Ten Years of War and Unintended Consequences

By Alicia Garza
September, 2011

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
Month in Review #77
September 30, 2011

By Alicia Garza, War Times/Tiempo de Guerras

This month marked ten years since the World Trade Center was decimated in a terrorist attack. The Bush administration responded with its so-called "War on Terror" - a war of aggression designed to turn the oil-rich Middle East into a U.S. neo-colony and entrench U.S. dominance across the globe. Accompanied and justified by a culture of fear, xenophobia and anti-Arab/anti-Muslim racism, this war undermined human rights at home and solidified right-wing rule for a generation.

Ten years later, the world doesn't look at all like the fantasy that the architects of the War on Terror dreamed up. The Arab and Muslim worlds are further out of their grip than ever and U.S. power is in decline worldwide. After all the lives lost and trillions of dollars spent, the U.S. is mired in debt and frustration while China is rising on the global economic stage, the Arab Spring is shaking the world and Latin America's "pink tide" is eroding Washington's influence in "its own backyard."

Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is in its worst crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Unemployment is at record post-World War II levels and the billions spent in the last decade on war, surveillance and corporate bailouts is not sitting well with millions struggling to keep afloat. But hard times have not (yet?) translated into a mass surge to the left. Rather, much initiative still rests with a Republican right that is blaming the victims for the economic crisis, aiming to whittle away the role of government (except when it comes to war and repression) and impose massive social austerity while increasing the power of big corporations. On foreign policy, with even much of their base tired of the quagmires in Afghanistan and Iraq, they've decided that attacking Obama for not being pro-Israel enough (!) is the way to make sure that the first Black President in U.S. history is a one-term chief executive.


The dust clouds from the now toppled World Trade Center had not settled before then President George Bush and his Neocon cabal began turning their cowboy rhetoric into war and repression. Using ridiculous names such as “Operation Enduring Freedom” and “Operation Active Endeavor,” the administration used 9/11 to justify increased military intervention in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Somalia and the horn of Africa. Supposedly aimed at defeating Al-Qaeda, the War on Terror was used to lay claim to oil resources, turn war profiteering into a high art, shore up dictatorial allies and justify "regime change" as promoting American democracy.

Conveniently pushed to the background was the fact that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were trained, funded and armed by the U.S. to fight the supposed spread of communism after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979.  Washington's "freedom fighters" then were now its evil terrorist enemies. The prize was the same though: control of a region deemed crucial to imperial interests because of its location at the crossroads of Africa, Asia and Europe and because of its oil.

As fear coalesced into an awkward silence amongst many progressives and elected representatives, a lone voice in Congress cast the sole vote against the legislation that legalized the War on Terror. Though not against military action generally, Congresswoman Barbara Lee decried the authorization of a war without target and without boundaries. A year and a half later, popular forces regained momentum, with hundreds of thousands taking to the streets as part of the World Says No to War actions decrying the looming "Blood for Oil" invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile the Patriot Act unleashed unchecked surveillance of people in the U.S., while the Department of Homeland Security and new immigration restrictions were put in place. Airports and other public and mass transportation systems changed forever. A new wave of racism washed across the world as Arabs specifically and immigrants and people of color generally were labeled terrorists or potential terrorists.

The defeat of John McCain and election of Obama in 2008 created hope amongst many that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan might be brought to an end, torture ended and civil liberties respected. And that the country might focus on putting some limits on Wall Street, getting healthcare for all, changing federal immigration policy, and turning back the tide of fear and hate-mongering. The reality has been far from that hope however. A big drawdown has taken place in Iraq, but this "end the war" administration is pushing to keep some troops there after the agreed-upon December 31 deadline. The Afghan war has escalated and promises of withdrawal sometime in the future remain just words. More drone attacks in more countries than ever are taking place. There are signs that the combination of failure abroad, no money at home and public disgust with major deployments are forcing Washington to retreat further than it would like in Iraq and elsewhere. But the bloodletting continues and a decade that began with war is ending with war.

