The War on Terror is Over. The U.S. Lost…
As a rule, I try to avoid making political posts or share thoughts that would qualify as “polemic.” It’s hard enough to keep my mouth shut, given how opinionated I am and how much I like to argue! But once in a while, something comes along that you feel you need to speak up about. Also, given my history background, matters of historic importance always inspire me to try and gain some perspective.
And so I decided to share my thoughts on the recent episode known as the “War on Terror.”
The motivation for this post should be obvious. With the 20th Anniversary of 9/11 and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, a chapter of history appears to be over, and the curtain is finally setting on America’s longest declared war. In times of transition like this one, people naturally ask questions like, “What was it all for?” “What did it cost us?” and “What happens now?”
Like most people alive today, I am old enough to have been there at the beginning, waking up on the morning of Sept. 11th, 2021, to be told that planes were striking the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and realizing that the U.S. was under attack. Like many of those around for the duration, I’ve come to some unfortunate conclusions to these questions.
What was it all for?
To summarize those conclusions, the war was a prolonged campaign where things went wrong early on and only got worse as one error was piled on top of the next. Very quickly, the process of mourning and coming together to punish a terrible act through cooperation and support became an operation designed to extend American hegemony abroad, suppress dissent at home, and force a revisionist vision of America onto Americans and the world.
And it was rather amazing how quickly things fell apart, and the illusion of this being a “just war” was dispelled. Shortly after combat operations successfully concluded in Afghanistan, then-president Bush pulled a bait-and-switch on the American people. It was no longer about bringing the architects of 9/11 to justice but waging war on multiple fronts against any nation (Muslim or otherwise) they perceived to be the enemy.
By the time Osama bin Laden was finally killed, ten years after masterminding the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, it made no difference. The war had expanded well beyond him at that point, and his importance had diminished almost to the point of irrelevance. With US forces still deployed to Afghanistan, the drone war raging, and the threat of ISIS, the death of the Al-Qaeda leader did nothing to alter the course of the war or its outcome.
Before the 20th Anniversary came around, it was apparent that all combat operations that resulted from that event were disasters, and there was an urgent need to get the troops out. This happened in Iraq by 2011 (though U.S. troops found themselves back again to deal with ISIS), Syria in 2018, and Afghanistan in 2021. To the average American citizen, it seems, these withdrawals imply that the U.S. has washed its hands of the whole affair.
But if they think that, they’re fooling themselves or they have managed to learn nothing from the past 20 years. And therein lies the biggest problem of all (for people not currently dying from all the fallout). It’s the historical amnesia and apathy towards the recent past. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” may sound like a tired cliche, but it’s anything but when it’s happening around you.
“The goal of terrorism is to achieve political ends by driving your enemy into overreacting.” Essentially, Osama was looking for an East vs. West confrontation that would lead to more suffering, radicalization, conflict, and the overthrow of secular socialist regimes across the Islamic world — from North Africa to Central and Southern Asia.
This is what the mujaheddin did in Afghanistan, which Bin Laden had personally taken part in. For years, the Islamist fighters were engaged in a civil war with the secular socialist regime in Kabul. This same regime kept appealing to the Soviet Union, its ally, to send military support, which the Soviets were understandably hesitant about. The U.S., meanwhile, saw an opportunity to drag the Soviets into a “Vietnam”-style quagmire and began aiding the mujaheddin fighters.
Eventually, the Soviets entered the country and began waging war on the fundamentalist elements. The U.S. mobilized a global network consisting of Pakistan, Egypt, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Sweden, and others, which provided the mujaheddin with training, funding, and billions of dollars worth of weapons and equipment. Eventually, the Soviets withdrew, leaving the Islamists and warlords to take power (after more years of civil war).
Osama bin Laden drew a lesson from this. Like the Afghani mujaheddin in, Al-Qaeda and other Salafist Arab groups were engaged in a civil war with their respective governments. For Bin Laden, the chief enemy was the House of Saud, the monarchy that had ruled Saudi Arabia for decades and hoarded the country’s oil wealth while its citizens lived hand to mouth. As a member of the prominent Bin Laden family, which had close ties to the Saudi royal family, Osama was one of many Saudi’s who had been born into wealth and privilege.
However, like many spoiled and despondent rich kids, he soon became radicalized by the teaching of several Salafist imams — Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, and Sayyid Qutb — men who were welcomed into Saudi Arabia after being exiled by their own governments. After fighting in Afghanistan, he and his followers set out to wage war on the Saudi rulers and many other secular dictators they saw as degenerate. This was something that had been going on since the 1960s — 70s without any progress.
