Why the War on Terror is a Waste of Blood & Treasure
If intervention and occupation failed in diminishing the threat of terrorism, how can anyone expect that repeating these same tactics will result in a different outcome?
London , United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland - 24 Mar 2017 - BBC
Contrary to popular belief, we are not living in a civilized world – and evidence of that lies in the existence of perpetual war. Now don’t get me wrong, we’ve learned a lot together in our long history: how to explore space, create medicine and bring a new meaning to the term “addiction” by inventing the internet. However, one thing we haven’t learned from is the horrors of warfare, and this is a great shame because more often than not, attempting to resolve an international conflict by using aggressive military force is the same as attempting to fix your laptop’s cracked screen by throwing it down the stairs: it makes the problem worse and the culprit look like an idiot.
Terrorism has been around a long time. From the early zealots to the Israeli Irgun terrorist group, the Red Brigades, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, and others in more recent times, terrorism has been a tactic used by the weak in an effort to produce political change.
The first principle of terrorism is to understand that the weak win by exploiting the strength of the powerful. When 9/11 terrorists with box cutters hijacked American airliners, they transformed America's preeminent transportation system into a devastating weapon of attack. They also set a trap with the promise of revenge and security as the bait. The hijackers' biggest victory was to goad our government into taking the bait by unleashing the War on Terror. The worry, witch-hunt, and waste that have ensued are, according to Ian S. Lustick, destroying American confidence, undermining our economy, warping our political life, and isolating us from our international allies.
By analyzing the virtual absence of evidence of a terrorist threat inside the United States along with the motives and strategic purposes of al-Qaeda, this article shows how disconnected the War on Terror is from the real but remote threat terrorism poses. The piece explains how the generalized War on Terror began as part of the justification for invading Iraq, but then took on a life of its own. A whirlwind of fear, failure, and recrimination, this "war" drags every interest group and politician, he argues, into selfish competition for its spoils.
Nevertheless, in retaliation to the devastating events on 9/11, the US declared a “global war on terror” and, leading a coalition of the willing, launched military interventions in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Syria. Almost 15 years on and the war has indeed been impactful: hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians have lost their lives, trillions of dollars have been wasted and the Middle East is immensely more unstable. Despite these tragic facts, the war on terror continues to plague the world to this day, with countries like Australia, France, the Netherlands and Canada all coordinating with the US to continue military strikes in Iraq and Syria.
This piece will examine the ramifications of the war on terror and highlight 10 reasons why military intervention in the Middle East makes us less safe.
Debasing our Morals
Accumulatively, the war on terror has resulted in over a million deaths and many more injuries. Unfortunately, it’s civilians that make up the majority of those dead and injured. Usually these casualties are referred to as collateral damage, a military term that describes the incidental consequences of war. Although it’s difficult to identify the precise number, multiple scientific surveys have estimated over 8,000 US and Coalition deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s also estimated that in total, over 450,000 civilians have died in Iraq alone. It is the fact that the coalition doesn't not count them that simply fuels more terror.
A study released earlier this year revealed the shocking death toll of the United States’s “War on Terror” since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but the true body count could be even higher. Published in March, the study conducted by a team that included some Nobel Prize winners, determined that at least 1.3 million people have died as a result of war since Sept.11, 2001, but the real figure might be as high as two million. The study was an attempt to “close the gaps” in existing research, including studies like the Iraq Body Count,” which puts the number of violent deaths in that country at about 219,000 since 2003, based on media reports of the time period.
The aim of the war on terror is to rid the world of terrorism, but since its declaration, terror attacks and terrorist threat levels have increased. Even worse, in the last 2 years the world has witnessed the rise of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, which has already conducted numerous mass beheadings, decimated ancient cities and been declared “too extreme” by Al-Qaeda. However, what’s salient to understand is that the rise in extremism and terror threats is, in large part, a consequence from years of military intervention and occupation.
For instance, it was revealed by former CIA case officer Patrick Skinner, that Camp Bucca – one of many US detainment camps in Iraq – was a “pressure cooker for extremism” as it enabled terrorists to discuss and plot future attacks. That aside, history has proved that whenever a foreign aggressor perpetuates the killing of innocent people, the erosion of sacrosanct values and the destruction of homes, extremism will exist. Terrorism has now spread to many new countries such as France, Belgium, the United Kingdom and Germany. The devastating toll of terror attacks was laid bare with a shocking study revealing the number of people slaughtered worldwide has risen by 80 per cent. A total of 32,658 people were killed by terrorists around the world in 2014 - an 80 per cent increase on the previous year, according to the Global Terrorism Index.
