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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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    The Aftershocks of the Saudi and American Debacle in Afghanistan

    Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan have a complex relationship. Their ties date back to the 19th century when Afghanistan became the first Muslim country to recognize the second Saudi state of 1824 to 1891. In 1930, Ibn Saud recognized King Nadir Shah’s rule in Afghanistan, in 1932, the two countries signed their first friendship agreement, and in 1950, King Zahir Shah’s visit to Saudi Arabia was commemorated on a Saudi stamp.

    Ties over the following decades remained close. This was not so much because of Saudi geopolitical interests in Afghanistan, but rather how the country affected Saudi Arabia’s relations with Iran and Pakistan, a major rival and an important ally of the kingdom respectively.

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    The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan from 1979 marked the summit of Saudi influence. In coordination with Pakistan and the United States, the Saudis famously supported the mujahideen and also assisted many Afghan refugees. Throughout the 1980s, the kingdom exercised direct interference over various Islamist groups in Afghanistan and many Saudis traveled there to fight the Soviets.

    After the Soviet Union departed in 1989 and throughout the subsequent civil war in Afghanistan, the Saudis continued their role of manipulating Afghan politicians and factions, using their petrodollars and religious influence on behalf of the US, with mixed results. In 1993, all of the Afghan mujahideen factions signed a peace agreement in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, but that failed to stop the conflict.

    Saudi Ties With the Taliban

    Following the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021, some commentators have encouraged the Saudis to try to play the religious card again. In June, Muslim scholars from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia signed a “declaration of peace” in Mecca, which Arab News described as a “historic, landmark event on the path toward reconciliation between warring factions.” But the Taliban rejected the move — which, in any event, had no impact on peace talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government — as a theatrical attempt to steal the diplomatic limelight from Qatar using Islamic mercenaries.

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    Saudi influence over the Taliban began with funding hardline religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan where the movement started. It effectively ended in 1996 when the Taliban first took over Afghanistan. At the end of the 1990s, Saudi citizens were officially barred from giving money to any charity that was not state-approved, which meant Saudi public funding for the Taliban was largely cut off, except for a few individuals acting without the explicit knowledge of the government. A 2013 research paper by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs stated that Saudi “fundraisers for the Taliban … are believed to extensively exploit networks and use old mechanisms dating back to the times of Saudi cooperation with mujahedeen and Taliban functionaries.”

    When the Taliban last ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, Saudi Arabia was one of only three countries to officially recognize their government; Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates were the other two. This was not because the Saudis supported the Taliban regime, but rather because they were looking for a way to grease the wheels for an approach by Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, to persuade the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda.

    The Saudis calculated that by recognizing the Taliban government, they could win influence as they had done in the past with other factions and warlords. But in 1998, when Prince Turki traveled to Afghanistan with a delegation of Muslim figures, the former Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, turned him down.

    The Saudi View of the Taliban

    The House of Saud now faces a disconcerting moment over Afghanistan, not least because like the former Afghan government, the royal family depends on the US for protection against external enemies and internal threats.

    In a report by Wikistrat about the implications of the Taliban takeover on Saudi Arabia, Kristian Coates Ulrichsen, a fellow for the Middle East at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, comments: “Questions are likely to be mounting in Riyadh about the sincerity and the reliability of US security guarantees which themselves have been a matter of considerable uncertainty since the September 2019 attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure.” He adds that the “sudden abandonment of Afghan partners, spelled out clinically and coldly in [Joe] Biden’s televised address, may resonate strongly among US regional partners for whom President [Barack] Obama’s perceived abandonment of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 set in motion a questioning of US motivations that then continued into the Trump era.”

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    Neil Quilliam, a Middle East analyst at Chatham House, continues in the same Wikistrat report: “The Taliban leadership will likely begin a campaign to challenge the legitimacy of the Al Saud and appeal directly to the Saudi population to challenge the ruling family’s authority.” He adds that the “nature of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a cause for concern in Saudi Arabia. President Biden’s speech about the withdrawal, wherein he noted that remaining in Afghanistan no longer constitutes a vital interest, has also sent shockwaves through the Saudi leadership.”

    The Taliban may turn on Saudi Arabia in the media war. Transnational jihadist groups like al-Qaeda could also threaten the Saudis from Afghanistan again. But as Sami Hamdi explained in the Arab Digest podcast, there are reasons why Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might benefit from the situation in Afghanistan in terms of finding a renewed utility toward the US. A foreign diplomat in Riyadh, quoted by Reuters, predicted that the kingdom will take a pragmatic approach. “The Saudis have a historical relationship with Afghanistan and will eventually have to accept the Taliban [again] … They have no other option,” he said.

