Rome (Italy) October 13, 2011
Afghanistan and Iraq: the "War on Terror" ten years on.
The long, poignant period of reminiscence which led up to and beyond the tenth anniversary of "9/11", and, of course, the subsequent invasion of Afghanistan, could have been an occasion for objective analysis of that event's impact, and an evaluation of its consequences after a decade. Unfortunately the circumstance also gave rise to a renewed spate of statements still imbued with whining and/or truculent rhetoric, understandable perhaps in the immediate aftermath, but totally useless and, indeed, perilous today.
Few have pointed out that, by transforming what was basically a criminal act of enormous impact into an "act of war", our leaders contributed to the creation of an authentic "Clash of Civilizations" atmosphere of which we shall continue to pay the consequences for many years to come.
The Empire of Japan's 1941 attack on Pearl Harbour was certainly an act of much greater international relevance and significance than the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers. Ten years later, however, in December 1951, I do not recall President Truman officiating a ceremony on the site of the attack. For this reason I strongly fear that by underscoring the "dastardly deed" aspects of the event, and thus fanning a generalised feeling of distrust and hatred towards Islam and its adherents, no progress will be made towards what, in reality, ought to be uppermost on most peoples' minds nowadays: no longer "revenge", but "dignified exit" from a stagnant and potentially dangerous situation.
There have been some attempts at analyzing the mistakes committed by the "West" after September 11th. It is difficult to single out the one greatest error, but it is easy to recall the sense of horrified disbelief when "respected" western leaders, referring to the ill - fated Afghan campaign, and, with even greater emphasis, to the totally unrelated and unjustified invasion of Iraq, coined and used the expression "war on terror", apparently unaware of its irrationality and of the potential risks such superficiality entailed.
It is not without a sense of deep embarrassment that one recalls the clumsy attempts made to equate the post 9/11 situation to the events of September 1939, pointing to public ignominy those who favoured "appeasement" with Saddam Hussein -- who had nothing to do with the attacks -- and subtly (and not always subtly) comparing the active western leaders to Churchill or Roosevelt, often getting historical facts grievously mixed up in the process.
An estimated 100,000 civilian and over 6000 "allied" combatant deaths later, it would appear difficult to draw anything but a bleak picture of the damage brought about by the unbelievable hubris which animated those who took such fateful, unwarranted and unwise decisions after the Twin Towers' attack. The fact is that a military struggle so rashly named as a "war on terror" can never be won: the last terrorist will not appear out of nowhere, hands up shouting for mercy in the best Hollywood war movie tradition.
Above all, the assertion that, thanks to this military folly, the world is a "safer place" today is substantially false and totally misleading.
Indeed, the military action both in Afghanistan and in Iraq led to terrorist attacks in Spain, in the United Kingdom, in India and elsewhere, and if greater tragedies have been prevented it is due not to the results of military victories but to the greater attention on security made necessary by a visibly growing danger of terrorist attacks.
The answer lies in trying to understand where all this has brought us, and to attempt to identify the least damaging way forward..
There have recently been several well targeted and certainly deftly timed attacks in Kabul, including those on the U.S. Embassy and the "C.I.A.. Headquarters", as well as the assassination of former president Rabbani. These acts, carried out by the Taliban or by other probably more aggressive and better organised entities, are clear messages aimed at those NATO countries most active in Afghanistan indicating that the time is long overdue for a level-headed, unemotional analysis of all the fundamental mistakes made both in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 shock and in later moves aimed at enhancing the Western military presence where it is neither needed nor welcomed.
The escalation of Drone attacks, and the building up of "secret" Drone centres in this and other areas will enhance the aggressive stance of the insurgents and create a legacy of resentment which will endure long after the actual fighting has ceased. As the balance of initiative keeps shifting in favour of the insurgents, and public opinion in the NATO countries develops a growing hostility towards the expense and the human sacrifice this military action entails, the latitude for a satisfactory negotiated settlement keeps diminishing, and the unanswerable question remains on what the original "war aims" were to begin with and what they have in common with today's confused enumeration of asserted objectives.
It is astounding that none of the strategists involved in this ill-conceived effort realised that by subjecting Pakistan to attack, would be seen as an attempt to reach the very heart of Islam, which for some centuries has ceased to be exclusively in the Middle East and has taken firm hold on the Indian Subcontinent. Just leafing through a book on the Mogul dynasty would have been enough, especially if coupled with an analysis of events tied to the Partition of 1947.
The developments in Iraq, years after the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner, are just as discouraging, and have the feel of a disaster waiting to happen. It is enough to ponder on recent statements by the Shiite leader Sayyid Muqtada el Sadr, once very much in the limelight and now conveniently ignored by the media: His call to his followers to desist from hostile activities until the final departure of the occupying forces is an eloquent indication of the obvious need to remain there for an indeterminate further period, during which inter-sectarian acts of violence will keep multiplying.
The consideration that these two military ventures have not made the world a "safer place" -- indeed, it would be closer to the truth to assert the contrary -- enhances the need urgently to find a way out, without being distracted by unrelated events and situations, particularly of an electoral nature.