Strengthen the very same people we want to weaken
To properly fight a war on terror you’d think there’d need to be a critical debate beforehand and an understanding of the boundaries set in place by international law. Well, according to the US and Coalition members, what fighting a war on terror really needs is billions of dollars to spend on military equipment. But what happens when that equipment falls into the hands of our enemies like it already has? This year it was reported that ISIS had seized military equipment left behind by the United States and Coalition forces in Iraq, including “truckloads of Humvees, tanks and weaponry.” Undoubtedly, the more weaponry that falls into the hands of terror organizations, the more our safety and security is undermined.
Destruction of the Middle East
Albert Einstein once said that the definition of insanity is repeating the same actions and expecting different results. This logic could be applied to the war on terror: if intervention and occupation failed in diminishing the threat of terrorism, how can anyone expect that repeating these same tactics will result in a different outcome?
One of the primary reasons the Middle East is worse off today than it was before the intervention is because the war on terror weakened the power of governments in the region. Consider the Iraqi government for example: it’s been so devastated by the war that it’s been left with virtually no means to combat ISIS militants. In fact, in June 2014, the Iraqi military capitulated and fled from fighting ISIS militants in Mosul due to the fact they were running “low on supplies and bullets,” as well as suffering from “low morale and poor training.”
Lastly, even the former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who served under the Bush Administration and supported the war on terror, recently admitted that it was “unrealistic” to believe a democracy could be established in Iraq. In conclusion, although the war on terror may be guided by altruistic intentions, greater instability and turmoil have been the most noticeable results
The Propogation of lies to justify the war
Remember when Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction? Oh right, they never did. However, this is important to note as the 2003 invasion of Iraq was based on the assumption they did have Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact, without this narrative, it’s highly likely the US and Coalition forces would have never garnered enough popular support to invade Iraq. Also, another narrative still widely used to this day is that “the terrorists hate us for our freedom.” Now, the fact that Switzerland and Sweden haven’t been the targets of Jihadi terrorism should drop a huge hint that the terrorists must hate us for reasons other than freedom – maybe it’s air conditioning? Anyways, the serious concern with wars being declared on the basis of lies is that populations are blindly coerced into supporting an action they may have otherwise deplored.
This point doesn’t really apply to the US, Great Britain and France as they’re already internationally recognized for sharing aggressive military pasts. However, in the case of countries like Canada and Australia, international reputation is an important factor to consider. Canada used to be considered a beacon of hope and sanity on the world stage, imbedding the values of peace and humanitarianism into its foreign policy. But, under pressure from the US and mounting terror threats,
Canada cut ties with its traditional foreign policy of peacekeeping and began to pursue militarism.
Since 9/11, Canada has fought in Afghanistan and continues to launch airstrikes in Iraq and Syria to this day. Ultimately, countries that involve themselves in tangling alliances and military intervention jeopardize their International standing and, in particular, become more likely to face criticism from their citizens and other countries.
Destroying Western Economies
Economist and best-selling author Loretta Napoleoni traced the link between the finances of the war on terror and the global economic crisis, finding connections from Dubai to London to Las Vegas that politicians and the media have at best ignored. In launching military and propaganda wars in the Middle East, America overlooked the war of economic independence waged by Al-Qaeda.
The Patriot Act boosted the black market economy, and the war on terror prompted a rise in oil prices that led to food riots and distracted governments from the trillion-dollar machinations of Wall Street. Consumers and taxpayers, spurred by propaganda fears, were lured into crushing global debt. Napoleoni pointed out that if we do not face up to the many serious connections between our response to 9/11 and the financial crisis, we will never work our way out of the looming global recession that now threatens our way of life. While we feared that Al-Qaeda might destroy our world, Wall Street ripped it apart.
Destroying the Homeland
The war on terror has also had a tremendous impact on lives at home. First, there’s now an epidemic of suicide in the United States, as many returning soldiers suffer from PTSD and can’t erase from their memories the horrors of war. Second, the war on terror has created an atmosphere of uncertainty at home among muslim populations. Recently in Australia, people were so concerned about the rise of Islamophobia following a terror threat in Sydney, that a campaign entitled #I’llridewithyou was launched on Twitter. The “I’ll ride with you” campaign was established to help muslims feel safe by offering them assistance going to and from places – whether it be offering a ride or just company. Despite the Australians innovative attempt to combat Islamophobia, division at home will likely always exist as long as the war on terror does.
Waste of Money
According to Time magazine in 2011, the war on terror has cost the US over $5 trillion. But for what? Well for certain we know that it’s bought us increased destabilization in the region, higher risks of terror attacks, millions dead and greater division at home. Nevertheless, what’s more depressing is realizing what all that money could have been spent on. With $5 trillion you could house, clothe and feed every person in need, subsidize the creation of quality schools and hospitals in every town, and still have money left over to buy everyone an Apple Watch – because let’s face it, someone has to buy it. Overall, attempting to resolve international conflicts will always be an expensive procedure, and because of that it’s essential the public should have a greater say in determining how and where their money should be spent.
