The terrorist attacks on September 11 left a shocked America in hither to unchartered territory. A traumatised nation woke up to the fact that it had come under devastating under from an unknown enemy. For all the pontificating since by academics, journalists and security organisations the exact motivation of the bombers is not truly known, nor is the leadership behind the group – this makes coming to terms with the tragedy even more difficult for American leaders and their people alike.
What has happened is that the US government has lookedtowards the Middle East as not only as the region from which the terrorists came but also as the region most likely to generate future attacks, and also as the region that will satisfy the desire for revenge felt by many within the US administration. Edward Said is one of many commentators to suggest that the US has reacted without any clear strategy towards the Middle East, stating: “No answers are provided, except the vague suggestion that the Middle East and Islam are what “we” are up against and that terrorism must bedestroyed.”(p108, Said Edward, From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap,Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2001).
This dissertation analyses US foreign policy towards the Middle Eastin the wake of the 9/11 attacks and whether US intervention in theregion has been appropriate. Using largely a security methodology, the dissertation will look in particular at the rationale behind themilitary interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Chapter two will look at American foreign policy in the Middle Eastprior to 9/11 and how some of its previous actions have impacted on policies post-9/11. The US has been heavily involved in the Middle Eastsince World War II and this chapter will examine how policies over previous decades may have firstly contributed towards the 9/11 attacks and secondly shaped US policy in the intervening period.
Chapter three examines the possible motivations for the attacks on 9/11. The question ‘why do they hate us so much?’ is one that has been asked across America since 9/11 and this chapter will attempt to examine to motivations of the attackers and groups such as Al Qaeda whilst assessing how much of an understanding there is in America for the hostility felt towards it in the Middle East.
Chapter four examines the reaction to the attacks in the US. Like anyelected government, the Bush administration has to take heed of the electorate when formulating policy, and for the government at the time of the attacks, a response in line with public opinion was vital to its future electoral prospects. The options open to the Bush administration immediately after 9/11 are discussed here.
Chapter 5 looks at the US military intervention in Afghanistan, the first target of policy makers and thus the American military machine inthe aftermath of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. This chapter analyses whether Afghanistan was a legitimate target, a knee jerk reaction to be seen to be doing something to punish the attackers or simple opportunism as part of a wider ranging US strategy to expand itsinfluence in the oil rich region of Central Asia?
Chapter Six discusses the US invasion of Iraq and again assesses whether the military intervention was a justified operation against astate that was actively sponsoring state terrorism and developing intoa threat to regional and global security, or was part of US plans to control Iraq's vast oil fields.
Chapter Seven looks at other aspects of American foreign policy in the region since 9/11 including its role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its increasingly belligerent attitude towards Iran. Chapter eight is the conclusion.
Chapter Two – Foreign Policy in the Middle East prior to 9/11
Prior to 9/11, the US had maintained a high level of involvement inthe Middle East for over half a century. In more recent years itsinvolvement had been linked to a fight against terrorism – successivegovernments had argued that terrorism from the Middle East was a threatto US national security but before 9/11 this was largely seen as anexaggeration. No clear strategy to deal with terrorism emanating fromthe Middle East was in place. In 1998 Richard Davis of the GeneralAccounts Office had commented that “there does not seem to be anyoverall strategy on how we are spending money on counter-terrorism”(p194, Zunes Stephen, Tinderbox – US Middle East Policy and the Toots of Terrorism, Zed Books Ltd, London 2003) and there was other evidence to suggest that combating terrorism was not the highest priority for the Bush Government: it had opposed the establishment of anInternational Criminal Court; it had walked out of a conference intended to strengthen the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Commission; it had refused to join other nations in strengthening regulations against tax havens and money laundering; and it had continued to supply small arms to the third world and opposed UN plansto regulate the sale of such weapons (p194 Zunes 2003).
