Tuesday, September 17, 2013


By Ronald Fox 

The possibility that the United States might intervene militarily yet again in a Middle East country got me to thinking about the legacy of Osama bin Laden. The war of terror he unleashed over a decade ago has caused a sea of change in the Middle East and throughout the world. It has also radically changed the America I grew up to care deeply about. I am profoundly concerned about the path my country has taken in pursuing its global war on terror. In our response to the terrorist challenge, the United States has lessened domestic freedoms, compromised democratic values, squandered economic resources, violated the rule of law, helped sow chaos in the Middle East, and diminished the good will and respect we once enjoyed as the undisputed leader of the free world. In this two-part essay, I will discuss the heavy price we Americans are paying for Washington’s global war on terror.

Part I. Changes in the United States Resulting from the War on Terror

On August 7, 1998, the United States embassies in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi were simultaneously attacked by truck bombs that killed hundreds of people. Those attacks brought the name, Osama bin Laden, foremost to American attention.  Bin Laden had formed al-Qaeda somewhere between August, 1988 and late 1989, though his jihadists were fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan well before that date.  Al Qaeda was later linked to attacks on the USS Cole and Azerbaijan, but it was the horrific attack on the World Trade Center, that catapulted bin Laden and al-Qaeda to America’s public enemy number one list.

The U.S. perceived the attack on the World Trade Center and its killing of nearly 3000 Americans as an act of war. We responded militarily, as many believe bin Laden had predicted and planned for, by engaging in drawn-out wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars which have resulted in thousands of American, coalition and civilian deaths and trillions of dollars spent. In pursuing its war on terror, Washington has resorted to the use of torture, extraordinary renditions, and indefinite detentions, in violation of American domestic law as well as the International Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, to which the U.S. has been a party for over a quarter century.  We have launched drone strikes, which while killing some suspected terrorists, have also killed many innocent civilians.  (The Bureau of Investigative Journalism documented 500 civilian casualties in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia.)  We have assassinated suspected al-Qaeda-connected U.S. citizens. These actions have bred anti-Americanism and helped in the recruiting of terrorist thugs. At home, we have watched our government lessen transparency and disregard cherished Constitutionally-protected liberties, including the writ of habeas corpus and long-standing checks on executive power.  We also witnessed American prosperity fall into a debt-driven, unemployment-ridden, downward economic spiral.

Al-Qaeda provocations spurred an explosion of national security power. Both Presidents Bush and Obama claimed constitutional authority to take military action whenever they deemed it necessary, without specific congressional authorization (in this regard, Obama’s going to Congress for authorization for a military strike on Syria is a noteworthy exception). The post-9/11, fear of terrorism spawned the formation of a Department of Homeland Security, whose reach and power are expansive and beyond America’s democratic system of checks and balances. It has emboldened the National Security Agency and other security networks, which, apparently, see few limits on their perceived authority to spy on the communications of American citizens at home and abroad. A new Transportation Security Agency can make us empty our pockets, and remove shoes, belts and jewelry. Its employees can grope our bodies and even eavesdrop beneath our clothing. This is all part of a vast, mushrooming military/industrial/security complex, a symbiotic arrangement with a vested interest in perpetuating an exaggerated fear of terrorism, and thus its own power and prerogative. A two-year, Washington Post investigation reported that “some 1271 government organizations and 1931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.” There are 17 different intelligence agencies. All of this is being done in the name of the security of the homeland. Despite all this effort, and several claims of thwarted attacks, fear of terrorism has left American citizens feeling less secure, free, and united. If enhancing American insecurity was one of bin Laden’s objectives, he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination.

Deeply moved by the murderous attack on the World Trade Center, the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan at first had the strong support of the American people, as well as millions of other peoples throughout the world. Unfortunately the G.W. Bush administration squandered the initial good will by its illegal, unjustified, and poorly-planned war against Iraq. Revelations about the false evidence used to ramp up public support for the invasion, left many Americans distrustful of their government. Despite premature boasts of a “mission accomplished,” and frequent claims that things were turning in our favor, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan dragged on and the body count mounted. It appears Washington is good at getting into wars, but not at getting out; the lack of a coherent exit strategy seems a common feature of our recent military interventions. Endless war has left Americans divided, disillusioned, and weary, but wiser for the lessons learned, much like the Vietnam War did decades ago. We have become less trustful of our leaders and less optimistic about the future.  A war-weary, divided and disillusioned public is much less willing to obediently support, or even acquiesce to, projections of American military power, though, I must say, given recent U.S. international overreach, this is probably not a bad thing. I will return to the theme of recent trends in U.S. global power in Part II of this essay.

