In 2001, George W. Bush announced “The War on Terror.” In response the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the American government proclaimed a new policy, which would seek to eliminate terrorist networks such as Al-Qaeda. Over 10 years later, after failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, above all characterized by the failure, in the case of the former, to make a functioning Iraqi state, as the emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria demonstrates, and, in the case of the latter, the continued destabilized Afghani situation and presence of the Taliban demonstrates, the War on Terror has crashed and burned. In my speech, therefore, I would like to underscore the failure of the War on Terror and the reasons why this policy objective was untenable from the outset, marking a distinct humiliation and failure of strategic thinking for the United States of America.
In a September 1, 2014 article for Salon magazine, noted geopolitical analyst Patrick Cockburn talks about the rise of ISIS. He states that the U.S. is now apparently engaged in attacking ISIS, a fundamentalist Islamic organization, but that the US “has created situation where ISIS can flourish.” What does this mean? Namely, with the invasion of Iraq, the U.S. deposed the long-standing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Although Hussein was viewed as a cruel dictator by many, including the Kurdish and Shia populations of Iraq, the Iraqi system was stable. It did not permit for the growth of radical groups. What the U.S. foolishly did by eliminating Hussein was create a power vacuum, where all sorts of new political groups could emerge to take or to try to take power. This is exactly what has happened with the ISIS group: they have emerged in the vacuum of Iraqi power and have now posed a fundamentalist Muslim threat in the region, a key difference from Hussein, who was not an Islamic fundamentalist.
Furthermore, the U.S. has had a series of historical blunders with results to supporting terrorist organizations. As Ivan Eland notes in his 2013 book The Failure of Counterinsurgency, it was the United States who funded the individuals who would go on to form the Al-Qaeda network. As Eland writes, it was the U.S. who gave “massive aid to the Islamist Mujahideen insurgents against the Soviets and their client government in Afghanistan.” (166) Namely, the U.S.’s short-sightedness created the very terrorist situation that the War on Terror is supposed to fight. This is the exact situation in Iraq, where the U.S. once again destabilized a country, allowing ISIS to take hold.
What can we say about U.S. foreign policy in this light? At first glance, even the novice of geopolitics would see that the U.S. has an incredibly short-sighted view of policy decisions. They only look at the immediate situation and fail to account for the bigger picture. This is demonstrated in the continuous blunders which have characterized U.S. foreign and strategic policy, as I have mentioned in my speech. The United States, in other words, from a strategic perspective does not understand the cause and effect relationships of its actions. It destabilizes countries, it finances non-state actors with extremist beliefs, all in order to pursue short term gains. But the very point of strategy is to take a greater viewpoint, a grand strategy that ensures security and stability for the future. In this sense, the War on Terror is merely the latest failure in the history of U.S. strategy, which has continued to be unable to formulate a greater vision for its future stability and the future stability of its allies.