September 11th 2001, dominates almost everything we watch, read and hear this week. It is widely argued that the terrorist attacks changed everything dramatically as the world entered a new and frightening ‘age of terror’. However, has the retaliation: ‘War on Terror’ been successful in counteracting terrorism? Many argue that it has not been a success and has in fact had the opposite effect by increasing global terrorism by inflaming anti-Americanism across the Middle East and beyond.
There are vast variations between definitions of the term ‘terrorism’. According to John Pilger the United States government have infringed their own definition of terrorism more than any other state or organisation. Terrorism is a term with no agreed definition among governments and academic analysts. But if such actions are carried out on behalf of a widely approved cause then the term ‘terrorism’ is usually avoided and something more friendly is substituted. As Noam Chomsky states ‘one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter.’ According to Tamir Bar-On and Howard Goldstein in the absence of a worldwide consensus definition of terrorism, the term terrorism has today become a political tool used for propaganda purposes by either state or non-state actors such as with the new breed of ‘Eco-terrorists’ i.e. Radical Environmental Groups. Without this clarity, the concept of a ‘war on terror’ is obscure and unclear. Edward Herman focuses on this point claiming that the core basis of a ‘war’ on ‘terror’ itself is a political problem as the definition of ‘terror’ is selectively and loosely applied and the label ‘terrorism’ is an abstract concept with no objective universal definition.
The War on Afghanistan was the first stage of the ‘war on terror’. Osama Bin Laden was held responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Al-Qaeda at the time of the attack was considered by most experts to be a small non-state operation, loosely sprawled across the globe and with at most a few thousand operatives. It is clear that such a small and diffuse operation called for an anti-crime and intelligence response, not a war. According to Aiden Hehir’s research in 2007, al-Qaeda groups are now found in 24 states across the globe including the USA and the UK. This reveals that since the ‘War on Terror’ began, this terrorist organisation has spread and grown. ‘The war on Afghanistan, judged purely as an anti-terrorist exercise, has been the worst failure of all.’ (Mahajan). This war has increased political problems; Afghanistan is less stable than it was before the war and al-Qaeda are arguable stronger, despite the capture and death of Osama Bin Laden. Afghan citizens are getting caught in the crossfire which is giving the US and UK bad press, and there is an increase in the intensity of US and UK soldiers killed with no foreseeable end to this conflict. The economic and social state of Afghanistan is deteriorating with not enough funds invested in ‘nation-building’ and reconstruction.
The Iraq Invasion of 2003 was also an important component to the ‘war on terror’ with much opposition. Instead of combating terrorism the war in Iraq has inflamed anti-Americanism across the Middle East, it’s increased the number of people who are willing to die to kill Americans, it created greater sympathy for terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and Hezbollah. In regard to dealing with rogue states it has driven the Syrians, the Iranians and Hezbollah closer together. Syria and Iran are likely to continue supporting Hezbollah, and moreover Iran will probably continue to pursue nuclear weapons, they would be foolish not to given the way the US has been behaving and talking about Iran itself. According to Mearshiemer and Walt ‘We didn’t make the war in Iraq any better, Iraq as you well know is dominated by Shea, and those Shea in Iraq including the ruling elites are deeply committed or at least have a powerful allegiance to those Shea who compromise Hezbollah. So if anything we have angered our allies in Iraq and that’s definitely not going to make a bad situation better.’
The United Kingdom and United States’ policies have failed in their efforts to combat terrorism through war and have increased the likelihood of a repeat attack. The term ‘war on terror’ in itself is a problem as it is an unclear and even abstract concept. Both invasions have been heavily and widely criticised from all angles but the consensus is that these separate wars aimed at counteracting terrorism and increasing international security have caused many complex political problems and for themselves and for Iraq and Afghanistan.