Was the ‘War on Terror’ a good response to the 9/11 attacks?
The attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York on the morning of September 11th 2001 were the most significant event of the first decade of the 21st century and the war on terror that was fought as a result has spread around the globe and created the biggest conflicts of the century so far. The United States and her allies have justified invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, supporting unsavoury characters, detention without trial and interrogation that comes very close to torture on the basis of defending ourselves in the War on Terror. However has our mainly military response been the right reaction?
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Something had to be done
There was bound to be some kind of a reaction after the September 11th attacks. The only question was what it would be and how big. Militarily an attack on Afghanistan seemed to be possible, and indeed was won with surprisingly few US boots on the ground and little loss of life within a couple of months. Since then the conflict in Afghanistan, or more recently ‘Afpak’ has been the lynchpin of the fight to kill and capture terrorists and stop them carrying out more attacks.
The 9/11 attacks on the US were such a shock that the country needed some big and bold action to bring justice to the people who carried out the attack and make sure it could not happen again. As those who carried out the attacks were dead as they were suicide missions this meant going after their sponsors and training camps. This in turn meant an attack on Afghanistan and later on Iraq when their regimes were linked with terrorism. In the US politicians had to be on the bandwagon or else they would likely not be re-elected due to being labelled as ‘soft on terror’.
There is no real reason except public opinion for why the response should have been military and more importantly should have gone on for so long. Defeating the Taliban militarily made sense but once that was done there should have been a switch in how the west carried out the war on terror to stabilise Afghanistan. Instead little was done for several years except special ops operations while the build up followed by war and necessary reconstruction of Iraq sucked funds away from Afghanistan which needed rebuilding to prevent the Taliban form coming back.
Takes terrorists out before they can attack
One of the main reasons for the war on terror is a belief that the US military can pre-empt attacks militarily themselves by killing or capturing terrorists before they can attack. This has over the last couple of years lead to an increasing use of drones to monitor and then take out suspected terrorists. Drones can also be used to attack areas where the US does not have a presence on the ground, particularly in Pakistan where militants can flee too from Afghanistan and where the Pakistani military has often been unwilling to engage them.
While pre-emption in international relations is likely to mean unjustifiable wars, as was shown by attacking Iraq on false pretences, in law enforcement it is vital. Nobody can sit idle and let themselves be bombed before attempting to convict. The US needed to find a new way of prompting across borders rather than waiting for terrorists to get within the US’s borders. In order to do this there needs to be good intelligence so resulting in some of the unsavoury elements of the war on terror such as indefinite detention in Guantanamo bay and ‘extraordinary rendition’.
While it is tempting to say that ‘terrorists’ have no right to stand trial they should still have rights. It may well be difficult to get the evidence this is no real reason to go around gung ho blowing them up from the air with drones rather than at least attempting to capture them and put them on trial. At the moment we are simply assuming that the US army is correct in its assessment when it decides it has someone in its scopes who needs to be killed.
No new big attacks on US soil
The proof is in the pudding. The War on Terror was to stop any more major attacks on US soil and so far it has succeeded in this goal.
There have however been numerous attacks on other U.S. allies most notably:
The bombing of a nightclub in Bali in October 2002 killing 202 people, including many Australians
March 2004 attacks on commuter train services in Madrid, Spain
July 2005 bombs on the Underground and a bus in London
The killing of Benazir Bhutto, former Pakistani prime minister and a potential US ally in December 2007
This is not including the many thousands of attacks that have occurred in Afghanistan and Iraq against US forces and civilians. There have also been large numbers of suicide bombings throughout the Middle East including in relatively stable countries such as Turkey and Morocco.
More recently there have been two close misses where US law enforcement got lucky in preventing attacks on US soil. The attack on Northwest airlines flight 253 on its way to Detroit on December 25th 2009 where Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate a bomb sown into his underwear. More recently there was an amateurish car bomb attack on Times Square on 1st May 2010 that failed to explode. With so many attacks it is difficult to say that the war on terror has succeeded in preventing terrorism.
War simply creates more resentment
If there is one way to make sure there are more people willing to give up their lives to fight it is to go and kill their families and destroy their homes. Unfortunately this has been exactly the approach that the USA and the west have taken in their war on terror. This makes being aggressive and fighting wars in the Islamic world counterproductive. The USA and its allies may well kill thousands of terrorists or members of Al Qaeda and the Taliban but it will make no difference while the conflict is at the same time providing as many recruits to the cause as are killed.
A simple evidence of this counter productivity is the growing number of bombings and the times of terrorism happening here and there. Another to prove that violence is fruitful in another violence: Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka on Tamil Tiger, etc.
