Near where I live in Sydney, there is a war memorial commemorating all those people from the area that died serving the Australian armed forces in wars overseas. There are columns for each war Australians have participated in, followed by the names of those that never returned. For instance, there are columns for World War One (1914-1918), World War Two (1939-1945), the Korean War (1950-53), and also the International Campaign against Terrorism (2001 – ). You notice that last one? Unlike the others, the war on terror has no end date.
The horrific terrorist attacks of September 11 prompted justified outrage at the perpetrators and sympathy for their victims. Since then, there has been a continuous barrage of war crimes, an escalation of US wars in the Middle East, new offensives against Iraq and Afghanistan by the US imperial power, and a steady erosion of democratic civil liberties in the name of a ‘war on terror.’ In fact, the first decade of the 2000s can rightly be called the savage decade. The Bush/Cheney administration seized upon September 11 as an opportunity to implement imperial designs that long predate the actual terrorist attacks. As Anthony Arnove documents, senior national security staff were directed by Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s national security adviser and later secretary of state, to capitalise on the opportunities for the US to reshape the world, implement regime change, and redesign significant portions of the globe for US imperial interests. The September 11 tragedy has become a blank cheque, a banner under which US war planners have justified their imperial interventions to a sceptical public.
The US has been carrying out war crimes in the name of September 11. It is a terrible, perverse usage of the tragedy to whip up public sentiment to commission crimes that have more in common with the doctrine motivating the perpetrators of September 11. As Robert Jensen, journalism professor at the University of Texas points out, there was no doubt that the Bush/Cheney administration was going to use 9/11 as an excuse to launch all-out wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. There was no illusion that the Bush/Cheney cabal were fanatical imperialists and racists, dedicated on demonstrating to the world that the US empire was on the war path. What is now becoming apparent is that the Obama administration is following practically the same course, although with a different disguise. Wait a minute, didn’t Obama declare an end to the war on terror in 2009? In a way, yes – he rebranded it as ‘overseas contingency operations.‘ A different name for exactly the same package – that’s rebranding you see.
Here in Australia, we are told that the world changed on September 11. Did it really? Yes and no. As Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, economics lecturer at Drake University says, certainly the 9/11 tragedy prompted calls for regime change, imperial retribution and preemptive strikes by the United States. The rendition program where torture is ‘outsourced’ to third countries under the supervision of CIA and MI6 officials, the imprisonment of terrorism suspects without charge or trial, the Patriot Act, Homeland Security provisions – these are all developments post 9/11. But the military-industrial-financial complex had plans for regime change, the economic outreach into more countries and extension of US military power years before 9/11, since the fall of the Berlin Wall back in 1989. With the dissolution of the Soviet bloc, a significant restraint on US militarism was removed. Zbigniew Brzezinski, the national security adviser under former President Jimmy Carter and main architect of the US-sponsored Islamic Mujahideen war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, wrote in a 1997 book about the need for the US to confront Russia, China, India and others to remain the dominant economic and military power in Central Asia and the Middle East.
US war planners needed new enemies, and they came up with many – the clash of civilisations, rogue states, militant Islamism and so on. But 9/11 was the new mantra, and the beneficiaries of the giant military budget and security spending fixed onto a new ideological banner to disguise the agenda of imperial expansion. It is this broader context in which the US wars in Iraq, Afghanistan (and now Libya) must be understood.
The National Priorities Project is an organisation dedicated to explaining, in terms as clear as possible, how the US federal budget is composed and how tax dollars are spent. They recently put together a report regarding the amount of money spent on national security since September 11, 2001. Since that day, the US ruling class has spent 8 trillion dollars on homeland security, the Pentagon’s military budget, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and all the associated spending on the US State Department and federal agencies. All this spending was supposedly prompted by nineteen hijackers armed with nothing more than box cutters? I think that Sheldon Richman is right – national security spending is a scam. As he points out in his article, opportunistic and cynical politicians have been using 9/11 to frighten people into accepting even more military spending.
Is the world actually safer because of the war on terror and all this military and national security spending? Well, according to the numerous security pundits, the world is safer because countless terrorist plots have been foiled, but they just cannot elaborate because of national security. It is the old ploy – “we could tell you, but if we did we would have to kill you” trick. Without adequate information it is hard to say, but I can make two observations. Firstly the war on terror has failed to thwart attacks on the European and Western countries. Secondly and even more importantly, the war on terror and the associated extraordinary renditions, torture and repression breeds resentments across the Islamic and Middle Eastern countries. When US forces and unmanned drones kill scores of civilians across Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq and other countries, don’t you think that some Muslim people will develop anti-American resentments and hatreds? The descent of the American military and political system into thoroughly detestable forms of behaviour – barbaric torture at Guantanamo and Bagram air base, the killing of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, the packs of unmanned Predator drones – all this behaviour leads to a massive buildup of discontent and sows the seeds for future terrorist attacks.
While the 9/11 fanatics were driven by a complex array of religious and political motives, there is no doubt that continued American support for Zionism, and the Arab dictators around the Middle East, was a major factor in their hatred of US imperial power. With the homicidal overreaction by the US empire, the terrorists kind of got what they wanted – an extension of American imperial criminality into costly and savage wars that are draining the US of its resources. The Afghanistan war is coming onto ten years, and thousands of American troops remain in that country. There is the ongoing occupation and insurgency in Iraq, and that conflict shows no signs of ending, even after Obama’s rebranding of that occupation and fake withdrawal of troops.
Not long after the September 11 attacks, former President Bush issued a new doctrine, a new national security strategy of ‘preemptive war’ to strike at terrorist groups and states that allegedly pose a threat, or are developing a credible threat, to the United States. This doctrine, continued by Obama, is basically a license to wage aggressive war. Was not this kind of behaviour outlawed and condemned by the Nuremberg trials at the end of World War Two? Obama explicitly endorsed the doctrine of preemptive war, ironically when giving a speech accepting the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize.
I have to agree with Tom Engelhardt – when it comes to September 11, let’s cancel it. Let’s stop the commemorations, the gatherings of pompous politicians, the hoopla, the new towers, the waterfalls – let’s stop the lot. What is more important is stopping the abuse of the 9/11 horrific attacks to perpetrate even more terrorist crimes and imperial wars, while enveloping those wars with hypocritical reverential remembrance. Stop using the supposedly ‘hallowed’ ground zero to promote carnage and barbarism overseas. The 9/11 killings, while appalling and ghastly, are not a license for continuous war and descent into harrowing political conduct. Political life over the last decade is characterised by a continual assault on democratic rights; if you doubt that, just ask Omar Khadr, or Moazzam Begg. Let’s stop this endless war funding, as Engelhardt explains.
Anthony Arnove demonstrates that we in the western world have undergone a dramatic cultural shift, with the corporate-controlled media playing a huge role in promoting the war on terror hyperbole, legitimising the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and nourishing the racist Islamophobic campaign, targeting Arabs and Muslims in general as a potential fifth column in subverting ‘western values’, and bolstering public approval for war. Let us campaign for an alternative world, without imperialist wars and occupations, racism and soaring corporate profits. Let us regain the basic democratic and social rights that we have lost because of this undemocratic war on terror, and mobilise against the financial aristocracy and war profiteers to save our planet.