9/11: Five Years Later

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What has changed in the last five years?
by Anthony Manduca

Five years after 19 hijackers carried out one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in history, resulting in the death of some 3,000 innocent people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania the threat posed by Al-Qaeda terrorism is as strong as ever.

9/11 had a huge impact on United States foreign policy, on the way the Western world views Islam and on the Islamic world. Only last week Al-Qaeda released a previously unseen video showing Osama bin Laden with some of the plotters of the 9/11 attacks a few months before the atrocity occurred.

Soon after the attacks in the US took place five years ago I remember writing a column entitled “We are all Americans now.” World public opinion was foursquare behind the US and President Bush on this very sad day and united in its opposition to and condemnation of Bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

The September 11 attacks, had followed other Al-Qaeda attacks, such as the bomb attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993 and the bombings of the US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998. It was that year, in fact, that Bin Laden issued his “Declaration of the World Islamic Front against the Jews and Crusaders”…

     

So the 9/11 attack followed a pattern, but of course its impact was far greater than any other Al-Qaeda attack, for obvious reasons.

How did the US respond to this terrorist attack, and five years later, can we honestly say that President Bush’s anti-terrorist strategy has been successful? Soon after the attacks President Bush put together a coalition aimed at overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan and destroying the Al-Qaeda bases in the country, which was used as a haven for international terrorism. The US-led operation – which had the blessing of the United Nations – was successful.

The fighting in Afghanistan did not last long; the Taliban was removed from power, the Al-Qaeda terrorist infrastructure was largely destroyed and presidential and parliamentary elections took place in 2004 and 2005. Problems remain, of course, such as the opium trade, the rule of the warlords and what seems to be the regrouping of the Taliban – who are now conducting guerrilla warfare against coalition troops. Overall, however, and especially compared to the situation in Iraq, Afghanistan has – until now – been a success story, broadly speaking.

However, it is clear that insufficient military resources allocated to Afghanistan meant that the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were not completely destroyed. In fact the extent to which the Taliban has regrouped has been badly misjudged and signifies a major intelligence failure. It is important that NATO, under whose control troops operate in Afghanistan, agrees to commit more troops to Afghanistan.

It is true that resources are stretched, but the world saw what happened to Afghanistan when it was deserted by the international community in the aftermath of the Soviet withdrawal – it paved the way for the Taliban takeover and the birth of Al-Qaeda. This must never again be allowed to happen. President Bush was right to remove the Taliban and strike at the heart of Al-Qaeda but he must now show that he is committed to the long-term stability of this nation, which after all is in the long-term security interests of the United States.

After Afghanistan came Iraq and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003 who, Mr Bush and his allies had insisted, was linked to Al-Qaeda and who possessed weapons of mass destruction. The critics of this war have been proved right, however: no links with Al-Qaeda existed and there were no weapons of mass destruction. To make matters worse, the war provided a banner for terrorists to rally around and to recruit more terrorists. So, to put it very bluntly, the war in Iraq certainly did not help the war on terrorism: it hindered it.

The whole Iraqi fiasco was the result of many factors: gross incompetence by the Bush administration in the conduct of the war – such as dismissing the entire Iraqi army and civil service and not committing enough ground troops in the first place; and the fact that Al-Qaeda, who are Sunnis, consider Shi’ites to be heretics, and have conducted – together with remnants of the Iraqi Baathist regime – a murderous campaign against them, which of course resulted in revenge attacks, leading the country to the brink of civil war.

Furthermore, Iraq has caused many Muslims to become very sceptical of US foreign policy and its war on terrorism. Because no Al-Qaeda links or weapons of mass destruction were found many Muslims are asking just why the invasion took place. At a time when winning over hearts and minds of the Muslim world is a crucial part of the war on terrorism, this is not good news at all.

One cannot honestly say that the invasion of Iraq was due to a desire to introduce democracy in the country – although the holding of elections in the aftermath of the war was certainly a very positive thing – because this was never mentioned before the war and if that was really the case, why not topple other authoritarian regimes in the Muslim world? In my mind the Iraqi disaster has been the worst mistake in the war on terrorism. Of course there are now no easy solutions – but at least one should acknowledge that serious mistakes did take place.

Another problem with the way the war on terrorism is being conducted by Washington is the tendency to group together all Islamic movements under the same umbrella. This is not only wrong but counter-productive. For example, one cannot associate Hamas or Hizbollah, the latter being a Shi’ite organisation, with Al-Qaeda. These movements have their faults and can be criticised but are the product of their own particular circumstances in the Palestinian territories and Lebanon. Including them in a broad war against Islamic terrorism does not make sense. Neither can Shi’ite Iran, which represents a grave threat to the West, and which should be dealt with accordingly, be associated with Al-Qaeda, and should not.

Furthermore, Mr Bush’s total support for Israel in its dealings with the Palestinians and in its recent war with Hizbollah in Lebanon, as well as the lack of American resolve for the creation of a Palestinian state has done nothing to win over the Muslim world. Unfortunately the US is no longer considered among many Muslims to be an impartial broker in the Middle East and a major rethink is needed here.

Of course, the war on terrorism has had its successes and Al-Qaeda has had its failures. Many terrorist attacks in the US and Europe have been foiled, many Al-Qaeda senior operatives have been captured, jailed or killed, a lot of Al-Qaeda’s financial assets have been frozen and many Muslim countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are now co-operating more in the fight against terrorism. So the Bush administration and its European allies deserve credit here.

Furthermore, Al-Qaeda has failed to overthrow moderate pro-Western Muslim governments, such as those in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Jordan. And in a number of Muslim countries there has been a movement away from sympathising with Al-Qaeda because of the organisation’s attack’s on fellow Muslims, such as in Jordan, Indonesia, Turkey and of course Iraq.

There is no doubt that Al-Qaeda terrorism remains a grave threat and President Bush is right to make the war on terrorism a priority. What I am questioning is his approach to the problem and not the principle involved.


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