Xinhua Headlines: Strategic misjudgments, military interventions doom U.S. "war on terror" after 9/11

Source: Xinhua| 2021-09-16 21:52:40|Editor: huaxia
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-- Twenty years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, widely seen as a turning point in U.S. history, the world's sole superpower has largely failed in its fight against terrorism and extremism.

-- Under the banner of a global "war on terror," Washington has plunged itself into a costly and frustrating quagmire of conflicts and strategic misjudgments, most recently marked by the chaotic and bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan.

-- As global security threats remain, the need for cooperation among major powers has become more urgent in order to effectively address such challenges as climate change and communicable disease.


by Yang Shilong, Matthew Rusling, Xu Yuan

WASHINGTON, Sept. 11 (Xinhua) -- Twenty years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, widely seen as a turning point in U.S. history, the world's sole superpower has largely failed in its fight against terrorism and extremism.

Under the banner of a global "war on terror," experts have said, Washington has plunged itself into a costly, frustrating quagmire of conflicts and strategic misjudgments, most recently marked by the chaotic and bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Photo taken on Aug. 31, 2021 shows a military plane at Kabul airport in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan. The U.S. Central Command announced on Aug. 30 that the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan has completed. (Photo by Saifurahman Safi/Xinhua)

"ENDLESS WARS" COST U.S. MUCH MORE

"The damage done by Al-Qaeda pales compared to the damage we did to ourselves," Joseph S. Nye, dean emeritus of Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, told Xinhua in a recent interview.

By some estimates, nearly 15,000 American military members and contractors were killed, and the economic cost of the wars following 9/11 was more than 6 trillion U.S. dollars. "Adding to this, the numbers of foreign civilians killed, and refugees created, and the costs were enormous," Nye said.

"The opportunity costs were also large. When (then) President Barack Obama tried to pivot to Asia -- the fastest growing part of the world economy -- the legacy of the global war on terror kept the U.S. mired in the Middle East," Nye said.

"It is a mixed bag and our approaches initially were very costly, and the Middle East remains a mess. But the homeland has been fairly safe. On balance I'd say the glass is so slightly more than half full," Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Michael O'Hanlon told Xinhua.

During the 20 years since 9/11, other endless "wars of choice" besides Afghanistan were also initiated by the United States. Many of them are "illegal under international law" and "have rained death and destruction on hundreds of thousands of human beings in Southwest Asia, Middle East and the Arab world," said Sourabh Gupta, a senior fellow at the Institute for China-America Studies.

In 2003, then U.S. President George W. Bush launched a war in Iraq though there was no evidence that the country's Saddam Hussein government had been involved in the 9/11 attacks.

Iraqi protesters take part in a demonstration against the presence of U.S. troops in the country in Baghdad, capital of Iraq, Jan. 24, 2020. (Xinhua/Khalil Dawood)

With Washington later turning its head toward other issues, such as the 2007-2008 financial collapse, which led to a major U.S. recession, Bush's successor, Obama, officially ended the Iraq War in 2011.

According to the U.S. Department of Defense casualty website, the U.S. military registered a total of 4,431 deaths as a result of the Iraq War, with 31,994 wounded in action. The Iraqi casualties are far higher.

Apart from its tragic human toll, the Iraq War was shockingly expensive in financial terms. The true cost of the war is estimated at 3 trillion U.S. dollars, rather than the 50 billion dollars projected by the White House, according to a book co-authored by Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes.

"Terrorism still persists in Iraq, and it has crossed borders and become regional in the Middle East. We see what is happening in Syria and the countries of the region," said Hashim al-Shamma, a researcher in politics at the Iraqi Center for Legal Development, a non-governmental organization.

"The United States uses its counter-terrorism policy as an excuse to justify the failure of some of its policies," said the expert.

In addition to the two full-scale wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush also waged a vast, global intelligence operation in a bid to hunt down and kill terrorists, as well as protect the United States from future attacks.

On May 2, 2011, Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of the 9/11 terror attacks, was killed in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in a raid by a U.S. Navy special forces team.

But terrorism, as U.S. President Joe Biden conceded, has "metastasized across the world" despite U.S. efforts to stop it.

Many of the U.S. assessments on the Middle East are "highly incorrect," said Mostafa Amin, an Egyptian researcher on terrorism and also a columnist at Egypt's Rosa El Youssef newspaper.

"The United States greatly contributes to fueling the conflicts, internal crises and wars in the Middle East region," he said.

"U.S. counter-terror efforts have achieved their main goal of preventing a large-scale foreign terrorism attack on the U.S. homeland," William Courtney, a retired U.S. ambassador and now an adjunct senior fellow at U.S. think tank RAND Corporation, told Xinhua.

However, concerns remain, especially over a potential terrorist attack involving a weapon of mass destruction, Courtney said.

