10 September 2021   Leave a comment

Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of the 11 September attack on the US by al Qaeda. The newspapers are filled with references to the event and several TV channels are airing documentaries. There seem to be several themes common to all this attention: the grief and pain suffered by those who lost loves ones; the need to “never forget”; and the question of whether there was enough done to avert the attack. I have vivid memories of the event, watching the TV with my colleagues in Skinner Hall and realizing that an act of war had occurred. In subsequent days, there were many sessions with colleagues and students assessing the implications of the attack. My dear colleague, Jon Western, articulated the view held by many that the world had changed dramatically.

I am disheartened, however, that there seems to be a distinct lack of attention to the question of the intelligence of the US response to the attack. It was undoubtedly an act of war, but few asked the question of whether going to war was the correct response. The horrific and cold-blooded act stimulated rage, a desire for revenge, and unleashed cruel and unwarranted attacks on Arabs and Islam. None of those motives are consistent with a reasoned decision to go to war and to launch what came to be called the “Global War on Terror”. Clausewitz understood well the need to keep reason at the center of any decision to go to war: “We come now to the region dominated by the powers of intellect.  War is the realm of uncertainty . . . .  War is the realm of chance. . . .  Two qualities are indispensable:  first, an intellect that, even in the darkest hour, retains some glimmerings of the inner light which leads to truth; and second, the courage to follow this faint light wherever it may lead.  The first of these qualities is described by the French term, coup d’oeil; the second is determination.”

The US made a fatal mistake in treating the attack as a military attack, and not a political attack. al Qaeda had no army and few armaments. In September 2001 al Qaeda had purchased refuge in Afghanistan from the Taliban and, while it was well-organized, it was a small force of poorly armed adherents. The US response was to invade both Afghanistan and Iraq and overthrow their governments and replacing them with governments which poorly represented the interests of the people in those states. The US abandoned its commitment to defending human rights, resorting to torture in prisons such as Abu Ghraib and detaining prisoners in the US naval base in Guantanamo, Cuba with no charges and no access to any of the protections of the laws of war. The US also completely militarized its response to political terrorism, spending $21 trillion on measures designed to protect American security according to the National Priorities Project:

  • Over the 20 years since 9/11, the U.S. has spent $21 trillion on foreign and domestic militarization.
  • Of that total, $16 trillion went to the military — including at least $7.2 trillion for military contracts.
  • Another $3 trillion went to veterans’ programs, $949 billion went to Homeland Security, and $732 billion went to federal law enforcement.
  • For far less than it spent on militarization since 9/11, the U.S. could reinvest to meet critical challenges that have been neglected for the last 20 years:
  • $4.5 trillion could fully decarbonize the U.S. electric grid.
  • $2.3 trillion could create 5 million jobs at $15 per hour with benefits and cost-of-living adjustments for 10 years.
  • $1.7 trillion could erase student debt.
  • $449 billion could continue the extended Child Tax Credit for another 10 years.
  • $200 billion could guarantee free preschool for every 3-and-4-year old for 10 years, and raise teacher pay.
  • $25 billion could provide COVID vaccines for the populations of low-income countries.

In addition, the US military response to the attacks killed many civilians, dwarfing the 3,000 who were killed in the US on 11 September 2001:

“20 years after the terrorist attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center of Sept 11, 2001, at least 22,000 civilians have been killed in U.S. airstrikes during the war on terror, mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. The minimum estimate counts around 11,500 civilian airstrike deaths in Iraq, 5,700 in Syria and 4,800 in Afghanistan. Additional deaths occurred in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya. The maximum estimate by UK NGO Airwars, which analyzed declared U.S. airstrikes since 2001, is more than twice as high at around 48,000.”

Now, twenty years later, the Taliban are back in power in Afghanistan, Iraq has a government strongly influenced by Iran, and terrorism continues to be the instrument of choice for many international groups but also for a disturbingly large number of white supremacists in the US. As we remember the grief of 11 September, we should also realize that we allowed that grief to lead us into a series of policies that addressed none of the causes of that sorrow. And more than likely deepened and aggravated those causes.

Posted September 10, 2021 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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