The United States has not been directly attacked by a foreign organization since September 11, 2001. But many European cities like Barcelona, Paris, Manchester, London, Brussels, and Berlin have endured many attacks that are causing security problems in Europe.
In addition, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, and Yemen have become battlegrounds for extremist groups like the Islamic State and Al Qaeda where there is little hope to address these security concerns in this War on Terror.
President Trump attended ceremonies at the 9/11 Memorial in New York and the Pentagon in Virginia where he vowed that terrorists will never hit the homeland ever again, ”The terrorists who attacked us thought they could incite fear and weaken our spirit. But America cannot be intimidated, and those who try will join a long list of vanquished enemies who dared test our mettle.”i President Trump told the public that he would be deploying more troops to Afghanistan to stabilize the war-torn country and train Afghan troops in its battle against the Taliban.
At the same time, President Trump has tried to ban immigration from about half a dozen predominately Muslim countries. Last week, a court rejected some of his restrictions, but late on Monday, a Supreme Court justice blocked that decision from going into effect while the court considers the legal challenges to Trump’s travel ban. Trump was also a person who campaigned heavily on defeating terrorism and his voters are expecting him to make huge progress.
Are We Safer After 9/11?
The question we should be asking ourselves is have we effectively decreased the root causes of terrorism that threaten the United States and the world? The War on Terror has become a complete failure for U.S foreign policy. There are several reasons for this. First, U.S foreign policy practices like regime change have exacerbated the terrorism problem in the seven countries that the United States bombed including Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, and Pakistan.ii It is true that the United States has not had a significant terrorist attack to the scale of September 11, but Washington has always exaggerated the actual threat terrorism poses.
Second, politicians are fearful of another incident like 9/11 happening again and they are also fearful of being blamed for the nation’s security concerns. There is also a tendency for powerful leaders to demonstrate that they take the threat seriously by taking military action even if it does not actually solve the problem. The threat of terror is a manageable problem, and it cannot be won with military action being so effective that the costs outweigh the benefits.
Most importantly, we need smarter, reasonable people who can ask and answer the hard questions of how to deal with terrorism, but we also need to take into consideration the lives of U.S soldiers and the trillions of dollars that are being spent to military operations. Our government should not be spending billions of taxpayer dollars on foreign policy adventures in the Middle East and North Africa, since four of the seven countries the U.S bombed since 9/11 are in this region, but we need to help with humanitarian assistance and create free and fair institutions for everyone in the region.
U.S government officials must be responsible and have the obligation of explaining the facts to the American people which are that terrorism is a low probability threat in the United States and it should not be in the costs of trillions of dollars and the loss of many American soldiers (that were a result of elective foreign wars) to keep the war of terror from expanding into something that is infinite. We may be a nation that holds democratic freedoms and civil liberties, but these values do not reflect the realities on the ground in the seven countries the U.S bombed since 9/11.
Finding an Ideology
The United States and its allies have not done enough to address the root causes of terrorism around the globe where many individuals are feeling marginalized and alienated in their home nations. Most international terrorism is grounded on local grievances, and unfortunately, the United States foreign policy in the Middle East has been misguided by taking sides that tend to be very repressive towards the local populations there, which then makes the west the so-called ‘far enemy’ that supports the so-called ‘near enemy’.
U.S officials need to understand that our foreign policy entangles us into the conflicts that are local or national in nature because we give military aid, humanitarian aid, and political support to ruthless governments. Our officials also tend to turn a blind eye and say nothing to restrain leaders in any way, shape, or form given how much power the United States has economically and politically in international organizations like the United Nations.
In regard to changing U.S foreign policy, we need leaders who are smart about how we are going to intervene, if we are going to intervene at all, and understand that when we support governments in the Middle East with grotesque human rights records who repress their people, the citizens of these countries see the United States as repressors that are acting behind the scenes, and this is where marginalized people use religious ideologies like Wahhabism, or nationalist ideologies like Arab nationalism to justify their grievances.
The Complicated Dynamic
Attempting to address grievances is extremely difficult for the United States given the lack of knowledge in different regions, language barriers, the overlapping divisions between the governments and the local people, and the amount of internal corruption within governments as well. We need our leaders and policymakers to be courageous and not fall into the trap of following fear. For example, we need policymakers to make strong public statements that allow us to work with our allies to drive policymaking into something more innovative and diplomatic rather than aggressive.
The root causes of terrorism and support for repressive governments in the Middle East is true, but it understates the case. The United States bombed Iraq for every year in the past 26 years since the Gulf War in 1991, but it demonstrates that the grievances of the people living in the Middle East are real. And if you do something for over a quarter of a century with no greater effect, it should be time to start asking why we are doing it in the first place.
The main objective of the War on Terror was to disrupt and disdain terrorist networks and to deter those groups from carrying out any more attacks against the United States and Europe. In the seven countries the United States bombed since 9/11, the rates and incidents of terrorism increased in these countries. In 2006, a U.S Intelligence Report stated that “The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”iii
Foreign policy wise, the War on Terror was an utter failure even though there have been effective measures from law enforcement and intelligence agencies on destroying terrorist cells, blocking havens for radicalized groups, and securing supply routes on international borders.
More Work Needs to Be Done at Home and Abroad
The terror threat domestically in the United States has been somewhat successful. We had the Boston Marathon Massacre, San Bernardino, Orlando, and the Fort Hood attacks in Texas. Charlottesville was an example, where white supremacists engaged in acts of terror like using a car to run over a counter protester.
The problem with the Trump Administration is that they don’t focus on all aspects of terrorism and domestic threats. Instead, they focus solely on radical Islamist terrorism. Sting operations have also been used against people who have connections to gangs and drugs, but this proves problematic for many reasons. First, sting operations tend to target people based on their religious identity even though they won’t admit that most of the victims identify themselves as Muslims. Second, sting operations are mostly done online because recruitment has been conducted by chat rooms, cryptic communications, and trolling through Facebook and Twitter accounts. The targets for recruitment are also young men who have mental health problems, people who are facing personal crises, or even people who have big mouths to say the wrong things who get snared by law enforcement recruiters which recruit people into sting operations. This may sound cynical, but cases have shown that people who get recruited for sting operations are marginalized in society.
In the international context, the U.S failure to support the Arab Spring turned into an Arab nightmare for most Arab citizens because the message that it sent to people in the MENA region is that the United States prefers to work with repressive governments who produce violent non-state actors rather than to side with nonviolent populist movements seeking indigenous democracy.
It is important to highlight this because the people in this region see and understand that even though there are security and safety concerns, there is no credibility for leaders who behave like dictators. The United States should not be in the business of the Middle East for the sake of spreading democratic revolutions, which is a recipe for entangling the U.S into unnecessary wars and it angers the local populations in general. This happened in Libya when Gaddafi was replaced by an anarchist government that gave way to safe havens for terrorists that didn’t exist before, and this is a bad approach. The lessons from past foreign policy failures should signify the United States to stay out of other nations’ business.
i. Jonathan Lemire, “Evolving Trump: From business celeb on 9/11 to stern leader” September 11, 2017 Star Tribune http://www.startribune.com/trump-and-first-lady-prepare-to-commemorate-sept-11/443669963/
ii. Adam Pasick, “Here are the seven countries the United States has bombed since 9/11”September 22, 2014 Quartz https://qz.com/269630/here-are-the-seven-countries-the-united-states-has-bombed-since-911/
iii. Daniel Byman, “Iraq and the Global War on Terrorism” July 1, 2007 Brookings Institution https://www.brookings.edu/articles/iraq-and-the-global-war-on-terrorism/