    In 2019, Jalaluddin Shinwari, the former Taliban deputy minister of justice, told the New York Times: “What [we] are saying to Americans is this: You have accepted Saudi Arabia, and we won’t do more than their basic code — retribution for murder, chop off the hand for robbing. If you have accepted Saudi, what’s wrong with us being another? The rest will be your priorities: aid, friendship, economic relations.”

    The US Would Never Pull Out of Saudi Arabia

    The Taliban can dream of a relationship with the US akin to that which the Saudis enjoy. Yet that relationship is completely different from whatever ties the US has with Afghanistan. The United States would never pull out of Saudi Arabia the way it did from Afghanistan, not only because of hydrocarbons — although with the Middle East still providing around 31% of world oil production and 16% of global natural gas supply, this remains an important factor. Nor is American support just about Israel’s security — although the US and its Western allies certainly wish to ensure this, and they are ready to work with any Arab regime, particularly Saudi Arabia, that is ready to officially recognize Israel on US terms.

    The main reason the US can never pull out of Saudi Arabia is because of the unthinkable consequences of losing Saudi control of the two holy mosques in Mecca and Medina to al-Qaeda or another jihadist movement. That is why US support for the Saudis remains solid despite misgivings on both sides.

    *[This article was originally published by Arab Digest, a partner organization 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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    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.]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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    How 9/11 and the War on Terror Shaped the World

    On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamist terrorist group al-Qaeda hijacked four planes and launched suicide attacks on iconic symbols of America, first striking the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and then the Pentagon. It would be the deadliest act of terrorism on American soil, claiming nearly 3,000 lives.

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    The attacks not only shocked the world, but the images of planes crashing into the World Trade Center came to define a generation. In a speech on October 11, 2001, then-President George W. Bush spoke of “an attack on the heart and soul of the civilized world” and declared “war against all those who seek to export terror, and a war against those governments that support or shelter them.” This was the start of the global war on terror.

    The Story of the 9/11 Attacks and Retaliation

    Osama bin Laden, the Saudi leader of al-Qaeda, inspired the 9/11 attacks. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani Islamist terrorist and the nephew of the truck driver convicted for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, masterminded the operation. The 9/11 Commission Report described al-Qaeda as “sophisticated, patient, disciplined and lethal.” It held that the enemy rallied “broad support in the Arab and Muslim world.” The report concluded that al-Qaeda’s hostility to the US and its values was limitless.

    The report went on to say that the enemy aimed “to rid the world of religious and political pluralism, the plebiscite, and equal rights for women,” and observed that it made no distinction between military and civilian targets. The goal going forward was “to attack terrorists and prevent their ranks from swelling while at the same time protecting [the US] against future attacks.”

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    To prosecute the war on terror, the US built a worldwide coalition: 136 countries offered military assistance, and 46 multilateral organizations declared support. Washington began by launching a financial war on terror, freezing assets and disrupting fundraising pipelines. In the first 100 days, the Bush administration set aside $20 billion for homeland security.

    On October 7, 2001, the US inaugurated the war on terror with Operation Enduring Freedom. An international coalition that included Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Japan, the UK and other countries, with the help of the Northern Alliance comprising various mujahedeen militias, overthrew the Taliban, which was sheltering al-Qaeda fighters, and took over Afghanistan.

    The war on terror that began in Afghanistan soon took on a global focus. In 2003, the Bush administration invaded Iraq despite the lack of a UN mandate. Washington made the argument that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction, represented a threat to world peace, and harbored and succored al-Qaeda and other Islamic jihadists. None of this proved to be true. Hussein’s regime fell as speedily as Mullah Omar’s Taliban.

    Victory, however, was short-lived. Soon, insurgency returned. In Afghanistan, suicide attacks quintupled from 27 in 2005 to 139 in 2006. Globally, the war on terror saw a “stunning” rise in jihadist activity, with just over 32,000 fighters split among 13 Islamist groups in 2001 burgeoning to 100,000 across 44 outfits in 2015. Terrorist attacks went up from an estimated 1,880 in 2001 to 14,806 in 2015, claiming 38,422 lives that year alone — a 397% increase on 2001.

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    Boosted by the US invasion of Iraq, al-Qaeda spawned affiliates across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, a decentralized structure that remained intact even after the US assassination of Osama bin Laden in 2011 dealt al-Qaeda a severe blow. One of its Iraqi offshoots morphed into what became the Islamic State (IS) group following the withdrawal of most US from Iraq under President Barack Obama in 2011.

    After declaring a caliphate in 2014, IS launched a global terrorist campaign that, within a year, conducted and inspired over 140 attacks in 29 countries beyond Syria and Iraq, according to one estimate. Islamic State acolytes went on to claim nearly 30,000 lives across the Middle East, Europe, the United States, Asia and Africa, controlling vast amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, before suffering defeat by internationally-backed local forces in 2019.

