War on Terror

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After the 9/11 attacks in New York and Washington, President George W Bush declared a war on terror against the al-Qaida movement and those who supported it. The war started with the termination of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan which was completed before the end of 2001. In his State of the Union address in January 2002, President Bush then extended the war to include an "axis of evil" made up of regimes that supported terrorism and were seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction. The core elements of this axis were Iraq, Iran and North Korea and by March 2002 there were clear signs that the United States was intending to terminate the Saddam Hussein regime in Iraq.


Support for the war on terror

Immediately after 9/11, the United States had considerable support from most western European governments but this eroded as the war on terror” was extended well beyond al-Qaida. Although governments in Britain, Italy and Spain were supportive, a substantial anti-war movement developed across much of Europe and in many other countries, leading to world-wide demonstrations shortly before the Iraq War started early in 2003.

By the end of the Bush administration in January 2009, the term war on terror was slipping towards obscurity, with terms such as “long war” replacing it. In March 2009, President Barack Obama's administration stated its preference for using the term "overseas contingency operation." [1]

Unexpected outcomes

The war may have originally developed as expected but all its main elements gave rise to unexpected outcomes. In Afghanistan the Taliban movement slowly re-emerged so that by the end of 2008, up to half of the country was under its influence, opium cultivation was at record levels and up to 30,000 additional foreign troops were expected to be deployed to the country during 2009, bringing the total to 90,000. Across the border in Pakistan, the al-Qaida leadership remained reasonably secure, with Taliban and other paramilitary elements taking control of parts of the country. More generally, the al-Qaida movement remained active, with loosely associated groups carrying out attacks on the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad and hotels and public buildings in Mumbai.

Iraq had been intended to become a model free-market pro-western state within months of regime termination. Instead, a long war ensued which saw the deaths of at least 100,000 civilians, over 200,000 seriously injured, 120,000 detained without trial (some for several years), widespread prisoner abuse and torture, and close to four million refugees. The war became singularly unpopular in the United States and contributed to Barack Obama’s victory in the 2008 election. A degree of stability was at last beginning to return to Iraq by the end of 2008, but there was a worrying upsurge in violence in early 2009.

Long-term impacts

One of the probable long-term impacts of the Iraqi element of the war on terror will be the experience gained by a cohort of jihadist paramilitaries from many countries across the region. They fought well-equipped professional US soldiers and Marines, a much more capable military force than the Soviet conscripts of 1980s Afghanistan. Moreover, they were fighting primarily in urban Iraq not rural Afghanistan. As such they constitute a new generation of combat-trained paramilitaries that might have a considerable impact in other countries in the 2010s.

Overall, the war on terror produced almost entirely unexpected results for the United States, having been focused primarily on a tough military response to the original attacks, rather than seeing them as an appalling example of mass trans-national criminality. As such, it could be seen as an example of liddism.


  • Paul Rogers, Why We’re Losing the War on Terror, Polity Press, 2008

See also


Author: Paul Rogers