Nineteen Years On
This month America stood still - as it has done for the last eighteen years – to mark the events of the 9/11 attacks and remember those who died on that fateful September day. Yet this year the marking of a moment of national crisis took place against the backdrop of an arguably even greater national crisis. How to remember the dead at a time of mass dying? So far Covid-19 has taken the toll of sixty-five 9/11s. Soon the USA, already a world leader in fatalities, will cross the 200,000 lives lost.
The course of world events that followed 9/11 have claimed a far greater cost. According to the “Cost of War Project” over 801,000 people have died due to direct war violence caused by 9/11, and several times as many indirectly. This includes over 335,000 civilians killed because of fighting, 37 million refugees and persons displaced, and a US federal price tag for the post-9/11 wars estimated at over $6.4 trillion dollars.
If the attacks of 9/11 were a rock dropped into a pond the ripples and shockwaves sent out are at a scale far larger than the attack itself. So, as we mark the moment of the attack what is the state of the world that it helped to create? Putting the pandemic to one side we see the US focused on extracting itself from conflicts that it used 9/11 as a pretext to get involved in. Scrambling and rushed withdrawals are leaving fragility, violence and chaos in their wake.
In Iraq the US will withdraw more than a third of its troops from Iraq within weeks, its top Middle East commander has said. Gen Kenneth McKenzie told reporters the troop presence would be reduced from about 5,200 to 3,000 during September. U.S. military forces in Iraq peaked at 170,300 in November 2007. Yet the decision to withdraw more troops from the country is far more about US domestic politics and the country’s apathy towards ‘forever wars’ than it is about a secure and stable Iraq.
Indeed ISIS, despite the defeat of the physical state-like entity, have ramped up attacks in Iraq, forcing government troops to step up counter-insurgency operations just as the US have pared back their presence in the country. The jihadi group staged at least 566 attacks in Iraq in the first three months of the year and 1,669 during 2019, a 13 per cent increase from the previous year.
If Iraq is the highest profile 9/11 inspired adventure, then Afghanistan was the first and the most protracted. Whilst the race to topple Saddam involved WMD conspiracies and a litany of contested reasons, the logic of the Afghanistan invasion was always simpler. The Taliban provided safe harbour to Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and thus that haven had to be removed. But the removal of the Taliban from government didn’t mean the US was able to remove the Taliban from the country and this month the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators launched historic peace talks, aiming to end decades of war through a political settlement that would be unprecedented in the country’s recent history.
The proponents of the 9/11 wars see a deeply unsecure Iraq threatened by a dangerous terrorist organisation and a conflict-ridden Afghanistan in which the only hopefully roadmap towards peace involves bringing the arch enemies into the peace tent. It is no surprise therefore to see the number of proponents of the ‘war on terror’ very much in the political minority.
Donald Trump in addition to focusing on accelerating US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq has gone further and started withdrawing US troops from Europe whilst threatening to withdraw them from other more traditional strategic locations, such as South Korea, unless their ‘pay their way’. Indeed, the highwater mark of the 9/11 wars has now created a backlash that is going far beyond countries like Afghanistan and Iraq where they were originally fought. The backlash is typified by extreme nervousness from the Coalitions involved as to using military power and a predominance of more of isolationist agenda.
Such isolationism is retarding a truly global response to the global pandemic and it is a tragic irony that the memories of the thousands dead in 9/11 has not manifested in a world better prepared to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people today.
by : jamse danselow