Naturally, the U.S. was seen as an enemy by Salafists and other radical Islamicists for a variety of reasons. These included the U.S.’ support of Israel, its long history of military intervention, its aiding in the overthrow of democratic or populist leaders (in Iran, Syria, Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Palestinian territories), its support for secularist socialist dictatorships, embargoes, and a host of other grievances.
By drawing the foreign enemy into the fray, Osama hoped to turn the civil war into a “Clash of Civilizations.” Instead of Muslims waging war on their own people and the atheist socialists ruling them, the armies of Islam would be fighting together against the foreign invaders. As these invaders inflicted greater and greater suffering on the Muslim world, Osama expected that more and more Muslims would rally to Al-Qaeda’s cause — much as jihadists had flocked to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet occupation.
A Threat Ignored
Meanwhile, the newly-elected Bush administration (who had come to power amid one of the greatest election scandals in U.S. history) was hatching plans of its own. With the office of POTUS secured, he and his neo-conservatives were working to push an agenda that had been crafted a few years before by the Project for a New American Century (PNAC).
This think-tank operated from 1997–2006 and included several prominent members of Bush’s Cabinet. Among them were Dick Cheney (V.P.), John R. Bolton (Under Secretary of State), Elliott Abrams (National Security Advisor), Richard N. Perle (Associate Secretary of Defense to the Reagan administration), Jeb Bush (Bush brother and Governor of Florida), Dov Zakheim, (Under Secretary of Defense), and I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby (Chief of Staff to VP Pence).
The goal of PNAC was to push for greater U.S. leadership and dominance abroad, by military means, if necessary. Among the policies they advocated for included:
- The preservation and extension of the U.S. “position of global leadership by maintaining the preeminence of U.S. military forces.”
- Regime change in Iraq to avert the potential danger of any “weapons of mass destruction” under Iraq’s control.
- The use of chemical weapons designed to target “specific genotypes.”
- “Rebuilding America’s Defenses” by withdrawing from missile and nuclear treaties, winning “multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars,” the maintenance of U.S. nuclear superiority, redeployment, and modernization.
Already, the Bush administration was busy withdrawing from international treaties, bolstering military spending, pushing Missile Defense, cutting rich people’s taxes, slashing economic regulations, and a host of other neo-con measures. But the one thing they were trying to figure out was how to effect regime change in Iraq.
At no time was terrorism considered a major threat to national security by PNAC or the Bush administration. Despite the threat Al-Qaeda represented and the many attacks it executed against U.S. embassies and military assets — as recently as 2000 against the USS Cole (shown below) — one of the first things Bush did upon taking office was to downgrade the role of the president’s anti-terrorism experts.
For years, Clinton was briefed on a regular basis by the directors of the CIA (George Tenet), the NSA (Richard Clarke III), the FBI, and other security services. Clinton had established a reputation among them as being diligent, attentive, and responsive to their recommendations and warnings. Once Bush entered office, they were unable to secure a single meeting with him or any of the Secretaries during the eight months preceding 9/11.
Meanwhile, the best they could do was talk to Paul Wolfowitz, Under Secretary of Defense to Sec. Rumsfeld. Wolfowitz stopped the meeting a few minutes in, telling CIA Director Tenet that the administration was not concerned with Al-Qaeda or Islamic terrorists. They were concerned with Iraq. Similar indications came from Paul O’Neill, who was Bush’s Secretary of Treasury from (January 2001 — December 2002).
According to Ron Suskind’s 2004 book The Price of Loyalty, O’Neill revealed that the issue of invading Iraq came up at the very first National Security Council meeting shortly after Bush assumed office in Jan 2001 (months before 9/11). Through documents he kept from the meeting, O’Neill showed how the Bush administration already planned on invading Iraq and even had detailed plans of how they would divvy up the oil resources to approved contractors (like Halliburton).
Other statements that Clarke made included how the Bush administration had been given all relevant info, documentation, and even a detailed strategic plan for how to destroy Al-Qaeda’s global network prior to 9/11. George Tenet would back up these statements by showing that Bush rejected all warnings of an impending attack beforehand.
This included the President’s Daily Brief (PDB) titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” issued to him 36 days before 9/11 happened. This report was rejected as unreliable info, so CIA analysts produced a follow-up report titled “[Usama Bin Laden] Threats Are Real.” Upon receiving this PDB, Bush told the CIA staffer delivering it, “All right. You’ve covered your ass.”
Two agendas were in motion at this point in history, revisionists from two worlds both actively fighting against the forces of progress and modernization. And very soon, they would find the perfect enemy in each other, where the actions of one would allow the other to implement their agenda more freely.