9/11, the “war on terror” and its consequences for the world | World | Latest news and insights from around the world | DW


Twenty years have passed since the September 11 attacks. At Ground Zero in New York City, the towers of a new World Trade Center rise above the horizon, and there is a memorial to the nearly 3,000 victims of the attacks. The city has rebounded and now has more inhabitants than in 2001. Until the pandemic, the economy was booming.

But nothing is like it was in the United States, in large parts of the Middle East and in Afghanistan. The Taliban may be back, but when a terrorist attack recently killed some 170 Afghans and more than a dozen American troops in an evacuation operation at Kabul airport, it was so. – saying “Islamic State” which claimed responsibility. This organization did not even exist 20 years ago when the “war on terror” began. Its emergence is closely linked to the way in which the “war on terror” was waged.

“We know very well that the rise of ISIS is a direct consequence of the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003,” said Bernd Greiner. In an interview with DW, the Hamburg historian explains that a large part of the first IS fighters came from Saddam Hussein’s former army. “It was dissolved by the United States at any time. It left hundreds of thousands of young men on the streets with no prospect of employment. This sort of thing is humus for the radicalization.”

Start a war with cutters

In 2001, Al Qaeda terrorists shot down the World Trade Center, a symbol of economic power, and attacked the Pentagon, the center of US military power. These attacks have traumatized the United States. Using nothing more than cutters, men led by Saudi Arabia Osama bin Laden turned passenger planes into weapons. It was an unprecedented humiliation for a country that seemed at the height of its power. A dozen years after winning the Cold War following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the United States seemed invincible.

After the attacks, the United States was engulfed in national grief and had the solidarity of the whole world. Then came anger and retribution which found understanding. For the first time in NATO history, its mutual defense clause was invoked. In a military operation legitimized by the UN Security Council as an act of self-defense, NATO allies overthrew the Taliban in Afghanistan within months.

When then-President George W. Bush attacked Iraq in 2003, there was no longer such legitimacy. There were only false claims about Saddam Hussein’s ties to September. 11 bombers and equally false claims that the Iraqi dictator was producing weapons of mass destruction.

Secretary of State Colin Powell Takes False Iraqi Weapons of Mass Destruction Claims to UN

The “Indispensable Nation” demonstrates its power

Many American politicians saw an opportunity after 9/11 to demonstrate that the United States was the “indispensable nation of the world,” American historian Stephen Wertheim said in an interview with DW. “They demonstrated this ‘indispensable’ by trying to remake a whole country and a whole region of the world.”

Bernd Greiner sees another motive in this: “In their powerlessness and their powerlessness in the face of this type of asymmetric attack, the United States wanted to demonstrate to the world, and in particular to the Arab world, that anyone who laughs at us in the future. renounced his right to exist. “For the historian, the two wars are also highly symbolic acts.

In support of Greiner’s thesis, there is the fact that just weeks after 9/11, the White House asked the Pentagon to develop war scenarios against Iraq. When George W. Bush’s speechwriter Michael Gerson asked Henry Kissinger why he supported the war in Iraq, he replied, “Because Afghanistan was not enough. Radical American opponents in the Muslim world wanted to humiliate the United States, “so we have to humiliate them.”

Almost a million war victims

Bush’s proclaimed “war on terror” has turned into a threshold war. A war “which is not precisely defined, neither temporally nor geographically. It is carried out all over the world, ”as Johannes Thimm, an American expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, defines it. Brown University’s “Cost of War” project reports that the US government is implementing counterterrorism measures in a total of 85 countries. Their team, made up of more than 50 academics, legal experts and human rights activists, calculated that in the “war on terror“, a total of nearly 930,000 people were killed directly as a result of operations. combat, including nearly 400,000 civilians.

Global public opinion reacted with shock in 2010 when WikiLeaks revealed the true face of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. And the publication of the video “Collateral Murder” which documented the killing of civilians in Baghdad.

George W. Bush delivering his speech aboard the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln

George W. Bush declared major fighting in Iraq on May 1, 2003

Damaged reputation

The reputation of the United States was also damaged because it ignored the law of war. In an interview with DW, Thimm quotes the official reintroduction of torture under a different name. “There is also a reason why this is not called torture, but rather ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’, because torture is simply and unequivocally prohibited by international law.”

These violations include the detention of suspects for decades in completely anarchic spaces, such as the US naval base at Guantanamo. And above all, the murder of suspected terrorists during drone attacks.

In an interview with DW, political scientist Julian Junk of the Hessian Foundation for Peace and Conflict Research says of terrorist networks in Europe and Germany “we can see that the extralegal methods of the ‘war on terror‘ have had an effect. mobilizer on Salafist and jihadist groups. “

An eight trillion dollar mistake?

According to The Cost of War, the 20-year “war on terror” has cost the United States an unimaginable sum of $ 8 trillion. That could easily pay several times over for US President Joe Biden’s infrastructure program. This is why the American expert Bernd Greiner believes that “the United States has been massively damaged by these senseless spending for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”.

“There are so many other worthy businesses that the United States could have directed its vast population and resources to,” says Wertheim, “instead of responding destructively to the 9/11 attack.”

This article was translated from German.

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