What have 20 years of “war on terror” accomplished?


“The 360” shows you various perspectives on the main stories and debates of the day.

What is happening

On September 16, 2001, then responded to a reporter’s question about his administration’s response to the attacks on the World Trade Center, saying, “This is a new kind of – a new kind of evil. … This crusade, this war on terrorism will take time.

This apparently unwritten statement, abbreviated by Bush as “war on terror” days later, would be quickly codified into a formal policy that radically changed the role of the United States in the world over the past 20 years. The US military’s counterterrorism mission began in Afghanistan with an invasion to eliminate those behind the 9/11 attacks and the Taliban government that housed them, but it quickly became the motivation for a global campaign. sprawling. Specious claims of a link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaida were part of the Bush administration’s justification for the Iraq war. The war powers granted to the executive by Congress soon after 9/11 were also used to carry out in at least a dozen countries in the meantime.

The declared urgency of the threat of attacks was at the heart of some of the most controversial policies of the past two decades, including the use of torture, the extrajudicial detention of suspected terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, the drone strikes and a major expansion of the government’s ability to monitor Americans.

Why there is debate

The end of the war in Afghanistan and the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks have sparked widespread reflection on the impact of US counterterrorism operations on Americans and the world.

In the eyes of many critics, the “war on terror” has been a failure. They argue that any honest assessment of a global terrorist threat shows that the US intervention not only failed to eliminate extremist groups, but often created instability that allowed them to thrive. Any victory, they add, must be weighed against the the costs of the US counterterrorism campaign, which include an estimated 900,000 deaths, 38 million people displaced from their homes and a price tag of $ 8 trillion.

Others argue that these critics ignore the successes of the past two decades, including the fact that there has been no other major terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. They say that while extremist groups still exist, the United States has become much more capable of defending itself and its allies thanks to the investments it has made over the past 20 years.

Many cultural critics argue that the “War on Terror” instilled a sense of fear and anger into American life that fueled some of the most nefarious trends of our time, including racism, polarization, extremism and the decline in civil liberties.

And after

The term “war on terror” has been largely abandoned by federal government officials since the United States. , but US counterterrorism efforts continue. One of the main foreign policy questions facing the Biden administration is whether the United States can use diplomatic ties and strike capabilities to prevent Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorist groups now that the war is over.


The United States won the “war on terror”

“To date, what George W. Bush has called the Global War on Terrorism has been remarkably successful, albeit provisional, in its most important goal from an American national security perspective: to protect the homeland and the people. Americans there against the attacks. This achievement has become internalized in our consciousness, almost banal in our thoughts. But it is remarkable. »- Michael O’Hanlon and Lily Windholz,

The “war on terror” was a victory for extremists

“By orchestrating the attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden wanted to end the world reign of the decadent West, deal a terrible blow to American democracy and drag all Muslims into the conflict. Bin Laden may be dead, but it’s hard not to conclude that he got what he wanted. – Omer Aziz,

The fight against terrorism is still worth fighting

“In Afghanistan and beyond, the war on terrorism is far from over. All nations that believe in freedom, security and democracy will have to re-engage. There can be no withdrawal from this. – Editorial,

The ‘war on terror’ has done little to stop extremism from spreading

“The main lesson from the Afghan experience is that the ‘war on terror’ is not working. Twenty years after the invasion, extremist Islamists are celebrating their victory. It is true, as Biden said, that the United States conducts counterterrorism operations in several places; the consequence has been the spread of extremist Islamism not only in Afghanistan and the Middle East, but across much of Africa. – Marie Kaldor,

The United States has become much more effective at stopping future attacks

“So we face more perils abroad than we have ever had in the past 20 years. But our counterterrorism defenses, especially homeland security, are better night and day than they were on September 11. “- Andrew C. McCarthy,

Anti-Muslim sectarianism is the lasting legacy of the “war on terror”

“Six wars, millions of deaths, billions of billions wasted and a scourge of suffering and trauma inflicted on the Muslim world, accelerating a tidal wave of refugees which created panic in the European Union and led to enormous increased votes for far-right parties – which in turn pushed an already extreme political center further to the right. Islamophobia, promoted by politicians of all stripes in the West, is now entrenched in Western culture. “- Tariq Ali,

America wasted an opportunity to make a better world

“What if instead of launching a war on terrorism, the greatest strategic disaster in modern U.S. history, America’s leaders had used 9/11 as a catalyst to create a more tolerant, peaceful and prosperous world, l antithesis of al- Qaeda’s worldview? It wasn’t a far-fetched scenario or wishful thinking. “- Fawaz A. Gerges,

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq should not define the broader “war on terror”

“Bush’s vision of forcibly democratization was very ambitious at best and, in some ways, fundamentally flawed. The war on terrorism, however, is neither misguided nor unsuccessful. “- Nicolas Grossman,

The focus on terrorism cost us the chance to face a truly existential threat

“Tracing the links between this never-ending war and the climate crisis is a dark exercise, but an important one. It is essential to examine how the war on terrorism not only absorbed all the oxygen when we should have made every effort to reduce emissions, but also worsened the climate crisis, excluding other potential cadres in which the United States could establish relations with the rest of the world. – Sarah Lazare,

The “war on terror” has allowed far-right extremism to flourish here.

“In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, the rise of violent jihadism reshaped US politics in a way that created fertile ground for right-wing extremism. … But it was not just the terrorists who gave the right-wing extremists a boost: so did the US-led war on terrorism, which involved the almost complete shift in attention. intelligence, security and law enforcement on the Islamists. threat, leaving far-right extremism to develop unhindered. – Cynthia Miller-Idriss,

The defining element of the “war on terror” is the abandonment of American values

“The whole war on terrorism… ended up being a war on American values. CIA “black sites” and “renditions” of “enemy combatants” circumvented or violated international law. The use of waterboarding and other torture methods – euphemistically “improved interrogation techniques” – has cost America a high moral standing. »- Editorial,

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Photographic illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images

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