9/11 nineteen years later: U.S. ‘endless’ wars continue unabated

September 11, 2020 - 1:17

TEHRAN – The September 11 attacks on the U.S. marked a turning point in the U.S. foreign policy toward Central and West Asia and opened the way for neo-conservatives in Washington to wage “endless” wars against countries in the region, according to a West Asia expert.

As the U.S. prepares to commemorate the 9/11 anniversary, experts and analysts weigh in on the attacks’ role in pushing the U.S. into waging wars in Central and West Asia, which killed and maimed hundreds of thousands of people over the past 19 years.

On September 11, 2001, 19 members of the terrorist al-Qaeda group hijacked four airplanes and carried out suicide attacks against many civil and military targets in the U.S. Two of the planes crashed into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon just outside Washington, D.C., and the fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Almost 3,000 people, many of them foreign citizens, were killed during the attacks.

Then-President George W. Bush, who was in Florida at the time of the attacks, immediately returned to the White House to deliver a televised address from the Oval Office.

“We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them,” Bush said in his address, which was delivered on September 11 at 9 pm. He was referring to the eventual U.S. military response to the attacks. It was clear that the U.S. was preparing for a military response against Afghanistan.

Less than a month later, on October 7, the U.S. led an international coalition to topple the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, which was accused of harboring Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network. The U.S.-led war, codenamed Operation Enduring Freedom, effectively removed the Taliban from operational power but failed to uproot the Taliban insurgency in parts of Afghanistan. As the U.S. continued its war in Afghanistan, the Taliban managed to reorganize its forces and fight an open-ended war of attrition against the American forces. The U.S. neither defeated the Taliban nor was it able to kill Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the September 11th attacks, in Afghanistan. He remained at large until May 2, 2011, when he was finally killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan.

“The Bush administration exploited the September 11 attacks to launch a new type of war, which targeted the conventional armies of some countries in the region,” Ja'afar Ghannadbashi, a West Asia expert, told the Tehran Times, adding that the Americans used the 9/11 attacks as a casus belli to wage wars in the region.

According to the expert, in the wake of the September 11 attacks, the U.S. initially announced that it would be fighting terrorism, but ultimately it ended up fighting conventional armies and waging proxy wars in the region to weaken those opposing U.S. policies.

The U.S. Congress paved the way for these wars by passing a special law allowing President Bush to punish the people who had aided or abetted the 9/11 attackers. The law, which was passed on September 18, 2001, - only a week after the 9/11 attacks- stipulates “that  the  President  is  authorized  to  use  all necessary  and  appropriate  force  against  those  nations,  organizations,  or  persons  he  determines  planned,  authorized,  committed, or  aided  the  terrorist  attacks  that  occurred  on  September  11,  2001, or  harbored  such  organizations  or  persons,  in  order  to  prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.”

It was widely seen as a carte blanche meant to pave the way for the U.S. president to wage wars without going through legal processes. The law played a major role in expanding the span of U.S. wars, according to Alex Emmons, the national security reporter of The Intercept.

“In the days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, when Congress voted to authorize military force against the people who ‘planned, authorized, committed, or aided’ the hijackings, few Americans could have imagined the resulting manhunt would span from West Africa all the way to the Philippines and would outlast two two-term presidents,” wrote Emmons in a report published by The Intercept on September 11, 2016. “Today, U.S. military engagement in the Middle East looks increasingly permanent. Despite the White House having formally ended the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, thousands of U.S. troops and contractors remain in both countries. The U.S. is dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria faster than it can make them.”

U.S. post-9/11 wars in the region were so widespread that even Donald Trump, who campaigned on ending “endless wars” in 2016 was unable to end them.

In an attempt to show that he was a different kind of president than Democrats and Republicans like Barack Obama and Bush, then-Republican presidential frontrunner Trump used an invitation-only event in Washington to argue that presidents of both parties had gotten the U.S. ensnared in too many costly foreign wars, according to a VOX report. During the meeting, Trump promised he would change this policy once he elected as president.

“I will never send our finest into battle unless necessary, and I mean absolutely necessary, and will only do so if we have a plan for victory with a capital V,” he said. “The world must know that we do not go abroad in search of enemies.”

After he won the 2016 presidential election, he echoed the same promise, saying on many occasions that he would be “ending the era of endless wars,” because it is not the job of the U.S. army “to solve ancient conflicts in faraway lands that many people have not even heard of.”

Trump also said that the U.S. spent more than $7 trillion on conflicts in the region while his administration had difficulty building infrastructures inside the U.S.

“As of a couple of months ago, we have spent $7 trillion in the Middle East [West Asia]. Seven trillion dollars. What a mistake. But it is what is. We're trying to build roads and bridges and fix bridges that are falling down, and we have a hard time getting the money. It's crazy. Think about it: As of a couple of months ago, $7 trillion in the Middle East and the Middle East is far worse now than it was 17 years ago when they went in and not so intelligently, I have to say, went in. I'm being nice. So, it is a very sad thing,” Trump said in 2018.

The Trump administration has sought to get rid of the post-9/11 wars by withdrawing U.S. forces from the region, only to realize that these wars are deeply rooted in a bipartisan policy adopted in the years after the 9/11 attacks.