What's different from the immediate post-9/11 situation, though, is that the Washington is no longer able to call all the shots and, in fact, is scrambling to avoid even greater defeats. This is what "eye for an eye" war-making has accomplished: spreading death and destruction only to reap a harvest of defeat and willful blindness for the war-makers and their supporters.


December 2011 will mark one year since the beginning of popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Yemen and even in its own way Israel.  These uprisings, raising the banners of democracy, economic security and an end to state repression, have resulted in the overthrow of U.S.-backed dictators in Egypt and Tunisia and the gain of some democratic reforms in at least ten other countries. They are also challenging regimes that have been hostile to Washington.

The U.S. response has been a mixture of caution, soaring rhetoric and blatant double-standards: lauding the protesters in Syria; militarily intervening to help Libya's rebels overthrow Qaddafy; offering words of support for Egypt's nonviolent demonstrators while working overtime to assist "friends" in the governing military council; standing by while Saudi Arabia sends troops to repress the democracy movement in Bahrain. And doing everything possible to make sure no Palestinian Spring flowers as part of this broader Arab Spring. The latter stance in particular is isolating Washington as never before, with Turkey and a changing Egypt moving to replace the U.S. in shaping the contours of the region, including the direction of the Israel/Palestine struggle which is central to regional politics and the relationship of the U.S. to the entire Arab and Muslim worlds.


Elections this fall in Egypt have raised hopes within the country and region-wide for an end to military rule and police repression in favor of democracy and respect for human rights. Popular forces, particularly the labor movement and youth, are also demanding an end to severe unemployment and poverty. And this month, the link between struggle over "domestic" direction and foreign policy - particularly toward Israel - has come to the fore.    

Protests over the slow pace of change have erupted in Tahrir Square many times in the past period as Egyptians take on the monumental task of restructuring their government.  The latest protests also called for the ousting of Israeli ambassador Yitzhak Levanon and for the end to diplomatic relations between the two countries after Israeli troops killed five Egyptian police officers while pursuing alleged Palestinian militants. Egypt and Jordan are the only two countries in the region to have peace treaties with Israel. While few in those two countries are calling for the treaties to be scrapped outright, masses are demanding that their governments throw their weight against Israel's continued land-grabs, settlement building and the siege of Gaza. The U.S., Israel's main supporter, is increasingly targeted for betraying the more even-handed rhetoric of Obama's 2009 Cairo speech in favor of blank-check backing for its settler-colonial "strategic ally."   

Meanwhile, Turkey is stepping up to offer both political leadership and economic muscle to a changing region. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan visited Egypt this month and pledged support for its economy and burgeoning democracy.  Turkey’s efforts to support and invest in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya are part of an acknowledged plan to create a new power dynamic in the region. Turkish leaders are aiming for a Turkey-Egypt alignment that can become an economic and political center of gravity for development for numerous nearby countries, cutting into the influence of the U.S. (and Europe).  As the New York Times reported:

“…in an Arab world where the U.S. seems in retreat, Europe ineffectual and powers like Israel and Iran unsettled and unsure, officials of an assertive, occasionally brash Turkey have offered a vision for what may emerge from turmoil across two continents that has upended decades of assumptions.”

An integral part of this vision is restraining Israeli expansionism and forcing Tel Aviv to accept a Palestinian State on terms Israel is determined to avoid. Erdogan made that explicit in a recent speech to the Arab League, saying that Israel is the "West's spoiled child" that has always disregarded decisions made by the international community.


Map of Syria courtesy of Lonely PlanetThe turmoil in Syria is an important component of the Arab Spring. The large number of Syrians protesting - mainly nonviolently - against years of Assad family dictatorial rule have faced massive state repression that has resulted in at least 2,500 deaths and possibly many more. But the regime is not without supporters; and even many Syrians critical of Assad's policies are fearful of sectarian strife and chaos should the regime collapse.

Further complicating matters, the Syrian regime is an ally of Iran and an opponent of U.S. and Israeli policies. Hence some anti-imperialist forces in the region have been hesitant to criticize the regime much less call for its end. It is not at all clear however that the Syrian protesters are any more favorable to the West or Israel than the regime is; so far despite their casualties they have soundly rejected the idea of U.S. "protection"/intervention.