Prior to the more modern era where the Middle East has been linked with terrorism, US interest in the region largely developed in the period between the two world wars. US oil companies began to discover oil in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and US policy makers began to realise that future economic prosperity would depend greatly on maintaining cheapand reliable oil supplies from the region. By the early years of WorldWar II, oil was also been produced by American companies in Kuwait andUS officials had come to understand that the Middle East’s vast capacity to produce oil made it a “stupendous source of strategicpower, and one of the greatest material prizes in the world” (ForeignRelation of the United States vol 8, p45 Government Printing Office,Washington 1945).
Oil remained a focal point of US policy in the Middle East for theremainder of the 20th century, often to the detriment of the way it was viewed by the people of the region. Eisenhower was warned his National Security Council in 1958 that much of the hatred poring towards the US from ordinary Arabs was a result of the perception heldby many that the US would happily support corrupt and brutal regimesacross the country, at the expense of the political and economicprogress of indigenous populations, in order to protect its own oilinterests. This was a perception that has changed little since.
Iran, Israel and Iraq were the nations that preoccupied the US morethan other in the region prior to 9/11 and have remained vitallyimportant as the US reassesses its strategies post-9/11. Iran wasinitially an ally of the US. It had been identified as somewhere of“vital strategic interest” (p53 Lesch Peter, The Middle East and theUnited States Third Edition – A Historical and Political Reassessment,Westview Press, Colorado 2003) by US officials in the late 1940sprimarily because of the access it could provide to the vast oil fieldsin the Persian Gulf. Initial relations between the two nations werewarm as the US provided teachers, architects and administrators in thepost-war years and impressed Iranians with ideas of freedom anddemocracy. However in the early 1950s, the popular Iranian PrimeMinister Mussadiq fell foul of US policy makers due to his perceivedwarmth towards the Soviet Union and actions to nationalise the Iranianoil fields. A CIA backed plot had Mussadiq removed to be replaced by aPrime Minister more amenable to the interests of the US and therepressive regime of the Shah. Whilst the Shah was happy to work withthe US, the move did irreparable damage to long-term relations betweenthe two countries – US writer James A Bill states: “the Americanintervention of August 1953 was a momentous event in Iranian-Americanrelations. It left a running wound that bled for twenty-five years andcontaminated relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran following therevolution of 1978/79” (Sheldon Richman, Policy Analysis – AncientHistory: US Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Follyof Intervention, Cato Policy Analysis 159).
Support for the brutal regime of the Shah damaged the standing of theUS not only with the oppressed Iranian population but also with peopleacross the entire Middle East. In return for extensive military aid –the US sold over $20 billion of weaponry to Iran in the 1970s (p66Zunes 2003) – the US was able to maintain its control over supplies butthis situation soon changed following the Islamic revolution of1979.The new regime quickly took up an anti-American stance and the USwas forced to look for other allies in the region. There wereoccasional dealing between the two nations in the 1980s – the US waswilling to arm both sides in the Iran-Iraq war in the hope of seeingthe mutual destruction of each others military capability. This againwas a strategy that convinced most in the Middle East that the US had ageneral disregard for the lives of those in the region when set againstpromoting its own strategic interests.
Since 9/11, the US administration has routinely labelled Iran as arogue terrorist stated. However, this was a stance that was initiallydriven forward by the Clinton administration of the 1990s. In 1995Clinton has passed an executive order banning any US individuals orcompanies from trading with Iran and authorised $18 million to be spenton undermining the Islamic regime (p70, Zunes 2003) . The language ofUS officials in relation towards Iran also became noticeably moreaggressive – phrases such as ‘rogue’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘outlaw’ werecommonly used. Clear evidence of Iranian involvement with internationalterrorism has been hard to come by, despite a general acceptance thatIran has at least been involved in the funding of some extremistIslamic groups. The US put pressure of the Saudis to implicate Iran inthe 1996 bombing in Dhahran that killed 19 American soldiers but aclear link could not be established (p73 Zunes 2003).
