By Mohammad Mazhari

Wars U.S. launched after 9/11 attacks only brought tragedies: Turkish academic

September 10, 2020 - 22:19

TEHRAN – The wars that the U.S. started after the September 11, 2001 attacks against Afghanistan and Iraq brought nothing except destruction, tragedy, displacement, and failed states, says Mustafa Caner, a Turkish academic.

"After two decades, the region is witnessing "failed states, devastated countries, countless deaths, millions of displaced people, human sufferings," Caner, the research assistant in the Middle East Institute at Sakarya University, tells the Tehran Times.

The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How did the September 11 attacks affect U.S. foreign policy? Can the attacks be seen as a transition from soft power to solid power? 

A: The September 11 terrorist attacks was a milestone for both U.S. foreign policy -especially for its Middle East (West Asia) policy- and the way it perceives Islam and the Muslim world. During the Cold War, the motto of "fighting communism" had been instrumentalized to pursue its foreign policy goals. After the Soviet Union's collapse, "fighting communism" lost its meaning because there was no communist threat anymore.

 Then 9/11 happened, and the new guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy came out: "fighting terrorism". At its extreme but not rare interpretation, the notions of Islam and terror have come together. This notion shift created a new era for the region. It gave every justification to the U.S. to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. The consequences of 9/11 have been somehow comparable to Sykes Picot's. They both shook the ethnic and religious balances in the region and prevented nations from building solid and prosperous political structures. 

Apart from that, I don't see any transition from soft power to hard power in U.S. foreign policy. These concepts always function together. While America invades countries or meddles with their internal affairs, it also offers its values such as pragmatism, consumption culture, free-market economies, the American way of life, etc.

Q: Why does the U.S. prefer to remain silent about the involvement of nationals from certain Arab countries in the 9/11 attacks?

A: Maybe it would be open to discussion if we claim some Arab countries support terrorist ideas. However, there are some undeniable facts. Fifteen of the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were citizens of Saudi Arabia. Two of them were citizens of the UAE. Saudi Arabia and the UAE were the countries that recognized the Taliban in Afghanistan as a legitimate political actor in the early 2000s. But this fact has never been a problem for the U.S. These realities could not prevent the U.S. from striking billions of dollars arms deals with them. One of the last examples of these countries' brutalities was Jamal Khashoggi's murder. We have been witnessing these same countries' destabilizing acts in the region for quite some time. We have seen them in the 2013 Egyptian coup d' état, in Yemen, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. And now they are normalizing their relations with Israel. As long as they act in line with the U.S. and Israel's policies, their connection with terrorism is ignored.  

Q: Don’t you think that the U.S. misused the 9/11 attacks to spread hatred against Muslims around the globe?

A: I do not think that it is a deliberate process. However, it is a consequence of the post 9/11 policies of Washington. In Agamben's words, the U.S. declared "the state of exception" and suspended most of the law and human rights' fundamental basics after 9/11. People were subjected to prosecution just because of their religion, skin color, race, ethnic background, etc. In an ordinary American mind, the image of Muslims and "terrorist" overlapped. This fueled public support for invasions in the Middle East (West Asia). In this way, to a degree, it was a useful phenomenon for politicians who were willing to wage wars in the Middle East (West Asia). However, it also spread Islamophobia among the Western people, and that created numerous new problems. Who could deny that some extremist, radical so-called Islamic groups have not exploited discriminated groups in the West and taken advantage of their resentment and bitterness? Studies have shown that foreign fighters who came from Europe to Syria or Iraq were the ones who had been discriminated at their homelands. 

“The consequences of 9/11 have been somehow comparable to Sykes Picot's. They both shook the ethnic and religious balances in the region and prevented nations from building solid and prosperous political structures.”
Q: The United States claims it has contributed to the growth of democracy in the region through the wars it waged under the pretext of fighting terrorism. What is your comment?

A: Unfortunately, not at all. Democracy can't come with bombs, tanks, soldiers, invasions, coups, or any other hard power tools. These are not useful ways of promoting democracies. They can only bring a humanitarian crisis. What have we got after two decades? Failed states, devastated countries, countless deaths, millions of displaced people, human sufferings. American people also suffered. They also died in meaningless wars. These policies are not only harmful to the people in the region; they damaged American people too. External powers, in general, are always a threat to democracy in the region. Countries in the region must find their own solutions to the problems. As long as they invite external actors, it can only serve to complicate the situation. 

Q: After two decades, what was the U.S. achievement in the so-called "fight against terrorism"?

A: Since the Taliban harbored al-Qaeda and Bin Laden, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001. After 19 years, they made an agreement with the Taliban. This shows two things: First, the U.S. couldn't restore order for the last two decades in Afghanistan. It is obvious. Therefore, the Afghanistan policy of Washington has been a total failure. That is why it had to settle with once "a terror supporter". Second, the U.S. recognized the Taliban as a legitimate political actor. Thus, nothing has changed after two decades in Afghanistan except for thousands of deaths and a ruined country. Plus, the Taliban consolidated its position.

Q: Today, two decades after 9/11, how is America viewed among the Turkish people? 

A: Turkey and the U.S. have been allies since the Cold War. They have cooperated on many issues thus far. But there has also been some crisis too. Especially over the last couple of years, there have been some issues disrupting relations. FETO (Fetullah Terrorist Organization) ringleader Fetullah Gulen, who was the mastermind of the failed coup attempt in 2016, lives in the U.S. Although Turkey has demanded his extradition countless times, U.S. authorities have not taken any concrete steps. The U.S. also supports and sends weapons to YPG/PKK terrorists in Syria. These two major issues are significant problems waiting to be solved between Turkey and the U.S. Having said that people of Turkey respect American people. There should always be a distinction between people and politicians. I do not have any scientific data that shows Turkish people's approach to the U.S.; however, I do not also think U.S. support for FETO and PKK terrorism contributes to its positive image among Turkish people. 

Q: Some observers say that 9/11 theorized and institutionalized the idea of a "hypothetical enemy" in the subconscious of the Americans and even Western citizens. Do you agree with such an idea?

A: States need "the other" to define their identity. It is partly a political construction. Some aspects of it include political engineering. Unfortunately, after 9/11, "the other" of the U.S. was defined as Islam. In 2001, George W. Bush hailed "war on terror" as a "crusade."  This lapsus clearly showed Bush's and his warmongers' subconscious and how they perceived the so-called "war on terror." Bush was very prone to apply theological references. In 2002, he announced an "axis of evil." These references were not random. They were all part of a greater political agenda, which was creating a hypothetical world order divided between good and evil. 

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