Not surprisingly, the U.S. has condemned the regime's crackdown and is trying to push further sanctions through the U.N.  But after seeing the way a supposedly humanitarian "no fly zone" as used as cover by the West for its regime change  campaign in Libya, few countries are willing to simply follow the U.S. lead. The Arab League is also opposed to further action against the Syrian leader. Still, the brutality of Assad's crackdown is steadily eroding his regional support, as formerly friendly Turkey has strongly denounced the bloodletting and even the Iranians have issued some criticisms.  


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted a formal request to join the U.N. as a full member state this month. Currently, Palestine has observer entity status. The upgrade would result in Palestinian eligibility to join more U.N. agencies and become party to the International Criminal Court, where they could potentially take legal action to challenge Israeli occupation. Politically, backers of the move argue that U.M. support would strengthen the Palestinian's bargaining position and, most important, remove the U.S. from its current position as main broker of a "peace process" that is going nowhere and, in fact, serving merely as cover for more Israeli settlement-building and expansionism.

To win statehood, the Palestinians need at least nine votes on the 15-member Security Council, with none of the five permanent members using their veto. The U.S. made clear this month that it would use its veto, a decision reaffirmed in Obama's recent U.N. speech which was widely seen as a total capitulation to the Israel Lobby in U.S. politics as election 2012 approaches.

Countries supporting Palestinian statehood shown in green. Thanks to imgur.com for image.

That Abbas defied the U.S. to go to the U.N. shows that even those elements in the Palestinian leadership that are most pro-U.S. (and most dependent on U.S. funds) see no chance that Washington is willing or able to pressure the right-wing Israeli government to come anywhere near meeting Palestinian demands. Many in the Palestinian movement are skeptical of the Statehood Resolution strategy, concerned that it could marginalize the concerns of Palestinians within Israel's 1967 borders and in the diaspora in favor of a narrowly based Palestine Authority. But the bid has put the U.S. on the hot seat; as everyone knows, the U.S. veto demanded by Israel will isolate the U.S. even more than it already is within the Arab and Muslim worlds. 

Inside the beast, Republicans and the Christian right - coordinating their efforts with U.S. Jewish Zionists and Israeli officials, see making support for Israeli expansionism a litmus test in U.S. politics and a weapon against Obama in 2012 - even though Obama has already embraced every Israeli position. The whole world is watching the show; conservative blogger Andrew Sullivan comments,

“Netanyahu [is] more secure than ever because the GOP has adopted wholesale the Christianist support for Greater Israel on theological grounds. What is at stake is nothing less than America's global credibility as a power able to act in its own interests, outside the demands of religious fundamentalists and Democratic donors. That has now been revealed, when it comes to Israel, as essentially impossible." 


Billions of dollars went to bail out financial institutions at the end of the Bush and beginning of the Obama administrations – with the vast majority not to be recouped. We've spent $3.2 trillion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no economic recovery in sight.  


The right wing says cut the debt and impose austerity. But the push back is accelerating. From labor taking action - nurses challenging the financiers - to the current wave of Occupy Wall Street actions (which several unions have now voted to support) the "class warfare” being whined about by Republicans is now being waged a bit by our side too. Many are fed up with broken promises and starting to make connections between bloody militarism, Wall street profits and the destruction of the middle class and the social safety net. Global power is shifting away from the U.S.; perhaps if current actions can be expanded by orders of magnitude power can be shifted at home as well.

It is thus with hope that we reflect on a decade of war and lies. After more than 200,000 Iraqi deaths, eight million Iraqis and Afghanis displaced, the deaths of at least 6,000 American troops, and a once-new President who once inspired hope among advocates of peace and justice, we are left with plenty more work to do. Can we amplify the voices of the Arab Spring and check Washington's aim of blunting or manipulating the fights for democracy there? Can we hold the President's feet to the fire and force total withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan? Can we break the stranglehold of a "pro-Greater Israel" litmus test in mass U.S. politics?

Will this country pursue the same strategy that has been disastrous for the last decade and expect different results? Or can we force a change of course that begins to carve out a different role for the U.S. in the world, and a different set of priorities at home?

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

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