    In Afghanistan, despite the war’s estimated trillion-dollar price tag, on August 15 the Taliban have taken control of the capital Kabul amid a chaotic US withdrawal, raising fears of al-Qaeda’s comeback. Last year, the Global Terrorism Index concluded that deaths from terrorism were still double the number recorded in 2001, with Afghanistan claiming a disproportionately large share of over 40% in 2019.

    Why Do 9/11 and the War on Terror Matter?

    While the failures and successes of the war on terror will remain subject to heated debate for years to come, what remains uncontested is the fact that the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have forged the world we live in today.

    First, they have caused tremendous loss of blood and treasure. Brown University’s Costs of War project places an $8-trillion price tag on the US war on terror. It estimates that about 900,000 people “were killed as a direct result of war, whether by bombs, bullets or fire,” a number that does not include indirect deaths “caused by way of disease, displacement and loss of access to food or clean drinking water.”

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    Second, numerous countries, including liberal democracies such as the US and the UK, have eroded their own civil liberties and democratic institutions with the avowed goal of improving security. Boarding airplanes or entering public buildings now invariably involves elaborate security checks. Mass surveillance has become par for the course. The US continues to keep alleged terror suspects in indefinite detention without trial in Guantanamo Bay.

    Third, many analysts argue that the attacks and the response have coarsened the US. After World War II, Americans drew a line in the sand against torture. They put Germans and Japanese on trial for war crimes that included waterboarding. In the post-9/11 world, torture became part of the American toolkit. Airstrikes and drone strikes have caused high collateral casualties, killing a disputed number of innocents and losing the battle for the hearts and minds of local populations.

    These strikes raise significant issues of legality and the changing nature of warfare. There is a question as to the standing of “counterterrorism” operations in international and national law. However, such issues have garnered relatively little public attention. 

    Fourth, the 9/11 attacks and the ensuing war on terror have coincided with the spectacular rise of China. On December 11, 2001, the Middle Kingdom joined the World Trade Organization, which enabled the Chinese economy to grow at a speed and scale unprecedented in history. Analysts believe that distraction with the war on terror hindered the US response to the revolution occurring in global international relations and power dynamics. 

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    Under Barack Obama, the US initiated an explicit pivot to Asia policy that sought to shift focus from the war on terror and manage the rise of China. Under Donald Trump, Washington unleashed a trade war on Beijing and concluded a peace deal with the Taliban. Joe Biden has believed that, since the early days of the war on terror, US priorities have been too skewed toward terrorism and that Afghanistan is a secondary strategic issue, leading to a decision to withdraw troops to mark the 20th anniversary of 9/11.

    Biden has argued that the US has degraded al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and eliminated bin Laden. Despite worrying echoes of George W. Bush declaring the “mission accomplished” in Iraq in 2003, from now on, Biden wants the US to remain “narrowly focused on counterterrorism — not counterinsurgency or nation building.”

    While the terrorist threat still consumes US resources, Washington is now shifting its strategic attention and resources to China, Russia and Iran. The Biden administration has deemed these three authoritarian powers to be the biggest challenge for the postwar liberal and democratic order. The 20-year war on terror seems to be over — at least for now.

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    After Afghanistan, How Probable Is Peace?

    As the world speculates about the future of Afghanistan, some key figures in the West — with a vested interest in how things evolve militarily — are today claiming to show the clairvoyance that has consistently failed them in the past. Many have criticized President Joe Biden’s decision to withdraw from the battlefield. Even more have complained about how it was managed.

    Republicans feel duty-bound to denounce a policy that only Lynn Cheney objected to when the Republican President Donald Trump promoted it. One “highly decorated British Army officer” complained that “6,500 people died, including 3,000 deaths at Twin Towers, and we didn’t achieve a single thing.” Special Operations Staff Sergeant Trevor Coult went further, claiming that Biden “is a danger while he is president.”

    Numerous Democrats attached to the military-industrial funding machine have objected to the very idea of abandoning the costly struggle. Representative Jim Langevin, of Rhode Island, penned an op-ed in Foreign Policy portraying the decision as a betrayal of a moral commitment to “our Afghan allies of 20 years” and “to our military service members and their families … who gave the ultimate sacrifice.” And, of course, he couldn’t forget “the women and girls of Afghanistan who are now experiencing a devastating new reality.”

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    He seemed less concerned when for 20 years the majority of Afghan women and girls experienced another form of devastating reality: receiving bombs delivered by surgical drones, seeing their doors kicked in by well-armed soldiers, listening to drones buzzing overhead and wondering where they might strike, failing to understand which local warlord in the pay of the CIA might protect them or aggress them, or simply watching unutterable chaos unfold day after day.

