By:Dr Gareth Porter
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- Winners and Losers in the U.S. "War on Terror"
The starting point for a citizens' campaign for a new national security strategy should be to call attention to the reality that U.S. wars -- supposedly against terrorism -- have produced clear winners and losers. The winners are the leaders of the military, the Pentagon, the CIA and their private sector and elected political allies. Aggressive U.S. wars are not merely the result of mistaken policies, but of the national security institutions pursuing their own interests at the expense of the interests of the American people. The "war on terror" is a means for those institutions to maintain the present allocation of national resources and power to the national security sector for the indefinite future.
The losers are the rest of the American people. This "permanent war state" is now so politically powerful that it can keep the United States at war, even after the rationale for the war has been discredited or become irrelevant and the war has turned into a political and military disaster.
Over the past decade, the permanent war state has captured up to $1.3 trillion to pay for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as an additional $2.3 trillion in defense and other national security spending (homeland security, international affairs, etc.) over and above the level of the first post-Cold War decade. That appropriation by the national security state of an additional $3.6 trillion in additional resources during a decade of economic decline, accounting for 40 percent of the additional national debt, represents a power grab of immense proportions.
The most urgent reason to demand an end to the super-militarized approach to national security adopted by the U.S. national security state is that it has created extreme anti-Americanism across the Islamic world that ensures that the American people will face the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland for the indefinite future -- with all the assaults on their freedoms that go with it.
This approach shifts the attention of activists from each individual war policies to the underlying war system and the interests that drive it. That shift allows an anti-militarism movement to adopt an offensive posture rather than one that is reactive and even defensive in the face of each new move by the national security state.
- Ending the Provocation of Terrorist Threats
A citizen's campaign to change U.S. national security policy should insist that the United States take the only steps that can sharply reduce and then end the threat of terrorism against the U.S. homeland: the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Islamic countries and an end all military activities being waged in Islamic lands.
During the Cold War the United States avoided stationing troops in Islamic countries, in large part because of those well-known Islamic sensitivities about the stationing of Western troops in Islamic countries. It is no accident that the George H. W. Bush administration breached that longstanding injunction by launching the first Gulf War in 1991 and then maintaining a significant U.S. military presence in Saudi Arabia just as the end of the Cold War was threatening a drastic reduction in the military budget. The objective of the war and insertion of U.S. military power into the Middle East was to create a new rationale for Cold War levels of military spending by shifting the focus of military planning to regional adversaries, of Saddam Hussein's Iraq was to be the primary exemplar.
Osama bin Laden's argument that the presence of U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia was unacceptable was supported not only by conservative Wahhabi Saudi clerics but by many Islamic clerics throughout the Middle East and even in the predominantly non-Muslim countries. They urged Muslim faithful to defend Islam against U.S. military incursions on Islamic lands. Those who responded to that message included the Saudi nationals who would later volunteer to participate in the al Qaeda plan to fly U.S. commercial planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, some of whom explicitly discussed the U.S. occupation of Saudi Arabia as the reason for the 9/11 attacks in "martyr videos". 1
Two bombing attacks on U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia were carried out, apparently by followers of bin Laden in 1995 and 1996, after which bin Laden declared open war against the United States for its military interference in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region.
But even those dramatic warning signals prompted no rethinking of U.S. military policy. On the contrary, the Pentagon and the Clinton administration continued to maintain a de facto state of war with Iraq through the 1990s punctuated by occasional bombing attacks against Iraqi targets.
Those whose personal and institutional interests are served by aggressive U.S. military policy in the Middle East understood that they were increasing the risk of terrorism. The neoconservative historian Robert Kagan would later write, "We have pretty good reasons to believe"that the Persian Gulf War in 1991, and the continuing presence of American troops in Saudi Arabia after the war, was a big factor in the evolution of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda." But Kagan, reflecting the views of the national security state, argued that the United States was right to go ahead with such military policies even if they knew they would result in terrorist attacks on the United States 2 A "very senior officer" who served on the Pentagon's Joint Staff in the 1990s says he heard "more than once" from colleagues that terrorist attacks were "a small price to pay for being a superpower."3
The George W. Bush administration exploited the 9/11 attacks to pursue the interest of the national security state in making the United States the dominant military power in the Middle East. It sent forces into Afghanistan not to capture or kill bin Laden but to overthrow the Taliban regime. Then it quickly began planning for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
For those who were concerned primarily with terrorism, the danger of such a war to the American people was perfectly clear. In 2002 when the Bush administration was planning the invasion of Iraq, Rand Beers, then one of the two top White House counter-terrorism officials, complained bitterly to his former boss, Richard Clarke, "Do you know how much it will strengthen al Qaeda and groups like that if we occupy Iraq?"4
After the U.S. invasion of Iraq, volunteers from all over the Middle East quickly poured into Iraq, giving al Qaeda, previously a small group hiding in the relatively inaccessible Kurdish region of Iraq, a new power and influence both in Iraq and in the Middle East more generally. In mid-2005 the CIA concluded in a classified assessment that Iraq had assumed the role once played by the jihad against Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in building up a cadre of jihadists with terrorist skills.5 Two top former counter-terrorism officials, Cofer Black and Roger Cressey, warned that the jihadists drawn to Iraq would eventually disperse to their home countries after having been trained in techniques of bombings and assassination, which could eventually threaten Americans directly.6