The War on Terror is Over. The U.S. Lost — Conclusion
To recap, the War on Terror was not a “Clash of Civilizations” (as notable racist historian Samuel Huntington described it), but a parallel struggle between progressives and regressives in the U.S. and the Middle East. After 9/11, these two forces would collide and begin using each other to fulfill their true agendas.
On the one side, there was the Salafist organization Al-Qaeda (and its affiliates)) that wanted to turn back the clock to the time of the “elders” when Islam had acquired one of the largest empires in the world that would endure for centuries. On the other, the neo-Cons and the PNAC Republicans wanted to transform America into an unassailable empire abroad and a one-party state at home.
After the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001–2002, Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were deprived of their most recent base of operations. They would end up in the border region of Pakistan. Using this victory, Bush then abandoned the War on Terror and began the war on the “Axis of Evil,” an unrelated and pre-existing strategy to destroy America’s enemies and secure an abundant supply of valued resources.
And as predicted, it all went to hell in a handbasket, and rather quickly at that!
“I Don’t Do Quagmires.”
After the invasion began, there was an initial period of success. The U.S.-led “Coalition of the Willing” was able to secure a quick victory. Iraqi forces virtually evaporated in front of them, and Baghdad was secured in less than a month. Despite the many civilian casualties, some of the local population even responded well to the arrival of U.S. and Coalition troops.
The tearing down of Saddam’s statue, though later revealed to be stage-managed, was also a P.R. coup for the Bush administration at the time. So was his visit to the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, which consisted of him landing in an A-6 Intruder (he didn’t pilot it) and giving a speech in front of a giant banner declaring “Mission Accomplished.” The carrier was off the coast of San Diego at the time (not in the Middle East).
However, it was only a matter of weeks before the dire predictions many had made beforehand all began to come true. Looting began, unguarded munitions depots were looted, the insurgency started, sectarian violence broke out, and the country descended into chaos. And of course, the WMDs were never found, and the jihadis that Bush’s supporters claimed were in Iraq began to show up (the day after the invasion started).
The Bush administration proved far too inept, negligent, and arrogant to address these problems. For the next five years, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, and other officials would attempt to deny reality, pass the buck, and shift the goalposts on what they had done. Not only did they pretend that it was never about “staying the course,” they claimed that the goal was about “building democracy in Iraq” (despite all their talk that they didn’t do “nation-building.”)
They even tried to rename the whole campaign the “Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism,” perhaps thinking that vaguer parameters would make it easier to link Iraq to the “War on Terror” (Bush even admitted that connecting the two was one of the hardest parts of his job). Needless to say, none of this worked and the administration bled support throughout its second term until Bush was officially in the running for “worst president ever.”
Over in Pakistan, Osama was no doubt enjoying the whole show. As he had planned, the U.S. was goaded into a war in the Middle East, and it wasn’t going well. However, he quickly ceased to be relevant as the insurgency turned the situation in Iraq into a regional conflict between Sunnis and Shias. In addition, the U.S. presence in the Middle East was not having the ultimate effect he wanted.
While the invasion of Iraq certainly encouraged people across the Middle East and abroad to join jihadist causes, it failed to trigger a war between east and west or lead to the overthrow secular socialist regimes in Arab nations. Mostly, it just amplified the suffering and chaos for people in these nations, which would have long-term consequences.
A Brief Respite
Alas, the neo-Cons were sent packing from 2006 to 2008, and the PNAC agenda was effectively scuttled. Despite having to deal with the insanity of the Tea Party and Birthers at home (which were little more than thinly-veiled racists mad that a Black man was President), Obama managed to right the ship in many ways.
He restored cordial relations with U.S. allies, “reset” relations with Russia and withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq. They even dropped the whole “War on Terror” line from their lexicon. By 2012, Osama was found and shot in the face by SEAL Team Six, thus ending his part in the ongoing saga previously known as the “War on Terror”.
