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14 Moments from the War on Terror – OZY


For our generation, 9/11 was a Sputnik moment. Just as the launch of the world’s first satellite in October 1957 drew the West’s attention to the emerging threat from the Soviet Union, so the attacks on that sunny September morning tore the world apart. Nothing would be the same again.

Militant Islam became the biggest topic of discussion on television and in classrooms. Terms such as the “Sunni triangle” and weapons of mass destruction became common parlance. The West lived in fear at home, but the war on terror would claim thousands of lives in the Middle East.

To mark the 20th anniversary of these horrific attacks, today’s Daily Dose sheds light on some of the defining moments – many of them largely forgotten today – and changes that define the war on terror and what may come next.

Moments that changed history

Sheep mentality

If the New York Times says that, it has to be true. At least that was the groupthink that appears to have dominated American leaders who voted for war against Iraq in October 2002, based on the now-debunked theory that Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Despite the fact that approximately 200,000 Iraqi civilians died as a direct result of the war that followed, many of the politicians who voted for the invasion and occupation remain influential to this day: Chuck Schumer? He is currently the majority leader in the Senate. John Kerry is now the President’s Special Envoy for the United States’ Environment. Joe Biden? Well, we all know how it turned out for him.

Disaster in Iraq

Sure, millions of people around the world protested the invasion of Iraq in 2002 and early 2003. But the release of a 2007 video showing a US military helicopter shooting down a dozen Iraqis put an end to all hopes of the mission of winning “hearts and minds” somewhere. “She [the coalition] confused goodness with an inevitable victory, ”says Canadian reporter Patrick Graham, who was in Baghdad at the time of the invasion in March 2003 feed on a foreign policy system and you get a war in which no one has an incentive to admit, that he lost until it’s just too late. “

Torture tactics

“Improved Interrogation Techniques.” This phrase, viewed by many as a polite term for torture, will forever be associated with the war on terror and how it has affected America’s reputation as the leader of the free world. The images of US guards mistreating naked prisoners in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq in 2004 shocked the world. And while then-President George W. Bush said the US “does not torture people,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous 2002 memo stated that people could be interrogated for 20 hours at a time, and Bush said, he did not consider waterboarding torture.

You are being followed

Edward Snowden’s 2013 revelations about global mass espionage by the American National Security Agency fundamentally changed the way we think about surveillance, online security, and our confidence in what democratic nations can – and do – do. China and a variety of authoritarian states may be doing this more openly, but can we be sure that the NSA isn’t snooping around us when we email or talk about Zoom? Additionally, in a world where cookies and a host of other tracking devices are used to map your every move, the more you try to protect your privacy, the more suspicious you will become of government officials.

Bin Laden’s killing

We all know this photo. President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and a dozen other officials gathered in the White House Situation Room when a team of U.S. Navy SEALS raided the Abbottabad, Pakistan site that ultimately killed Osama bin Laden in 2011 no video of the raid or photos of the body would be published because “we are not. We don’t pass this stuff off as trophies. ”Bin Laden was buried at sea. The day before the mission – after Obama approved it – he was at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, making fun of Donald Trump and his “birth” conspiracy theories. Literally: cold as a cucumber; in the same way: cold as ice.

Permanent changes

take off shoes

If you think the war on terror never hit you in person, keep in mind that now at most airports you will have to take off your shoes and put them through a scanner. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, British terrorist Richard Reid attempted to detonate bombs in his shoes while on a flight to Miami. The so-called shoe bomber was detained and is now serving life in prison, but the incident changed air traffic forever. These days, you need to arrive at the airport much earlier than the pre-9/11 era and be ready to take off your belt and jacket.

Arabic, the new Russian

2008 sitting in a café in the Syrian capital Damascus [Stephen Starr, OZY Senior Editor, was based there at the time], it was impossible not to wonder how international relations students would have ended up in Kiev or Bratislava 30 years ago. After 9/11, Arabic became the indispensable language for anyone wanting to join the US State Department. Between 2002 and 2013, the number of students studying Arabic at universities in the United States tripled to over 32,000. As the war on terror dragged on from months to years, thousands of students moved to colleges in Amman, Cairo, and Damascus.

