By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
The Americans and people all over the world who still remember clearly the unfolding of the horrible events on September 11, 2001 day are commemorating with pain and anguish when 3000 Americans were murdered in cold blood ten years ago. Today the Americans and the rest of the world reflect on the attack and the cost of the wars that followed even when the whole story of that day has not been written yet because we’re still in its midst.
When evidence of Al-Qaeda’s connection to the September 11 atrocity was finally made public, the United States embarked on the first war of the 21st century. It unleashed its massive and relenting “war on terror” only twenty-six days after the attack, starting with a devastating blitz on the lair of Osama Bin Laden. The US waged military invasion against Al-Qaeda’s networks in northern Afghanistan and the Taliban regime that harbored them. Unlike the primitive weapons used by the September 11 terrorists, the US military employed satellite intelligence, logistical support, special-forces, air strikes and snatch squads; and the US politicians and writers demonized nations, Islam and its culture in the process. The US forces occupied the famine-stricken, war-ravaged Afghanistan using a totally disproportionate display of military might that perhaps best described so much as “awesome”. The United States carried out a systematic world-wide campaign with sophistication, efficiency and lethality; and sought the cooperation of every country to track down the perpetrators, to kill or capture suspects or sympathizers and hand them to the US to rot in detention centers all over the world.
Sixteen months later, the US and the UK ignored the universal legal and ethical norms and decided that invading Iraq was the solution to terrorism. Iraq became a magnet for armed homegrown nationalists, sectarian militia groups and militant foreign Salafists including Al-Qaeda.
Iraq was destroyed, millions were displaced, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians and the invading soldiers died or injured and Iraqi and US resources were unnecessarily wasted. Many years after destroying Iraq, President Bush was asked in August 21, 2006 press conference: “What did Iraq have to do with September 11?” his answer was “Nothing.” Saddam wasn’t connected with 9/11, had no WMDs, and he was not poised to attack the United States or Israel. Because of the war on Iraq, the terrorists have recruited more Islamists, radicalized more people and raised funds from Muslims just by projecting U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq as an attack against Islam and the Muslims.”
Then the “war on terror” got a quiet linguistic makeover. It has become the “war on Islamic fascism.” “Islamo-fascism” is an emotional term, intended to get the Americans to think less and fear more. It presents the bewildering politics of the Muslim world as a simple matter of “US people versus evil madmen who want to enforce the Sharia laws and fly the flag of Islam over the capitals of the West.”
The people of the region who suffered from the “War on Terror” without being recognized are the Pakistanis and the Palestinians. The Afghan war spilled over into Pakistan where the number of Pakistanis killed and injured by the US predator drones and war-lords is no less than the invasion took in neighboring Afghanistan. Pakistan lost control of its borders and became a failing state with nuclear weapons.
The US expanded its definition of “terrorists” to include the Palestinian nationalists who have been resisting the Israeli occupation. The Palestinians’ democratic experiment was aborted when the US labeled Hamas, the winner of the 2006 parliamentary elections, as a “terrorist organization”. A national unity government under Hamas failed to govern because the US forced complete boycott against it. Hamas eventually, had to use violence against the US supported Fatah faction to establish itself in Gaza Strip. The United States approved the crippling all-out siege of Gaza Strip by Israel and Egypt’s Mubarak regime under the pretext of war on terrorism since Hamas ruled it.
Many tools were invented by the US to fight “terrorism”; some provoked national and international debate. They include Guantánamo Bay detention camp abuses, Abu Ghraib torture, enhanced interrogations, renditions, Patriot Act, military tribunals, preventive detention, and targeted assassinations via predator drone. To ensure that 9/11 will not happen again, airplane passengers, including women, the children and the disabled, are subjected to humiliating methods of body search before boarding. Senator Barack Obama was a critic of President Bush’s war protocols, but in his first months in the White House, President Obama embraced or expanded almost all of the measures that he had long derided as unconstitutional or useless. The wars led to the erosion of civil liberties in the US and human rights violations abroad.
Ten years after the invasion of Afghanistan and eight years after toppling Saddam Hussein regime, the debate continues over why each war was begun and whether either or both should have been fought. President Obama told the US citizens it was “safe” to withdraw troops from anarchic and chaotic Iraq and Afghanistan, the two countries that have been transformed into violent failed states.
The wars that followed 9/11 have been too costly in economic resources and human suffering. It is difficult to provide comprehensive accounting of such cost especially to the US, Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan. It has been estimated that “more than 137,000” civilians died and more will die in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan as a result of the invasions. The Iraqi and the Afghani peoples today are less secure in their daily lives, more divided and segregated along sectarian and ethnic lines. Millions of people have been displaced indefinitely and millions became refugees in their own country living in grossly inadequate conditions. Six million Iraqis fled to Jordan, Syria, Turkey and Europe since the invasion including more than half the peaceful Iraqi Christian community that had prospered for centuries and made valuable contributions to Iraq and the region.
The legacy of these wars will be felt in the US and the Middle East for decades to come. No one can quantify the value of the human suffering that has been caused by the 9/11 attack and the “war on terrorism”. The US government puts the financial total cost of the “two wars” at $1.3 trillion so far, but researchers from Brown University in Rhode Island estimated the total US financial cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan including the long-term obligations to the 55,000 injured war veterans will run “at least $3.7 trillion and could reach $4.4 trillion”, money the US does not have.
Al-Qaeda could not destroy the US but it created a decade of fear and forced the US to overreact. Its terrorist attack triggered very costly wars that have not been wrapped up even in ten years. In terms of material cost, the US enjoyed a surplus of $127 billion and had only 5% of the work force unemployed before the war; it is running a deficit of $1650 billion and 9.1% unemployment this year. Many argue that the deficit has been partially attributed to the cost of the wars.
As in all conflicts, in this war, lives have been ended with unfulfilled dreams leaving behind broken hearts of fathers, mothers, wives, children and friends; many more have been disabled due to injuries; and the world as we know it is not the same after September 11, 2001.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.