IT’S a mantra in the US and much of Western media: 9-11, or the terrorist attacks on the US on September 11, 2001, “changed the world.”
The planet has never been in as great disorder as today, with war and even total annihilation a constant threat, famine afflicting millions in Africa, an economic crisis threatening to morph into a global depression, and terrorist groups continuing to threaten not only the United States but practically every nation on earth including the Philippines.
The US itself is in decline, burdened by some 15 trillion dollars in debt, staggering under record levels of unemployment, with 37 million people living under the poverty line. In contrast was the expansion of the US economy in the late 1990s, a 431 billion dollar budget surplus as the 21st century began, and general prosperity. Today, “Afghanistan is barely surviving, Iraq has been devastated, and Pakistan is edging closer to a disaster that could be catastrophic.” (Noam Chomsky, 9-11: Was There an Alternative?)
And then there’s the security threat that has become a fact of life in practically every country, whether in Europe, the United States or Asia, and in response to it, the constriction of civil rights, including the torture of terrorist suspects and their detention without charges in, among other places, the US prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and the prisons its local allies maintain in Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Both the US and the world have indeed changed. And yet it wasn’t 9-11 that changed the planet. The United States—or more accurately, the George W. Bush government– did.
It began with the invasion of Iraq in 2003, supposedly in response to the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States homeland. The Bush administration invaded Iraq on the twin claims that it was armed with biological, chemical and even nuclear weapons of mass destruction, and was also
harboring Al Qaeda, whose operatives allegedly carried out the attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the US Defense Department’s Pentagon headquarters. No such weapons have been found, and no link between the late Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda was ever established. But the US did hang Saddam and his senior officials, after destroying much of Iraq and killing over a hundred thousand civilians.
It has since turned out that Bush and his neo-conservative cohort ignored US intelligence and invaded the wrong country to gain access to its vast oil reserves (112 to 300 billion barrels) as well as in furtherance of a blueprint to change the Middle East according to its (the US’) own image.
That blueprint—“Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” a year 2000 report by the neo- conservative group Project for the New American Century — laid out what the US focus in world affairs should be in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet bloc in 1990. “Rebuilding…” neither minced words, nor did it conceal what the US aim should be: to preserve US military preeminence and assure “full spectrum dominance” on land, sea, air and space, in a world in which it was the only remaining superpower.
To achieve that goal, “Rebuilding…” proposed the expansion of the US military budget to enable it to fight wars on several fronts. Significantly, “Rebuilding…” proposed the invasion of Iraq a year before 9-11. The election of George W. Bush in 2000 assured implementation of the blueprint; the invasion of Iraq was among the first steps in the process.
Concealing under a cloak of missionary zeal—the US was “bringing democracy” to the benighted countries of the Muslim world—the lust for oil and profit of his multinational co-conspirators, Bush invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. But it was also a test of the capability of the US to wage two wars at once, and to militarily impose its will on the rest of the world to prevent the rise of any rival and subvert independent development in the poorer regions of the planet.
If the declared intent was to end terrorism, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and even the killing of Osama bin Laden have failed to achieve that goal. On the contrary. Chomsky quotes senior CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, who “had tracked Osama bin Laden since 1996”: “U.S. forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States of America remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”
The invasion of Iraq and the attack on Afghanistan, despite being disguised in the lofty language of democracy, have defeated neither Al Qaeda nor the Taliban. What has occurred instead is a widespread perception in the Muslim world that Al Qaeda’s thesis that the US is waging a war against Islam is accurate and that the Taliban resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan just. Across the Muslim world, thousands of young men and women are enlisting in the anti-Western jihad (holy war), and attacking not only US forces and interests, but US allies as well, including the Philippines, where the home-grown Abu Sayyaf Group has been involved in kidnappings and bomb attacks.
Most analysts agree that one of the dangers US policies and actions have created is the possibility of a military mutiny in nuclear-armed Pakistan, where a strong jihadi movement exists.
Where much of Pakistani military sympathies lie was amply demonstrated by Osama bin Laden’s finding refuge in Pakistan, apparently with the knowledge and protection of the Pakistani military.
Supposedly the “most significant US achievement in the war against terror,” bin Laden’s killing by US forces last May 2 soured US-Pakistani relations. The danger is that support for the jihadis being widespread in both the military and the population, any military mutiny could result in the jihadis’ gaining access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.
And yet, says Chomsky, the US invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan was not the only alternative to address the 9-11 attack on the US homeland. Much of the jihadi movement was critical of bin Laden, says Chomsky, and the movement could have been split if the 9-11 attacks had been treated as a crime and an international operation launched to arrest the suspects, rather than as an excuse for launching the US wars for oil that have transformed the world into a far more dangerous place.