In summary, an exaggerated fear of terrorism has led the U.S. to expand the national security state, militarize the “homeland,” violate constitutional rights, spend trillions on wars, which have contributed to the country’s economic slide, and, act in ways that make a mockery of our most cherished democratic ideals. To be sure, fighting terrorism requires a determined resolve, embodying informed and efficient police work in cooperation with other countries, but it doesn’t warrant turning America into a police/security state. One must ask just what values we are trying to preserve. Do we have to emulate the enemy to defeat him? Our over-reaction is akin to tearing down a house in order to build a fence around it.

1 comment:

  1. Overtime I have become more convinced that 'non-interventionism' or a reduced interventionism would be a tremendous help.
    The tools of our nations policy have been used as weapons of oppression, rather than for defense or for humanitarian goals (in the large picture).
    Economic sanctions and embargoes have impoverished all sorts of nations and the terms of trade have promoted US and Western corporations at the expense of other foreign markets, economies, and local commerce. These policies also help nationalistic fervor behind despotic governments which can then point the finger abroad and rationalize their own extreme measures and security state.
    Foreign Aid keeps other states dependent on our agriculture, goods, services, our military power, our intelligence and security trainers/technology. It has kept the rest of the world undeveloped and ripe for all sorts of desperate acts that relate to poverty, like human trafficking, organized crime, terrorism, piracy etc...it has protected dictators as well.
    Military interventions (overt or covert actions for regime changes) have also served these same goals cited above. Although it tends to increase violence and as 'collateral damage' occurs, more resentment and bitterness are spread throughout the world. Examples of issues here would be Drone strikes/targeted assassinations, rendition programs, and other forms of human rights abuses to detainees; all of these in the name of security while achieving the opposite. This is how our nation maintains the next generation of enemies that will keep our citizens in danger at home and abroad and continue to be politically useful as a 'boogieman', whenever desired.
    Our foreign policy becomes politicized, not only by our 2 party system, but also by select few powerful interests that tend to have large investments and holdings abroad. Our various institutions seem to cater to such powerful interests in various dimensions, but this would apply to our foreign policy and military actions as well.
    It is also unfortunate to consider that these 'problems' and wars have become very profitable for agencies and the firms that provide technology, weapons, and expertise to them. It has become a reason to avoid any resolution to the problems because federal dollars will keep flowing to these actors.
    The only way (I think) on reducing this sort of abuse of institutions is to keep them fairly weak and limited, so they can not be seen as ripe for corporations and other entrenched interests to take advantage of. And I believe this is what our original founding fathers had in mind by structuring our government to be one very limited and balanced against itself to keep it from turning despotic and arbitrary.
    It is essential to keep all of this in mind when contemplating interventions in the name of humanitarian goals, because agencies and interest groups have tremendous interests involved and incentives to fabricate the nature of wars and disasters abroad to highlight their own importance and roles.
    It is also worth questioning whether we can ever see a world without any sort of struggle or inequality. It just may be that this is inherent in our world and that what little we can achieve and contribute may be in the form of ideas, education, skills, and enhanced questioning of our authorities, institutions, and of ourselves...
    Can we ever force away terror and other evils of the world? I don't think so. But even if we learn a little from 'counter-insurgency' theory, which the military has applied (incorrectly I think) in Vietnam and all the other modern wars of occupation, even that doctrine preaches an understanding of the 'hearts and minds' and the importance of public opinion.
    The best way to win in the court of global public opinion, is for our nation to use less force and follow its own constitutional principles.
    Between a choice of extremist violent agenda and of honest work/business and negotiations, we might find less force, terror, and poverty in the world.


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