War on Terror, Research Paper Example
Words: 1553Research Paper
The term “terrorism” means premeditated, politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience…and involving citizens or the territory of more than one country
The definition of “terrorism” according to U.S. federal statute (Lansford et al, 2009)
Terrorism, as a tactic, is hardly a new phenomenon. Acts of violence perpetrated by non-military actors for the purposes of achieving some political goal have occurred throughout history. For the purposes of this discussion, however, the term “terrorism” will be used fairly narrowly, and will refer to the relatively recent developments of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries, wherein actors and groups have used acts of terror for fairly specific reasons, and where the response from the U.S. and other countries, in the form of the so-called “War on Terror,” has been targeted just as narrowly. The following discussion deals with the history of the “War on Terror,” and examines the U.S. response to the attacks of September 11, 2001.
In the contemporary context, “terrorism” is most often associated with various forms of Islamic fundamentalism, both of a religious and cultural variety, and of a nationalist, anti-Israel variety (Lansford et al, 2009). The creation of the state of Israel caused considerable political upheaval in the Middle East, and anti-Israel sentiment among Palestinians and others from various Arab nations has led to innumerable attacks against Israeli interests and the interests of nations, such as the U.S., that are seen as supporters of Israel. The modern age of such terrorism began with the 1968 hijacking of an El Al airliner by members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) who diverted a plane bound for Tel Aviv, redirecting it to Algiers (Lansford et al, 2009). That was the first of many hijackings and attempted hijackings in the late 20th Century, and also set the stage for a range of other attacks against Israeli and U.S. targets.
The events of September 11, 2001 ushered in an entirely new era of terrorism in two ways: first, they were the most significant attacks on U.S. soil since the war of 1812, and on a U.S. territory since the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941; second, the hijackers began using airplanes not just for garnering attention, but as actual weapons. Previous hijackings typically involved the actors making demands that the hijacked plane be diverted to some other (presumably terrorist-friendly) destination; on 9/11 the actors were both hijackers and suicide bombers. U.S. targets abroad, from embassies to Naval vessels, had been targeted in the decades prior to 9/11; while attacks had prompted various retaliatory measures, it seemed clear almost immediately that the response to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon would be met with a response that was far larger in scope than any previously-undertaken responses to anti-U.S. terrorism (Lansford et al, 2009; Clarke, 2004)
It is not just important, but absolutely imperative, to point out that “terrorists” and Muslims are not interchangeable, and that Islamic extremists represent a very small number of the billions of Muslims around the world (Lansford et al, 2009). It is also necessary to note that not all terrorists are Islamic extremists; however, it is Islamic extremism that is generally the focus in the context of the “War on Terror” (Lansford et al, 2009) The organization Al Qaeda (loosely translated as “the Base”) was identified as being responsible for the 9/11 attacks; led by former CIA asset Osama bin Laden (who was aided by the CIA in the efforts to drive the U.S.S.R. out of Afghanistan in the 1980s), Al Qaeda’s ostensible mission was to attack U.S. interests in the hope that public sentiment in the U.S. would lead to a withdrawal of U.S. military and private operators in the Middle East (Clarke, 2004).
In response to the 9/11 attacks, U.S. president George W. Bush declared a “War on Terror,” asserting that the U.S. and its allies would seek to stamp out the actions of groups like Al Qaeda (Clarke, 2004). The two most notable undertakings associated with this War on Terror were the invasions, and subsequent occupations, of Afghanistan and Iraq, both of which were identified by the Bush administration as nations that offered safe havens to terrorists. The need for such invasions –and the success of the missions- was and remains questionable (Clarke, 2004). Other, less visible, components of this War on Terror included changes within organizations such as the CIA, which made no secret of their willingness to use “enhanced interrogation techniques.” i.e.- torture, to glean information from those suspected of engaging in, or having knowledge of, terrorist activities (Lansford et al, 2009; Clarke, 2004).
