Historic Errors Made In 9/11 Aftermath

Eight years later there is more terrorism in the world and we are paying the price in Afghanistan

By Haroon Siddiqui

September 10, 2009 "
The Star" -- Eight years after 9/11, we know that:

The war on terror spawned infinitely more terrorism worldwide than there was before this war.

The war on Iraq was launched even though the U.S. – contrary to its public assertions – knew that Saddam Hussein had no WMDs and no links to Al Qaeda.

The war on Afghanistan has been going downhill ever since the mission of toppling the Taliban, hosts to the plotters of the Sept. 11 massacre, was swiftly accomplished in November 2001.

The two wars cost the U.S. 5,000 lives and $1 trillion. The Afghan war, which has lasted 50 per cent longer than the American involvement in the two world wars combined, has cost Canada 130 lives and about $15 billion.

NATO does not care enough about Iraqis and Afghans to count their dead. It is estimated that perhaps 1 million Iraqi civilians have been killed, and 4 million displaced. As for the Afghan dead, injured and displaced, there aren't even credible estimates.

The cultural war on Muslims and Islam, since abandoned by Barack Obama, damaged Western interests as much as the Iraq and Afghan wars. It alienated Western allies in the Muslim world, made Muslims more Islamist, and convinced many that the U.S. and allies are engaged in a new crusade.

This sentiment can't be erased by multi-billion-dollar propaganda exercises, only by major policy changes, including ending the occupation of Muslim/Arab lands.

The war on human rights and the rule of law, domestic and international, semi-abandoned by Obama, not only proved counterproductive but undermined our democracies, including Canada's.

There are other lessons from all those historic mistakes, says Rory Stewart, director of the Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, the post once held by Michael Ignatieff.

In a phone interview Tuesday, Stewart said: "We need to be very careful about our tendency to exaggerate our fears. We overestimated the threats posed by either Iraq or Afghanistan. We overreacted.

"We also overestimate our capacity and power. We try to do things which we cannot do.

"If you wanted to be extreme, you'd say that the international community have shown, from the point of view of exaggerated fears, a kind of paranoia. And from the point of exaggerated response, a kind of megalomania."

What's the fundamental flaw at work, especially with the U.S.?

"It is the sense that something must be done, and the fact that the major tool we have to act is the military. The other flaw is that we think that all the things we want to do are the same, development and counterterrorism, state building and counter-insurgency, whereas these are very different objectives with very different consequences.

"They involve trade-offs, choices and compromises, some of which are very difficult to acknowledge or concede ... So many troops have been killed, so much money has been spent that they (our leaders, including Obama) dare not say they are defeated. So they are looking for justifications to remain.

"And the justifications become more and more exaggerated.

"`We have to keep fighting because of our credibility.' `If America is defeated in Afghanistan, it will embarrass us and maybe there'll be a revolution in Pakistan.' We get more and more strange justifications.

"The real reason we are there is because we are there, and we don't know how to leave."

Stewart, a Briton raised in Malaysia, served in the British army and then the British diplomatic service in Indonesia. In 2000, he walked from Turkey to Bangladesh, via Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, a journey described in his best-seller The Places in Between.

He runs a large aid program in Afghanistan and does not think Obama's military surge will work.

NATO has a record number of troops (103,000 and going up), yet violence is at its highest level. The Taliban are expanding.

The Obama administration acknowledges the crisis and concedes that "we can't kill our way to victory." Hence the pledge to avoid civilian casualties and protect the population from the Taliban. Hence more troops. But Afghans may see the increased troop deployment as a sign that the U.S. is "becoming more of an occupier," Defence Secretary Robert Gates says. That could drive even more Afghans to the Taliban.

Also, NATO could never have enough troops to cover the country, let alone engage in close on-the-ground fighting. (Hence the reliance on bombing. Reduce that to save civilian lives, and you'd need more troops, which aren't forthcoming, as allies squabble.)

Equally dubious is the idea of training 450,000 Afghan troops and police. That would cost $2 billion a year, whereas Kabul's annual revenue is less than half that.

The presidential election, promoted as a stabilizing building block of democracy, the West's gift to the Afghans, seems to have had more irregularities than the Iranian presidential election. Will Hamid Karzai have more electoral credibility than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad?

Peace talks with elements of the Taliban are not going anywhere.

So, why is Obama getting drawn in, risking a new Vietnam?

What we may be witnessing is, in fact, the beginning of the end, says Shuja Nawaz, director of the South Asia Center at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C.

The surge is designed to buy time and space to stabilize Afghanistan just enough by next year to declare victory and withdraw most of the troops in time for the mid-term Congressional elections.

As if lending credence to that scenario, Germany, Britain and France have just called for an international conference to work on handing over greater control to the Afghans.

As for Canada, says Stewart, stick to the 2011 withdrawal date, despite pressure from the likes of Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the new secretary general of NATO.

Having done more than their share, and done so sincerely, unlike the Germans or the French, Canadians have done well to set the stage to "extricate themselves, while preserving their relationship with the U.S. This is very impressive, something the British are very envious of. They'd like to do something like that themselves but they're terrified that they'd offend America," says Stewart.

"By and large, Canada has come out of this with more honour than most NATO countries."

hsiddiq@thestar.ca

 

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