The lessons of History
Winston Churchill once said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Now although there’s a slim chance Churchill may have been referring to his struggle overcoming alcoholism, this quote is more relevant than it’s ever been. For instance, the collapse of the Roman Empire was, in large part, due to the fact they over expanded their military and accumulated massive amounts of debt by invading Afghanistan. Also, despite the colossal differences between Britain and Russia today, the last two centuries have proved that the British Empire and Soviet Union shared quite a lot in common: they both justified invading Afghanistan on the grounds of national security interests and both marched home in humiliating defeat. In fact, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is widely considered to be one of the major catalysts behind their collapse in 1989. For these reasons, It’s no surprise that historians consider Afghanistan to be the “graveyard of empires.” With trillions of dollars worth of debt and an over expanded military, it would be wise for the US to learn from the lessons of history and discuss more effective ways to fight the war on terror.
By the time you finish reading this article, one American will likely die in an automobile accident. By the end of today, that number will reach around 100 and will end up well over 30,000 by year's end. It is almost certainly the case that you have known at least one of the 785,000 people who have died this way in the last 20 years. Sadly we both knew several.
Despite these facts, most people, including our elected officials, appear more concerned about the apparently very small risks associated with terrorism compared with the much higher risks of dying in car accidents. As University of Michigan psychology professor Richard Gonzalez and University of Chicago business professor George Wu point out in their research, "people tend to overweight small probabilities and underweight large probabilities."
The sterility of academic research on risk sometimes allows people to dismiss its potential importance, but terrorist and road deaths, as well as the spending associated with reducing these events, provide a fruitful comparison for understanding the efficiency of government spending. Let's compare how our government deals with these two problems. The war on terrorism has consumed nearly $5 trillion in tax dollars since 2001, about $183 billion per year. Even if you include 9/11 deaths, for every one American death due to terrorism, the U.S. government has spent about $1 billion.
One could argue that these funds have saved thousands or millions of lives from thwarted or deterred terrorist attacks, but we should remember the risk of dying from a terrorist was never very high. In the years leading up to 9/11 and before the war on terrorism began in earnest, the number of American deaths due to terrorism numbered fewer than 100 each year. Even if the war on terrorism had reduced these deaths to zero, which it hasn't, the cost would have been nearly $2 billion per life saved.
What about road safety spending? As far as we know, there are no reliable estimates on total expenditures on road safety measures. We do know that the total amount of construction spending on highways and streets has averaged about $75 billion per year in the United States during the past decade. What's more, fatal accidents amount to approximately $44 billion in work loss and medical costs, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
The combined cost of fatal accidents and spending on highway and street construction amounts to much less than what is spent on the war on terrorism, even though road deaths annually account for at least 200 times more deaths than terrorism. According to one study in Accident Analysis & Prevention, cost-effective road safety measures like improved intersection design, speed bumps and guard rails costing mere millions, not billions, of dollars per life saved can yield 50 to 60 percent reductions in deaths on the roads.
The simple fact is the war on terrorism is a colossally disproportionate waste of scarce time and money. Shifting the money spent on wars in the Middle East and Department of Homeland Security to improved road safety would save tens of thousands of lives without any measurable impact on the risks associated with terrorism.
In the long run, the United States and its allies are far more likely to win this war than al Qaeda, ISIS or any other nonsense group that will spawn from them, not only because liberty is ultimately more appealing than a narrow and extremist interpretation of Islam but also because they learn from mistakes, while al Qaeda’s increasingly desperate efforts will alienate even its potential supporters. But victory in the war on terror will not mean the end of terrorism, the end of tyranny, or the end of evil, utopian goals that have all been articulated at one time or another. Terrorism, after all (to say nothing of tyranny and evil), has been around for a long time and will never go away entirely. From the Zealots in the first century ad to the Israeli Irgun, Red Brigades, the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Irish Republican Army, the Tamil Tigers, and others in more recent times, terrorism has been a tactic used by the weak in an effort to produce political change.
Like all violent crime, deadly disease, and other scourges, it can be reduced and contained. But it cannot be totally eliminated. This is a critical point, because the goal of ending terrorism entirely is not only unrealistic but also counterproductive—just as is the pursuit of other utopian goals. The pursuit of the war on terror in which hundreds of billions of dollars per year in domestic spending on homeland security measures, the significant curtailmaint of civil liberties, the constant invasions and occupiations of countries that might one day support or sponsor terrorism is simply a joke with costs that would vastly outweigh the benefits of reaching the goal, even if reaching it was possible.
The United States and its allies will win the war only if they fight it in the right way—with the same sort of patience, strength, and resolve that helped win the Cold War and Can the War on Terror Be Won with policies designed to provide alternative hopes and dreams to potential enemies.