s Islamist government was one of the most vocal and active in attempting to ride this wave that they hoped would bring Islamist governments to a swathe of countries.

    Initially, the signs were good. The Muslim Brotherhood won the first free and fair elections in Egypt. Meanwhile, in neighboring Syria, the long-suppressed Islamist movement threatened to overwhelm the dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad. For a time, Turkey became a beacon of hope and a model for how the rest of the Middle East might evolve.

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    Turkish flags were being waved by demonstrators in Syria, and President Erdogan became the most popular leader in the region, loved by people far beyond his own nation. Then the Egyptian coup destroyed the Brotherhood, and Russia and Iran stepped in to save Assad’s regime in Syria. The mood soured for Turkey.

    In an attempt to rescue something in the Syrian conflict and in response to the collapse of domestic peace talks between the government and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, Turkey’s border became a very porous route for jihadists entering into Syria. In time, these jihadists named themselves the Islamic State and declared a caliphate. This audacious move severely upped the stakes on al-Qaeda’s attempts of 2001, with an even more brutal brand of terrorism. Turkey’s ambiguous attitude to these developments was hardly a war on terror.

    Yet by this stage, the concept behind the war on terror had become so nebulous and the AKP’s relations to the US so strained by Washington’s support for the Kurds in Syria, that it was a case of realpolitik all the way. To any accusation of soft-handedness toward terrorists, Turkey pointed to US attitudes vis-à-vis Kurdish militants.

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    President Erdogan has, over time, began to carve a space for himself as an anti-Western champion, a leader of some kind of latter-day non-aligned movement, a spokesman for Muslim rights worldwide. This political and cultural position has made Turkey’s place in a liberal, democratic world order highly questionable.

    What seems clear in retrospect is that both 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror were never Turkey’s fights. Due to the longstanding Turkish alliance with the US and NATO, these have been constantly recurring themes in Turkish politics. But the events that have been so central to US policymaking for the past two decades have generally been used to advance Ankara’s own strategic goals in light of the assumption of power and entrenched hegemony of the Islamist movement in Turkey’s contemporary politics.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More

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    Is Operation Enduring Freedom Doomed to Endure Forever?

    Those were heady days in the US stock market. I would wake up by 5 am and watch CNBC before the stock market opened for trading at 6:30 am Pacific time. It was no different on the morning of September 11, 2001. Little did I know that catastrophic things were about to happen that would change the world.

    At 8:45 am Eastern time, an American Airlines flight had crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City. Within minutes, CNBC stopped discussing stocks and started covering the incident, which, at that moment, no one knew if it was an anomalous accident or an attack of some kind.

    360° Context: How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

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    Three minutes after 9 am Eastern, as I watched incredulously at the events unfolding, I saw a United Airlines passenger aircraft fly right into the south tower of the twin towers. In under an hour, the south tower collapsed, resulting in a massive cloud of dust and smoke. By now, there was no doubt that America was under attack.

     “We will remember the moment the news came, where we were and what we were doing,” said President George W. Bush in an address to Congress on September 20. Images from that Tuesday morning are still etched in my memory, happening, as it were, just nine days after my second child was born.

    In all, 2,996 people of 78 nationalities lost their lives in four coordinated attacks conducted by al-Qaeda using hijacked commercial, civilian airliners as their weapons, making 9/11 the second-biggest attack on American soil — second only to the genocidal assault on Native Americans committed by the nation’s immigrant settlers.

    Operation Enduring Freedom: America’s War on Terror

    Addressing the nation the following day, Bush called the attacks “more than acts of terror. They were acts of war.” He promised that “the United States of America will use all our resources to conquer this enemy.” The president went on to assure Americans that this “battle will take time and resolve, but make no mistake about it, we will win.”

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    Twenty years later, the US has left Afghanistan and Iraq in a chaotic mess. The question remains: Did the United States win the war on terror the Bush administration launched in 2001? This was a war that has cost more than $6.4 trillion and over 801,000 lives, according to Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University.

    In October 2001, the US-led coalition invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban government that had harbored al-Qaeda. Soon after, al-Qaeda militants had been driven into hiding. Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attack and leader of al-Qaeda, was killed 10 years later in a raid conducted by US forces in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

    In a shrewd move, Bush had left himself room to take down Iraq and its president, Saddam Hussein, using an overarching definition for the war on terror. In his address to Congress on September 20, Bush also stated: “Our war on terror begins with Al-Qaeda, but it does not end there. It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

    True to his words, in 2003, the United States and its allies invaded Iraq under the premise that it possessed weapons of mass destruction. Bush settled his score with Hussein, ensuring he was captured, shamed and subsequently executed in 2006.