But it didn’t matter anymore. That war was still raging, albeit, by another name, the U.S. was still tied up in Afghanistan and would soon become tied up in Iraq again. Conflict would erupt in Syria, Yemen, Somalia, and the U.S. would attempt to contain it all with bombs, drone strikes, and other tried and failed methods.
This showed that Obama had been brought around to the Pentagon and intelligence community’s way of thinking on certain issues. In addition to “staying the course” in Afghanistan, he also proved to be changeable on domestic surveillance. He blew past Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program and let the NSA begin a more wide-ranging surveillance program known as PRISM.
And soon, he was faced with all manner of fresh hell. Despite winning re-election and seeing the U.S. economy through to recovery (and on to one of the longest surges in history), relations with Russia turned toxic, Syria descended into civil war, and ISIS emerged as the latest incarnation of Salafist-Islamic extremism. Hundreds of thousands of refugees would flee the war zones, which created a humanitarian crisis that ISIS would exploit.
The Arab Spring was certainly a light in the darkness for awhile. All across the Middle East and North Africa, uprisings were motivated by outrage over decades of corruption and abuse, and a desire for reform and human rights. In other words, revolutions were taking place that were motivated by ideals other than Salafist ideology (though radical Islamist groups did take part).
But things quickly turned sour as protests and revolutions from Morocco to Syria either failed to usher in reform or (in the case of Syria) led to civil war. For a spell, Russia would also gain the upper hand on the U.S. as Putin’s saddest puppet to date won the 2016 election and proceeded to subject Americans to four years of humiliation.
In addition to capitulating to Putin and Assad in Syria, he capitulated to Erdogan in Syria (thereby abandoning the Syrian Kurds to slaughter), to Kim Jong-un over North Korea’s nuclear program, and to the Taliban over Afghanistan. On all fronts, Trump’s negligence and weakness were so acute that he repeatedly gave the barn away to opponents, then crawled back to beg them to reconsider.
In Erdogan’s case, Trump pleaded with him in a letter to “work out a good deal” and not be a “tough guy.” Erdogan’s response was to share the letter with colleagues, who all had a good laugh at it, and throw it in the trash. Just like what happened with Trump’s speech before the U.N., the world was literally laughing at an American president.
In Afghanistan, his weakness and negligence led to a withdrawal agreement that was very similar to what Nixon and Kissinger signed with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (aka. North Vietnam) in 1973. After years of prolonged war in the hopes of achieving “peace with honor,” the Nixon administration finally got the DRV delegation to come back to the negotiation table so they could accept the U.S. concessions.
President Biden extended the withdrawal by four months (from May to Sept.), so it would coincide with the 20th anniversary of 9/11. However, that changed nothing, and the country fell to the Taliban exactly as it was expected to. The only difference was that the Taliban didn’t bother to wait and launched their offensive to coincide with the U.S. withdrawal.
At home, Trump’s shortcomings led to the worst pandemic in U.S. history and another major economic crisis. So bad and so mind-numbingly inept was Trump’s leadership that many found Bush appealing by comparison. Bush left the country with two unresolved wars, an economic crisis, and a crisis of faith in the U.S. leadership.
At that point, it was clear that steady leadership, cooperation, and time was needed for the U.S. to recover. However, Republicans chose instead to embrace fringe movements and undermine the Democratic successor at every turn. So detached and self-serving was their approach that they effectively lost control of the ship and capitulated to the far-worse presidency of Trump.
Now that Trump’s out of office, the country is once again in a state of terrible crisis. But at this juncture, it’s unclear the U.S. will ever recover. The pandemic continues, roughly 35% of the population refuses to get vaccinated, wear masks, or even accept the outcome of the 2020 election. Trump is out of office (just as Osama is dead), but it no longer matters.
The GOP insists on maintaining the chaos and damage Trump caused, and he and his collaborators still haven’t been held accountable for their many crimes (including treason). Add to that nearly $30 trillion in debt, more political deadlock, and a super-wealthy elite who refuse to pay their taxes, and you have a recipe for collapse.
What did it cost?