"On the U.S. side, the U.S. failed to recognize that historically, for a great power, invading Afghanistan has always cost far more than (what) the country is worth to hold, and that was America's 20-year mistake," Clay Ramsay, a researcher at the center for international and security studies at the University of Maryland, told Xinhua.


MOST DISASTROUS ERA OF U.S. FOREIGN POLICY

While the initial intent of the Afghanistan invasion was to kill or capture bin Laden, its mission developed gradually, experts said. Over the years, the United States had tried to set up U.S.-style democratic institutions in the country. And it failed.

Taliban members are seen on a military vehicle on the street in Kandahar city, southern Afghanistan, Sept. 1, 2021. (Photo by Sanaullah Seaim/Xinhua)

One part of the U.S. anti-terror strategy was founded on the supposedly "enlightened" idea that "if certain Muslim majority states could be converted into Western-style democracies, then the spawning ground of Islamic fanaticism would be subsumed by a modern Islam and in this way terrorism would be greatly reduced," Robert Lawrence Kuhn, chairman of the Kuhn Foundation told Xinhua.

This strategy was flawed partly because "the Western-style democracy was not suited to the cultural and religious traditions of these countries. Much American blood was spilled and treasure spent in failed missions in Iraq and Afghanistan that caused much suffering," Kuhn said.

He added that one geopolitical theme a historian of the future might characterize the past 20 years is "the end of the American vision of democratizing the world."

Gupta branded the last 20 years as "the ending of an age when America sought to remake the world to its image on the cheap."

"I would submit that the past 20 years, and more broadly the years since the end of the Cold War, will rank among the most disastrous eras in the history of U.S. foreign policy," he said.

Two decades after 9/11, "the world order is no better off and America certainly much poorer off -- reputationally and fiscally," Gupta said.

"The faith that America can naturally go from strength to strength economically, and that every successive generation of Americans can aspire to a better life, has taken a cold shower," Gupta said.

According to the expert, U.S. annual GDP growth registered an average of 3.9 percent over the last six decades of the 20th century.

"During the past two decades, it has struggled to break the 2-percent mark. And this is in spite of the federal government's debt-to-GDP ratio tripling in just 15 years and breaching the problematic 100-percent threshold," he said.

After the Cold War, the United States "could have chosen global leadership by consensus," but it chose to "impose on the world an America-dictated vision of order," Gupta said.

America had the world's sympathy and support after it was attacked, he said. "Yet, the U.S. pressed ahead into Afghanistan with its 'my way or the highway' style and has now departed Afghanistan again in its 'my way or the highway' style."


LESSONS TO BE DRAWN

"Looking ahead, when the next terrorist attacks come, will presidents be able to channel public demand for revenge by precise targeting, explaining the trap that terrorists set for us, and focusing on creating resilience in American responses?" Nye said.

"Twenty years after 9/11, these are the lessons we should be learning and the plans we should be making," he stressed.

As a counterfactual history of the past 20 years, imagine what the world would be like if (former) President Bush had avoided the tempting rallying cry of a global war on terror and responded to 9/11 by carefully selected military strikes combined with good intelligence and diplomacy, he suggested.

U.S. intelligence had failed to prevent the 9/11 attacks, analysts and historians said, because the U.S. intelligence community had failed to share information between various agencies.

As global security threats remain, the need for cooperation among major powers has become more urgent in order to effectively address such challenges as climate change and communicable disease, Courtney said.

According to Gupta, "two fundamental lessons" need to be drawn from the last two decades for better global governance.

First, "the age when America's shoulders were broad enough to carry the world economy and maintain global order single-handedly is decisively over," Gupta said.

"This requires all parties to rededicate themselves once again to a UN-centered global system," with more responsibility on major countries to make cooperation a success, he explained.

A COVID-19 disaster morgue made up of refrigerated trailers stands at the South Brooklyn Marine Terminal during the COVID-19 pandemic in the Brooklyn borough of New York, United States, Dec. 14, 2020. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Xinhua)

Second, global challenges like climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic require global solutions, he added. "At a time of flux in the international system, it is difficult to muster this cooperation -- given disagreements about the distribution of benefits and burdens."

"Yet, lacking this cooperation, all parties will decidedly be far worse off," he said. "And hence the systemic order must find ways to avoid the 'Kindleburger Trap' and instead ensure that the major incumbent powers and the major emerging powers, in concert and individually, provide their fair share of global public goods."

(Xinhua reporters Zhang Miao in Baghdad and Wu Danni in Cairo also contributed to the story.) (Video reporters: Hu Yousong, Tan Yixiao, Liu Pinran, Li Xiaopeng, Pan Geping, Shi Zhongyu, Zheng Yihan, Zhang Miao, Jiang Chao, Shi Xiantao, Wu Danni, Li Binian, Yang Yiran, Yu Fuqing; video editors: Liu Xiaorui, Chen Sihong, Zhang Yucheng, Yang Zhixiang)

KEY WORDS: US,9/11,Terrorism,XINHUA HEADLINES,9/11
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