Golf climb

From spots in the desert to regional superpowers. Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have seen their diplomatic holdings reach stratospheric levels as a result of the war on terror. Qatar has made a name for itself through the state-run Al-Jazeera news agency, which broadcast some of the key footage of the Iraq invasion in March 2003. Media aside, Qatar is home to the largest US military base in the Middle East. Meanwhile, the UAE also saw an opportunity to pursue its goal of becoming a regional powerhouse. The country of nearly 10 million people has deployed armed forces in Yemen, Libya and Somalia, financed militants in the Syrian conflict and spent nearly $ 20 billion on defense last year.

Drones change the game

When Obama first approved the use of an armed drone to murder an American citizen outside of a war zone, the rules of its use changed forever. The death on September 30, 2011 of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical clergyman and an al-Qaeda figure, drew significant criticism from human rights groups who alleged the incident was an extrajudicial killing. It set a precedent. While the government has since largely restrained itself from killing its own citizens in this way, thousands of citizens of other countries have not been so lucky.

Who Benefited?

Someone always does. The US government spent $ 300 million a day in Afghanistan. Since 2001 America has spent $ 83 billion – more than four times the Afghan GDP – on training and equipping the Afghan army. The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria have been so lucrative for the top weapons manufacturers that if you had bought $ 10,000 worth of shares in the top companies in 2001, you’d be sitting on nearly $ 100,000 today. Other beneficiaries of the war on terror are private military companies like Blackwater.


What’s happening now?

Arms and Will

Since the fall of Kabul, the Taliban seem to have traded their trusty Russian Kalashnikovs for American M16 rifles. It is unclear how much military equipment the US left behind, but we do know that in addition to small arms, Humvees and mine-proof vehicles have fallen into the hands of the Taliban. The militants could now sell the weapons on the black market. They could expand the arsenal of Pakistani terrorists, Kashmiri separatists, or even the Islamic State group – just like they did in Iraq a few years ago. But perhaps the most dangerous gun terror groups, from the Middle East to Mozambique and Southeast Asia to the Sahel, that have gained from the US precipitous exit from Afghanistan is the inspiration they will take from the US “defeat”.

Taliban – important US ally?

America’s intervention in Iraq had the unintended effect of creating the Islamic State group. Now an offshoot of this terrorist group, the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISK), shows that it is capable of large-scale attacks, such as the one that killed 13 US soldiers and almost 200 Afghans last month at Kabul airport. And that leads to an unlikely collaboration between Washington and the Taliban, enemies who fought bitterly for two decades. The Taliban and the ISK are enemies. Biden has stated that the Taliban are “not good guys” but said that working with the Taliban is a “matter of mutual self-interest”. Can they really put their differences aside in the face of the common threat?

Forever prisoners

When Kabul fell last month, a Taliban leader who until recently sat in the office of former President Ashraf Ghani said he had spent years in the US Guantanamo Bay detention center. The breathtaking turnaround begs the question: Why is Guantanamo still open years after former President Barack Obama promised to close it? Perhaps more than anything, the prison has tarnished America’s reputation as the keeper of justice and due process. Many of the nearly 800 detainees who passed it were never charged and are not expected to be tried. Thirty-nine remain in the base in Cuba, and while Biden had taken steps to close it down, the Taliban resurgence could mean that Gitmos will remain “forever prisoners” despite the end of the “forever” war.

No more world policeman

Not only is the Afghan war over. Biden has made it clear that America’s withdrawal from Kabul is also about “ending an era of great military operations to recreate other countries.” Does this mean an inward America? Because of the debacle in Iraq and the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, “the US has lost a lot at the diplomatic level,” Jasmine Opperman, a South African-based counterterrorism expert, told OZY.


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