It’s impossible to put into terms what a war costs. The human toll it takes is always immeasurable and never worth it. But in terms of sheer numbers, it is possible to paint a picture. According to statistics maintained by the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs (“Costs of War”), the human cost of the War on Terror was as follows:
The Watson Institute also indicates that the war resulted in 38 million people being displaced from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. This is a conservative estimate, however, with some estimates indicating that the number could be as high as 49–60 million. These people were either forced to find refuge in another country or became displaced in their own.
To summarize, the “War on Terror” cost close to 1 million lives, $8 trillion USD, and resulted in millions of displaced. On the infrastructure side, the war resulted in countless towns, villages, and settlements being destroyed, entire national economies obliterated, and multiple countries are becoming “failed states.” Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Iran, and Syria, are still in a state of war and chaos, and there’s no end to it in sight.
Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda is resurgent, the Taliban has returned to power, and even ISIS is pulling back from the brink. To the U.S., the situation is a disturbing reminder of Vietnam, where American military forces remained at war long after it became obvious the war was unwinnable and inevitably left with their tail tucked between their legs.
The chaos that took place amid the withdrawal is also eerily reminiscent to the fall of Saigon. In Kabul, U.S. helicopters were similarly forced to withdraw from the embassy and government facilities while the city was under siege. At the airports, countless civilians similarly ran onto the runways in a desperate attempt to board planes that were in the midst of taking off.
But the defeat is hardly one-sided, and the numbers don’t lie. There is no victory to celebrate for all sides involved, and the people who suffered the most are the dead and displaced. Only the most insane or stupid person would claim that something was gained from this war. And only the most deplorable of people who played a role in it would claim that it was “worth it.”
There really is no way around it, the War on Terror is over, and everyone lost. For the U.S. and its allies, the war was launched in response to a terrorist attack (which succeeded due to the supreme negligence of the President), and quickly became a way of ensuring dominance and fighting decline. Instead, it hastened that decline and created a situation that Bush and his cronies handed off to the next President.
Unfortunately, Obama failed to solve the problem by simply pulling troops out of Iraq, committing more troops to Afghanistan, and using drones and missile strikes to cover the rest. Killing the mastermind years after he ceased being relevant didn’t solve it either. The problem had grown beyond any set of borders and beyond Al-Qaeda to include ISIS and other radical Islamicists who were even more extreme.
For the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, and Pakistan, the situation is MUCH worse. After so much death, displacement, indignity, and instability, the people of these and other countries in the region will have to suffer through many more years of hardship. And there are likely to be more wars that result from the U.S. and Coalition states’ decision to invade, to stay, and stay, and stay, and then withdraw completely.
There may never be any justice to be had from this historical episode, but holding people like Bush, Cheney, and others accountable would certainly be a start. Learning a lesson from this would be even better, not the least of which would include:
- The U.S. is not exceptional nor indispensable
- The U.S. is not impervious to history, reality, or common sense
- The U.S. cannot bomb other countries into doing what they want
- The rich and powerful need to pay their taxes and be held accountable
- The U.S. cannot reverse its decline with more wars, more prayer, and more top-down economics
Unfortunately, I see no reason to suspect any of these lessons will be learned. Memories are short, ignorance of history and geography are rampant, and the conflation of nationalism and religion are so acute that there are millions of Americans (and even elected representatives) who believe that Jesus wrote the Constitution and spoke King James’ English.
Many of these same people would claim that Earth is flat, evolution in bunk, Climate Change is “junk science,” vaccines contain microchips that allows Bill Gates to track them, and George Soros has space lasers that started wildfires. Just 20 years after the fact, there are even Americans who can’t remember who was President when 9/11 happened (or Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans).
What’s more, Democrats still throw up their hands and lament that Republicans are rejecting their appeals for “cooperation.” As long as stupidity is enshrined in any political process, the vicious and ugly hold sway over others, and a large mass of the population chooses to believe “alternative facts” and revisionist history, we’re doomed to this lesson again and again!