The war on terror has been the predominant force in world foreign policy for the last 15 years since the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The embers of this war were stoked further by the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000 but it really gained momentum after the attacks by Al- Qaeda on September 11th 2001.
Since then it has claimed an estimated 1,249,025 lives, has resulted in more regime changes than at any time since the end of the Soviet Union and does not look like it will end any time soon.
The war on terror shares some of the characteristics of a conventional war, in so much that it is fought with conventional weaponry, albeit on a more improvised and guerrilla style but it does not meet all of the character traits of a conventional war. It does have a definable beginning, in so much as it began with the September 11th Attacks.
But can it ever truly end?
The term “War on Terror” was used loosely before 9/11 but US president George W Bush adapted the term to suit the US aim of destroying their 9/11 nemesis, Al- Qaeda. At the time he created a manifesto of aims that this war on terror would achieve, with most of them being non-specific promises like ending state sponsorship of terrorists, enable weak states, persuade reluctant states and compel unwilling states.
Of the 5 main aims of the war on terror, as established by George W Bush only one has been truly completed: Defeat terrorists such as Osama bin Laden, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and demolish their organizations. This was only truly completed by the assassination of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. The rest of the objectives cannot be truly proven to be met definitively.
It has led to an overstretching of resources across many continents, from the Horn of Africa to Asia and beyond.
The United States has become a more restrictive and reactionary entity, it has lost a lot of the international standing that it once enjoyed during the 1990’s when it was a key player in the then peace agreements in Israel and Northern Ireland. Now the US is perceived as a kid with a gun and woe betide the person who gets in his way.
Key to this change has been its conduct since 2001, both internally and externally. The policies of George Bush have used and manipulated politics and international law to suit the intended objectives of the US government.
A prominent example of this is Guantanamo Bay, otherwise known as Camp Delta. The US has detained terrorists there since 2001, labelling them as unlawful combatants, which enables them to use the Geneva Convention to their own ends.
New and dangerous words have entered the American vocabulary, words like Rendition and Waterboarding. National security has become the cloak behind which America has justified torture and increasingly invasive surveillance methods. These have been enshrined into American law in the guise of The Patriot Act, they have become part of the American political system.
Manipulation of law and systems of government has not been confined to internal politics, the build up to the second Iraq war exemplified what the US is prepared to do to get its way. A country which, granted was in the grip of an evil dictatorship was pushed into a war that it had absolutely no chance of winning because of weapons of mass destruction which did not actually exist.
The UN was pushed and prodded into passing resolutions which required the use of weapons inspectors and when those weapons inspectors were denied by the restrictive Hussein regime, the US had all the justification that it needed to go in. It sought international support to legitimize its incursion which it gained in the form of the coalition, fresh on its coattails from winning in Afghanistan and ploughed headlong into the maelstrom of a war that it did not need to fight.
The war itself was over in a matter of weeks but the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people continued for many years until the US withdrawal in 2009. It was a withdrawal which would not mean the end of conflict in the region, as the rise of Islamic State has proven.
The things that America has had to do to win this war have proven unpopular with its people and even its intelligence services. The release of sensitive confidential files by C.I.A. operative Edward Snowden has shed an unwelcome window on the subversive tactics used by the US and its international partners. Evidence included the mass surveillance of both US and international citizens, the military tactics used by the US, its coalition allies and files of operations of questionable legality conducted away from the gaze of international law. The release of these files damaged the already shaky reputation of the US even further.
The negative opinion of the US in countries across Asia and Africa has led to the US becoming the prime target for every terrorist with a grudge. The fact that most of the current leadership of IS are former Iraqi military proves that by manipulating international law and politics the US has given birth to its own enemies.
These organisations, armed with steady streams of cash from as yet unknown sources purchase weaponry from the international black market. All attempts by the US and its partners to freeze assets and prevent terrorist financing have proved token gestures.
Terrorists will undoubtedly find a way to find these weapons and could even look to align themselves, albeit surreptitiously with larger powers who have an interest in seeing the US fall. Powers like Russia and China could supply these groups with weapons, allowing them to wage war on the US and its coalition partners without getting their hands dirty.
This would occupy the gaze of the US just enough for these powers to accomplish their aims without interference. Vicariously they would also have the effect of decreasing the operational capacity of the US to wage war against a comparable aggressive power.
Islamic State incursions into Iraq and the resultant bombing missions conducted by the US could be used as the smokescreen for a larger Russian incursion into the Ukraine.
The growth of fundamentalism in the Middle East is largely fuelled by religious fervour. Radicalised clerics, distrusted by their respective governments use religion as a smokescreen to indoctrinate young impressionable politically aware individuals in their respective countries. The war on terror provides the conditions for this to become virtually self-sustaining. Even the censorship of the religion most likely to fuel terrorism would have the opposite effect, it would increase the numbers rather than decrease them.
There is also a danger that in the quest to limit those religions, we ignore ones which can be equally inflammatory once perverted by these fundamentalist individuals. These religions could ultimately prove more destructive than the ones being outlawed.
A war on an ideology (which is not linked to one specific nation) is something not previously encountered in the course of history. The Nazi ideology and other pervasive ideologies have all been based in one nation or encapsulated in a group of nations like the Soviet Union.
The removal of an ideology completely from the human sphere of influence would involve the manipulation of a population to such a degree as to completely restrict independent thought.
This would ultimately damage the human spirit, resulting in a stagnation of its desire to explore new ideas and belief systems. Ideologies are by definition internal constructs of humankind and cannot be defeated by conventional means. The combatting of such ideals begins at an early age and does not cease until that individual dies.
The price of winning the war on terror may be too high, in so much that in the rush to combat this growing threat, we compromise ourselves to such a degree that our own politics are denied. Individual freedom and civil liberties cannot be sold cheaply to achieve this goal as we would become as bad as the individuals we are combatting. The prospect of maintaining such an aggressively restrictive stance for an extended period is ultimately detrimental to the country it serves to protect.
Is there another path which we might take which would prove more beneficial?
If we were merely to do nothing, remaining inactive and leaving the terrorist unchecked we run the risk of allowing these organisations to become legitimate political entities. Attacking them leaves them on the fringes of the political sphere of their respective countries. A marginalised organisation cannot gain a foothold in a country.
But by the same token, attacking them makes us a target for any terrorist organisation which springs up. There needs to be a paradigm shift in what we do when we interact with countries which have leanings towards terrorism. Engagement of all local groups rather than those most willing to grant us favour would decrease the risk of the marginalisation and radicalisation of ethnic groups. Groups which have a stake in government are less likely to rail against them.
The destruction of existing institutions as a chief by-product of militaristic invasion is unnecessary, utilising these institutions and repurposing them to suit new aims is far more beneficial to both the indigenous population and the invading power.
As the war on terror continues, the casualties mount up and the realistic goals of the war become less and less realisable over the years. The schism of creating such a war has proven to be ultimately damaging but the prospect of inaction over terrorism can be equally if not more so damaging.
The war becomes less and less winnable in the classical sense of the word. A state of long term warfare could apply with no end, to the point where it becomes a generational struggle. In the opinion of this writer this is a world I would not want to be a part of.
© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.