The Turbulent War on Terrorism

The War on Terrorism and Terror

The United States climate after the surprise 9/11 terrorist attacks was somber, fearful and turbulent. Many, including President Bush, wanted justice for those behind the attacks that killed around 3,000 citizens. President Bush declared the preservation of American core values, global support of free and open societies, and preemptive wars against terrorist groups and states within the “axis of evil” as the major points of the post-9/11 foreign policy of the United States. Taking action on that foreign policy, the United States waged a war against terrorism which initiated the invasion of Afghanistan to bring justice to al Qaeda for their terrorist attacks, remove the Taliban regime that supported al Qaeda and their declaration of holy war against America, and establish peace and democracy in Afghanistan. Similarly, the United States declared a war on terror and began an invasion of Iraq against their ruthless leader Saddam Hussein to remove him from power claiming he possessed weapons of mass destruction, to remove the “nest of terrorists” that existed in Iraq and bring democracy to Iraq in hopes that it would spillover to surrounding Middle Eastern countries.

The United States had ignored previous terrorist attacks from al Qaeda against Americans and American embassies around the world, yet the attack on American soil could not be ignored. The terrorist group al Qaeda took responsibility for the attacks which were traced to Afghanistan, prompting the president to vow “to wage war against terrorism, not simply those who were behind the assaults on New York City and Washington.”1 Since Afghanistan sanctioned al Qaeda and Afghan leaders refused to “hand over the terrorists,” they became “the prime target in America’s war on terrorism.”2 The United States believed that by bringing to justice those behind the 9/11 attacks, they would show the world that terrorism, especially against the United States, would not be tolerated.

Since al Qaeda had strong grievances against Americans and the Taliban protected them so they could open terrorist training camps in Afghanistan to pursue their jihad, holy war, the United States strongly believed they had to be overthrown to allow the creation of a safer, new, democratic regime. The United States began bombing raids on Afghanistan in October, disabling Taliban control over strategic cities and freeing the country from the Taliban regime in less than a month. Although the al Qaeda terrorists weren’t captured, the United States was now able to convert Afghanistan into a friendlier democratic government, “complete with a constitution, elected leaders, and a legal system that protected human rights.”3 Yet, a central government couldn’t survive in Afghanistan without American and British forces since the population identified more closely with local politics than the national government the United States wanted to establish, leading the occupation of Afghanistan and the United States’ goals to be more long term than expected.

After a successful removal of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, the United States turned its attention to Iraq in 2003. Bush had outlined his foreign policy with a doctrine of preemptive war against those who sided with terrorists and against the American values of individual freedom, democracy and free trade. With this doctrine, Bush was able to identify Iraq as a country who had “long-established ties with al Qaeda”4 and was ruled by a tyrant who opposed all of America’s core beliefs. A war on terror was declared by President Bush and Iraq and Saddam Hussein were the main targets. The United States began their invasion in hopes of establishing democracy in Iraq seizing weapons of mass destruction and control of Iraq from Hussein, even if it meant going against investigations that didn’t find such weapons, continuous UN condemnations, and disapproval from U.S. allies. The United States believed that “a democratic transition in Iraq would serve as a role model for other autocratic societies in the region”5 as well as the removal of the abusive dictatorial rule from the country would bring a moral victory to the U.S.

The United Sates, despite contrary evidence and investigation reports, believed that “Iraq has continued its weapons of mass destruction programs.”6 These beliefs prompted approval in both houses of Congress for military action against Iraq to remove these weapons and the leader behind their construction. Military action was taken in March of 2003 with the Operation Iraqi Freedom and American forces successfully took control of Iraqi cities and although Hussein’s location was unknown, his dictatorial rule had ended in Iraq. American forces proceeded to restore order, rebuild cities, and begin democratic nation building, regardless of the insurgent attacks against American forces.

Although the original operations of the United States to take control of Afghanistan and later Iraq were successful; the task of democratic nation building proved to be difficult, especially in Iraq. American policy makers ignored the dynamics of Iraqi society and culture, like they had previously done so in Vietnam. Americans were naive to the region and culture in both Iraq and Vietnam, leading their occupation to be longer and more costly than predicted in both situations as well as in Afghanistan.

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