    Despite reducing al-Qaeda to nothing and killing bin Laden, despite wrecking Iraq and having its leader executed, it is impossible to say that the US has won the war on terror. All that Washington has managed to do is to trade the Islamic State (IS) group that swept through Syria and Iraq in 2014 for al-Qaeda, giving a new identity to an old enemy. Following the US and NATO pullout from Afghanistan last month, the Taliban, whom America drove out of power in 2001, are back in the saddle. In fact, the Taliban’s recapture of Afghanistan has been so swift, so precise and so comprehensive that the international community is in a shock, questioning the timing and prudence of the withdrawal of troops.

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    Setting an expectation for how long the war or terror was likely to last, the secretary of defense under the Bush administration, Donald Rumsfeld, remarked in September 2001 that “it is not going to be over in five minutes or five months, it’ll take years.” Rumsfeld, who christened the campaign Operation Enduring Freedom, was prescient, as the war enters its third decade in a never-ending fight against terrorism.

    The Winners and Losers

    Ironically, Operation Enduring Freedom has only resulted in an enduring loss of American freedom, one step at a time. I still remember that I had walked up to the jet bridge and received my wife as she deplaned from a flight in 1991. Another time, when she was traveling to Boston from San Francisco, I was allowed to enter the aircraft and help her get settled with her luggage, along with our 1-year-old. It is inconceivable to be allowed to do such a thing today, and I would not be surprised if readers question the veracity of my personal experience. In many ways, al-Qaeda has succeeded in stripping Americans of the sense of freedom they have always enjoyed.

    More than Americans, the biggest losers in this tragic war are Iraqis and Afghans, particularly the women. Afghan women, who had a brief respite from persecution under the Taliban’s strict Islamic laws and human rights abuses, are back to square one and justifiably terrified of their future under the new regime. The heart-wrenching scenes from Kabul airport of people trying to flee the country tell us about how Afghans view the quality of life under the Taliban and the uncertainty that the future holds. 

    To its east, the delicate balance of peace — if one could characterize the situation between India and Pakistan as peaceful — is likely to be put to the test as violence from Afghanistan spreads. To its north in Tajikistan, there isn’t much love lost between Tajiks and the Taliban. Tajikistan’s president, Emomali Rahmon, has refused to recognize the Taliban government, and Tajiks have promised to join anti-Taliban militia groups, paving the way for continued unrest and violence in Central Asia.

    If History Could be Rewritten

    In 2001, referring to Islamist terrorists, Bush asked the rhetorical question, “Why do they hate us?” He tried to answer it in a speech to Congress: “They hate what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.”

    Islamic fundamentalists couldn’t give two hoots about a form of government or a people’s way of life thousands of miles away. The real answer to Bush’s question lies deeply buried in US foreign policy. America’s steadfast support of Israel and its refusal to recognize the state of Palestine is the number one reason for it to become the target of groups like al-Qaeda and IS.

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    America’s ill-conceived response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 during the Cold War led to the creation of al-Qaeda. It was with US funds and support that the anti-Soviet mujahideen fought America’s proxy war with the Soviets. Without US interference, al-Qaeda may never have come into existence.

    During the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the US bolstered Saddam Hussein by backing his regime against the Iranians. When Hussein became too ambitious for America’s comfort and invaded Kuwait in 1990, George H.W. Bush engaged Iraq in the Persian Gulf War. The US motive at that time was primarily to protect its oil interests in Kuwait.

    The US created its own nemesis in Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden and spent $6 trillion to kill them. In the process, US leaders have reduced Iraq and Afghanistan to shambles and created a new monster in the Islamic State.

    Sadly, history can never be rewritten. The US has proved time and again that its involvement in the Middle East and Muslim world is aimed at advancing its own political interests. The only question that remains is: Can the US adopt a policy that would not aggravate the situation and, over time, deescalate it, without creating yet another Hussein or bin Laden? Without a radically different approach, Operation Enduring Freedom is doomed to endure forever, costing trillions of dollars each decade.

    The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. More