    AFP reports on the opinion General Mark Milley expressed in an interview with Fox News: Now that the US troops are no longer there to enforce the law and maintain order, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff predicts further chaos, worse than ever before. After questioning the ability of the Taliban, even before they have formed a government, “to consolidate power and establish effective governance,” Milley offers his assessment of what’s to come. “I think there’s at least a very good probability of a broader civil war,” he asserts.

    Making certain his audience will understand the degree of fear his warnings should inspire, he adds that it “will then in turn lead to conditions that could, in fact, lead to a reconstitution of Al-Qaeda or a growth of ISIS or other … terrorist groups.”

    Today’s Daily Devil’s Dictionary definition:

    Good probability:

    A dire likelihood to be ardently wished for by anyone associated with the military-industrial complex or dependent on it for current or future employment

    Contextual note

    Military officers, including generals, may hide the truth about reality on the ground. As the Afghanistan Papers revealed, that happened consistently for over two decades. But even when painting a rosy picture of success or an assessment of troop performance, a soldier’s choice of language leaves some room for the truth. That is why most governments usually prefer that the military not engage too directly with the media.

    General Milley made clear what he means when he described the chaos to come as “at least a very good probability.” Both of his chosen expressions — “at least” and “very good” — reveal less about reality on the ground and more about how he hopes to see the situation evolve, calling for preparedness and possibly new operations. He wants Fox’s audience to understand that this is only a pause in the mission of the US to help other nations achieve the serenity of the global superpower that will always be a model for the rest of the world and lead by its example.

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    A totally neutral and objective observer who happened to be equally convinced of the likelihood of a civil war in Afghanistan would have formulated it differently, most likely asserting something along the lines that “a strong possibility of a broader civil war cannot be discounted.” Proverbial wisdom tells us that “where there’s a will, there’s a way,” but the authorities of a nation defined by its military clout tend to improve on that by suggesting that “where there’s a will, there’s a way of framing it in such a manner as to convince people of the way we have decided must be followed.”

    General Milley is no warmonger. No reasonable person would compare him to the legendary Curtis Lemay who summed up his philosophy about conflict — in this case with Russia during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis — with these words: “We should go in and wipe ’em out today.”

    Fortunately, no senior officer in the military would be tempted to think or act that way now. In contrast with the Cold War mentality, one of the lessons of all recent wars is that the US military is less motivated by the idea of winning wars than simply instilling the idea in the average American taxpayer’s mind that the nation needs a powerful, well-funded, technologically advanced military establishment to comfort the belief in American exceptionalism.

    In his interview with Fox News, General Milley shows no inclination to criticize Biden’s decision. He defends the way the withdrawal was conducted, laying all the blame on the Afghan government and its troops while claiming that everything was conducted according to plan. He cites the “corruption in the government” and its lack of legitimacy, “a fundamental issue that stretches back 20 years.”

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    Concerning the collapse of the army and the police force, he makes a truly interesting remark: “We created and developed forces that looked like Western forces,” adding significantly that “maybe those forces were not designed appropriately for the type mission.” 

    General Milley follows up that last observation with what almost sounds like a resolution for action in the future: “That was something that needs to be looked at.” Many commentators have remarked that at the core of the 20-year fiasco lay a persistent form of cultural ignorance. By referring to this question as “something that needs to be looked at,” Milley appears to be placing it on some unequivocally remote back burner. In military parlance, “what needs to be looked at” is what will never be looked at unless someone at the highest level of authority suddenly wakes up to acknowledge the necessity.

    Historical Note 

    In short, an episode of history has just come to an end. In the coming weeks and months, reflection on it will be mired in wild speculation about what might have been done differently, accompanied by accusations of irresponsibility and failure of accountability. And if recent history is any guide, accountability will be successfully evaded, if only because holding one identifiable person accountable opens the floodgate to calling into question the entire system of which they were a part.

    In 2009, voters for Barack Obama expected to see some form of accountability for nearly everyone in the Bush administration, guilty of multiple sins that included war crimes, the criminal transfer of wealth to the 1% and the gutting of the middle-class economy. There were zero prosecutions and instead a message about looking forward rather than backward and letting bygones be bygones.   

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    There are many lessons to be learned from the debacle in Afghanistan and a need for accountability that extends backward to the Bush administration. But none of the lessons can compete with the only essential idea the leaders and actors of the military-industrial complex will continue to put forward in the months to come: that we must be ready to repeat the patterns of the past and respond to the inevitable emergence of the equivalent of al-Qaeda again. We must be afraid of the next wave of terrorism, and we must be ready to respond. The logic of 2021 is the same as the logic of 2001 — and will undoubtedly lead to similar scenarios.

    And why should the logic be different? Military budgets have never been higher, and every new Congress is ready to raise the stakes. Many of us who grew up during the Vietnam War assumed that, once it was over, nothing like that 10-year nightmare could ever occur again. Instead, we have just sat through the equivalent of a Hollywood remake that lasted twice as long.

    *[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