Empire’s War of Terror

"If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle."

~ Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Though it may have looked that way at the time, through the smoke and the rubble of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon’s E-ring, the world did not stop turning that September day. It could have been the day everything changed — but wasn’t. Within weeks it was business as usual, in more ways than one. The American Empire behaved precisely as the fanatics who attacked it had hoped for, launching a war of revenge, and then a war of choice. But never a "war on terror."

In the years since, "9/11" has been worn down to a cliché by failed politicians and an Emperor who rejected reality. An expedition to Afghanistan to track down Osama bin Laden and overthrow the militant Taliban regime has failed. Not only is bin Laden still at large, but the Taliban are back and even stronger. A quick war of reprisal had morphed into "nation-building" with bombs.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq squandered the vast store of goodwill and sympathy for America and Americans created by the images of 9/11. No link was ever found between Saddam Hussein and bin Laden, and the "weapons of mass destruction" were proven to be a myth. Iraqis did not get "freedom," but the terror and torture of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo. Worse than a crime, Iraq was a mistake. This was Bush the Lesser’s Sicilian expedition, the strategic blunder from which a country simply cannot recover.

And so the "war on terror" was lost.

Riding the Jihad

But was it ever really fought? From the very beginning, U.S. officials strained to differentiate al-Qaeda from its jihad roots, claiming these terrorists were "hijacking" Islam, the "religion of peace." This kind of contortionism was necessary, because since 1979, the "good" jihadists were the key instruments of U.S. foreign policy.

One of the most influential imperialist advocates in the U.S., Zbigniew Brzezinski, was the National Security Adviser to President Carter. By an admission he made in a 1998 interview, Brzezinski had urged Carter to support the jihadist movement in Afghanistan so that the likelihood of a Soviet intervention would become a certainty. Asked whether he regretted that decision, in light of the terrorism that followed, Brzezinski replied:

"What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?"

Brzezinski’s obsession with Russia and Europe blinded him to the potential problem militant Islam could pose. From the rest of the interview, it is obvious that he doesn’t understand Islam or Muslims at all. Only someone so completely deluded, ignorant, or both, could come up with a strategy of using the jihad as a geopolitical weapon.

Knowing Not the Enemy

During the civil war in Bosnia, the U.S. supported the regime of Alija Izetbegovic, a Muslim fundamentalist praised from Morocco to Malaysia for his writings on Islamic government (Islamic Declaration, 1971). Veterans of the Afghan jihad came to Bosnia by the thousands. Many stayed after the war, marrying local women. Some moved on to Kosovo, where the terrorist KLA fought for an independent Albanian state with open American support. Leading U.S. imperialists have supported the Chechen cause in the Caucasus, despite such horrific terrorist attacks as the school massacre in Beslan (September 2004). Since 9/11, Islamic terrorists have also attacked Madrid, London, Bali, Mumbai…

Obviously, one cannot fight terrorism and support it at the same time. So, instruments of the American Empire such as the KLA, the Bosnian jihadists or the Chechens, were simply not acknowledged as terrorists.

Even now, U.S. policymakers think in terms of "our" jihadists. Bin Laden and al-Qaeda had simply "gone off the reservation," and need to be dealt with, but other Islamic militants whose violence is aimed at India, China, Russia, and Europe? A pretext for the State Department to demand "restraint" and criticize Beijing, Moscow and others for violating the "human rights" of Muslims.

The irony is compounded by the idiotic belief of many U.S. policymakers that the Muslim world ought to be grateful to the Empire as its friend. Why, hasn’t it saved Muslims from genocide in Bosnia and Kosovo? Hasn’t it championed the Chechen and Afghan causes from the evil Russians? Hasn’t it saved them from themselves in Iraq? The desperate search for Muslim gratitude has produced such sorry spectacles as Bush in Albania.

It was tragic to observe the State Department officials and members of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs during a dog-and-pony show in April 2007 aimed to promote the "independence" of the occupied Serbian province of Kosovo. Representative Tom Lantos (D-Ca.) even called on "jihadists of all color and hue" to note that the U.S. stood "for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe."

Losing Oneself

The "war on terror" ended up never being fought. Instead, the tragedy of September 11, 2001 was harnessed to provide justification for a project of global hegemony — a war of terror. In comparing 9/11 to Pearl Harbor and coining the disingenuous term "Islamofascism," the Imperial policymakers sought to conjure the ghosts of WW2 to ensure the American people were united behind them in a war without end.

Truth became the first casualty of the war. It was joined by thousands of Americans, tens of thousands of Afghans and Iraqis, the economy, liberty, decency… and the list goes on. The war supposedly begun to protect Western civilization and American hegemony is now resulting in the destruction of both.

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Author: Nebojsa Malic

Nebojsa Malic left his home in Bosnia after the Dayton Accords and currently resides in the United States. During the Bosnian War he had exposure to diplomatic and media affairs in Sarajevo. As a historian who specializes in international relations and the Balkans, Malic has written numerous essays on the Kosovo War, Bosnia, and Serbian politics. His exclusive column for Antiwar.com debuted in November 2000.