Skip to main content

Editorial: Lessons from two decades of the war on terror

TWENTY years have passed since the appalling terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Centre that killed 2,977 people.

Images of the collapse of the twin towers beamed around the world are etched in the memories of all who saw them that day. The horrendous loss of innocent life prompted an outcry across the West and fed calls for immediate action. 

The form this action would take soon became clear as US president George W Bush announced the “war on terror,” backed to the hilt by his British ally Tony Blair. 

It was not long before Western armies swept into Afghanistan, toppling the Taliban in an operation Blair said would see British troops deployed there for around six months. 

Twenty years later as Washington presided over a chaotic retreat from Afghanistan this summer, and the supposedly vanquished Taliban marched to power across the country, Blair was back on the airwaves lamenting our early withdrawal.

For the war on terror was a forever war. 

Its enemies were vague and flexible — Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, for example, had nothing whatsoever to do with the World Trade Centre atrocity and his secular dictatorship was an avowed enemy of Islamist groups like al-Qaida.

In fact, the fanatical form of jihadism represented by Osama bin Laden — a terrorist who won his spurs as a US-backed insurgent battling the Soviets in Afghanistan — would grow exponentially as a direct consequence of the “war” being waged on it. 

This was partly a result of the hatred bred by US and Western atrocities. Tens of thousands of civilians have been blown to bits by Nato bombs in Afghanistan. The human cost of Iraq was many times higher still. 

Completely innocent people were rounded up as the US let it be known handing in “al-Qaida suspects” would be rewarded. Hundreds were spirited away to “black sites” in third countries and subjected to horrendous torture before being dropped into the legal limbo of the US’s Guantanamo Bay concentration camp on occupied Cuban soil. 

And of course the biggest driver of jihadist terror was the power vacuum created by the wars themselves. Iraq has not known peace since the brutal invasion of 2003, and became a breeding ground for terrorists who later emerged in neighbouring countries. 

The destruction of Libya in 2010 has likewise led to a ripple effect of insurgency and state failure across north Africa, where a years-long French armed intervention has neither tamed the terrorists nor prevented successive military coups, without mentioning the appalling transformation of Libya itself into a nexus of slave-traders, human-traffickers and warlords.

If this litany of disaster leads to the conclusion that the war on terror was a failure, think again.

Bush’s defence chief Donald Rumsfeld instructed subordinates on the very day of the twin tower attacks to “go massive — sweep it all up, things related and not.”

Warmongers in Washington and London used the attacks as an excuse to launch wars they knew were against unrelated targets, and the history of the wars since shows that the West is as often the sponsor of jihadist terror — as it was in Libya and Syria — as its enemy, cynically arming and funding the most brutal groups if doing so might weaken a “hostile” government.

The peace movement that opposed the war on terror from 2001 has been utterly vindicated by events since. The world has been made a permanently more dangerous place because of Bush and Blair’s wars and those of their successors.

As we enter a new cold war, with cross-party support in the US and Britain for sabre-rattling against Russia and China in the Baltic, Black and China seas, we must learn the key lessons of the last two decades: Western wars do nothing but spread death and destruction; and our leaders are usually lying to us about what they are for.

OWNED BY OUR READERS

We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 10,087
We need:£ 7,931
9 Days remaining
Donate today