The invasion of Afghanistan began relatively quickly after the 9/11 attacks. At the time, Afghanistan was ruled by the Taliban, a governmental system notable for being a proponent of Islamic fundamentalism. According to the Bush administration, the Taliban allowed Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups and individuals to maintain refuge within Afghanistan; the invasion of Afghanistan was ostensibly intended to overthrow the Taliban and to capture or kill Osama bin Laden and others deemed responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Initially, public support for the invasion in the U.S. was quite high, as many Americans felt it was both necessary and appropriate to undertake he mission described by the Bush administration (Lansford et al, 2009).
The invasion, and subsequent occupation, of Iraq was more problematic for the Bush team. While the U.S. invaded Afghanistan almost immediately after 9/11, the initial attack on Iraq did not take place for several years. Almost from the beginning, however, Bush and his advisors and Cabinet members laid the groundwork for the invasion by painting Iraqi president Saddam Hussein as a supporter and promoter of terrorism (Clarke, 2004). The actual evidence for these arguments, however, was slim, if not entirely non-existent. Although the Bush administration attempted to persuade the American people –and U.S. allies such as Great Britain- that Hussein was secretly in league with Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, there was no real proof of such connections. In truth, Hussein would have been seen as much an enemy of Al Qaeda as would the U.S.; Hussein was, after all, relatively secular in terms of his demonstrable religiosity, and Iraq hardly exemplified the supposed ideal of governing a nation under a system of enforced Islamic fundamentalism (Claarke, 2004; Bodansky, 2004).
The Bush administration went to great lengths to convince the American people, and the rest of the world, that Iraq posed so great a threat that the U.S. simply had no choice but to invade. Perhaps the most memorable of the many attempts to sway public opinion was an appearance by U.S. General Colin Powell at the United Nations headquarters in New York in 2003. Powell brought out various photographs, charts, and other images that, he claimed, demonstrated that Iraq was actively engaged in the production of chemical and even nuclear weapons. The supposed evidence shown by Powell was remarkably flimsy, yet it seemed to convince enough people that support for the war grew to a level that allowed the Bush team to go forward with the invasion (Clarke, 2004).
The invasions and subsequent occupations of both Iraq and Afghanistan were originally pitched to the American people as missions that would be short-lived; Vice President Dick Cheney, in fact, asserted on a Sunday-morning news program that the Iraq war would take “weeks, not months” (Bodansky, 2004). As the world now knows, both invasions are still ongoing; Bush’s successor, President Barack Obama, has nominally ended the Iraq war, though the Afghanistan war continues to this day. In truth, neither mission was an actual “war;” both were simply invasions and occupations of nations that had not actually attacked the U.S. The question of whether either action actually served to lessen the threat of terrorist activity remains unanswered; though there have been no significant attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11, worldwide incidents of terrorism increased in number in the years after 2001 (Lansford et al, 2009).
A full accounting of the “War on Terror” is beyond the scope of a brief discussion, as it includes not just the highly visible military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also innumerable changes to policy and law, as well as countless numbers of smaller, often covert actions undertaken by the U.S. and other nations. The commencement of the War on Terror ushered in the development of new federal agencies (most notably the Department of Homeland security) and wrought many changes to the way airport security is conducted, how and when phones and other means of communication can be tapped, and how terrorism suspects are identified and subsequently treated by the government. It is difficult to say with certainly that the War on Terror has actually stopped any terrorists, but is has clearly brought about many changes that affect every citizen off the U.S. It will be up to history to determine whether or not these changes were for the good, or whether they simply stripped away the liberties of innocent civilians in the name of combating terrorism.
Lansford, Tom; Robert P. Watson, Jack Covarrubias, 2009. America’s war on terror. Ashgate Publishing, Burlington, VT.
Clarke, Richard A., 2004. Against all enemies: inside America’s war on terror. Simon & Schusster, New York, NY.
Bodansky, Yossef, 2004. The secret history of the Iraq war. HarperCollins, New York, NY.
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