War can also solve problems if it is successful. A successful and rapid conclusion to the conflict in Afghanistan not only denied Al Qaeda of their training bases and the Taliban of control of the country but also gave a chance to rebuild the country. This would mean that there was less of a hard line ideology being taught and disseminated potentially meaning a healing of divisions. It is only the failure to secure the country afterwards that is at fault allowing the Taliban to come back.
Has not made the world mores secure
According to Amnesty International “The war on terror, far from making the world a safer place, has made it more dangerous by curtailing human rights, undermining the rule of international law and shielding governments from scrutiny. It has deepened divisions among people of different faiths and origins, sowing the seeds for more conflict. The overwhelming impact of all this is genuine fear -- among the affluent as well as the poor.”
"It is vital that we resist the manipulation of fear and challenge the narrow focus of the security agenda. The definition of security must be broadened to encompass the security of people, as well as states. That means a commitment to human rights. That means recognising that insecurity and violence are best tackled by effective, accountable states which uphold, not violate human rights,"
Far from making the world more secure the world has become more insecure as the US has become a major creator of conflict rather than the nation most involved in solving conflict. In the mean time many small scale conflicts are out of the public eye due to the much larger conflicts ongoing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The starting point should be poverty
The war on terror has not been tackling the fundamental problems that fuel terrorism. This is a belief that the middle east is being left behind and that Muslims are not being represented at home and are being picked upon abroad. This is combined with problems of poverty throughout the Islamic world and with a large ‘youth bulge’ demographically.
Poverty is a cause because people across the Islamic world do not have much to live for due to having few prospects in life. There is often little education and in many countries much of that which is available is essentially a religious education that helps to radicalise people rather than empower them. This religious education in madrassas has been blamed for a lot of the terrorist plots coming particularly out of Pakistan. The Middle East in particular is also in the middle of a demographic youth bulge, where there is a very large number of young people compared to the overall population. In the middle east over 60% of the population is under 25. Historically this creates radicalisation and conflict. 80% of civil conflicts between 1970 and 1999 occurred in countries where 60 percent of the population or more were under the age of thirty. At the same time the Islamic world and particularly the middle east has always gone through long cycles of radicalisation that shifts between radical Islamism and radical nationalism with periods of calm in between. In this way there was a period of radical Islam at the end of the 19th century and a period of radical nationalism in the 1950s and 60s.
The result of this is that stirring the pot by launching wars into an unstable region was not the best way to prevent terrorism. Instead there needed to be a major effort to provide education that does not radicalise and to create economic growth the reduce poverty. Yes there was probably a need to do some targeted killing but too much and the radicalised youth becomes enrages while full scale war is a blunt instrument that was never likely to have positive results.
WoT is a war on Israel's enemies & 9/11 may be an Israeli op
And so the WoT may be totally misdirected.
First, there is overwhelming evidence against this conspiracy theory. The identities of all the plane hijackers are known and have been analyzed and later made public. The link to Al-Qaeda is obvious. Other than that, Al-Qaeda itself has on many occasions claimed responsibility for the attack (and quite proudly at that). Osama bin Laden would surely consider it an insult if someone were to claim that Israel did it.
Second, while Al-Qaeda surely does consider Israel as an enemy, (as do all Islamic fundamentalist networks), Israel surely did not think about Al-Qaeda as a direct threat. Rather Israel considers Iran, Hamas and Hizbullah as enemies. If Israel truly wanted to instigate USA to destroy its enemies then there would have been much more obvious targets.
Third, the war is not benefiting Israel in any way whatsoever. Quite contrarily, and for understandable reasons, the Muslim world's distrust and hatred of America (and invariably Israel) has sharpened as a result of the war. It is not, and it has never been, in Israel's interest to have a war like this.
WoT is a war on Israel's enemies, and 9/11 may be an Israeli op
The US has always managed to conflate its own interests with those of Israel. Keeping Israel secure has always been taken as the keystone of US policy in the middle east and this has meant that the USA is fighting Israel's enemies, condemning movements such as Hamas and even from time to time Fatah who are freedom fighters and so the Islamic world does not see the USA as a neutral arbiter and instead it becomes a target. And so the WoT may be totally misdirected and pointless.
The War on Terror is primarily a war on the U.S.'s enemies, it just happens that they are Israel's too. The USA needs to be involved in the Middle East to protect its oil supplies and to do this it needs to prop up the gulf states and prevent any attacks on the oil routes, whether this may come from Al Qaeda, Iraq or Iran. Iran in particular has always been against the US as much as against Israel due to the involvement of the US in overthrowing Mossadeq and propping up the Shah whom the current regime overthrew.
What do you think?