US foreign policy in Israel has been a cornerstone of its strategy inthe Middle East since the establishment of the Jewish state. Itslongstanding support for Israel and the perception across the MiddleEast that the US favours Israel whilst ignoring the plight of thePalestinians has been a source of great anger across the Middle Eastand linked to a number of terrorist actions. Some understanding of thehistorical US relationship with Israel is required in analysing itspolicies in the Middle East after 9/11.
Successive US administrations have maintained economic, military anddiplomatic support for Israel, and despite occasional differences,particularly in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, therelationship can certainly be described as special within the realm ofinternational relations. Jimmy Carter for example stated in 1977: “wehave a special relationship with Israel. It’s absolutely crucial thatno one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our numberone commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel toexist, to exist in peace and to exist permanently. It’s a specialrelationship” (p233, Lesch 2003). The level of assistance at times hasbeen extraordinary. The level of US subsidy in years prior to 9/11 hadbeen around $3 billion in military and economic grants (p110 ChomskyNaom, The Fateful Triangle – The United States, Israel and thePalestinians, Pluto Press Ltd, London 1999) that in addition to otherassistance had totalled around $500 billion a year (p110 Chomsky 1999).This must be taken into context with the poverty experienced by thepopulations of other Middle Eastern states – Israel receives this levelof aid despite having a GNP higher than the combined GNP of Egypt,Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (p98 Chomsky1999).
The US stance in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinianshas played a prominent part in its foreign policy after 9/11 as it hadto prior to the terrorist attacks. Again, its policies in this spherehave generally instigated anger and resentment across the Middle Eastas the US been seen as consistently siding with the Israelis andrejecting any all party peace plans or settlement put forward by othergovernments that do not tie in with its own strategies for the region.The huge programmes of weapons sales to Israel caused great anger inthe Middle East. Writing only days after 9/11, Robert Fisk wrote:“America’s name is literally stamped onto the missiles fired by Israelinto Palestinians buildings in Gaza and the West Bank. Only four weeksago I identified one of them as an AGM 114-D air to ground rocket madeby Boeing and Lockheed-Martin at their factory in – of all places –Florida, the state where some of the suiciders trained to fly” (FiskRobert, Independent on Sunday, September 16 2001). America hasundoubtedly seen Israel as vital to its interests in the Middle East –its is an ally that has help quell nationalism across the regions andallows the US to maintain access to and control of oil. However, itsrelationship with Israel has been at a price when set against theresentment it has brought.
Iraq is the third of the Middle East states at the core of US foreignpolicy in the latter half of the 20th century. The recent USintervention in Iraq has its roots in the relations between the twonations over the previous two decades. Looking back to the 1980s, theUS had a reasonably positive relationship with Saddam Hussein. Servingas an example of the US’ pragmatism in terms of it Middle Eastpolicies, the US had been happy to supply arms to the Iraqi dictatorduring the Iran-Iraq war, regardless of the appalling record inoverriding democracy and human rights of the Iraqi dictator. Whilstpost-9/11 the US roundly condemned Saddam’s regime, twenty yearsearlier it had been able to ignore Iraq’s use of chemical weaponsagainst Iran and its own Kurdish population and had continued to sendeconomic aid and agricultural subsidies into Iraq, much of which wasconverted into money for military spending (p76 Zunes 2003). Suchpolicies cast aspersions on the American policies in Iraq following9/11 – As Zunes writes: “this history of appeasement raised seriousquestions regarding the sincerity of both the strategic and moralconcerns subsequently raised by US officials about both the nature ofthe Iraqi regime and the threat against its neighbours” (P76 Zunes2003).
The Gulf War of 1991, sparked by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait triggered aseries of events that can be closely linked to the 9/11 attacks. Whilstother Arab nations favoured diplomatic pressure to ensure an Iraqiwithdrawal, the US was quick to install its own troops in Saudi Arabia,insisting that the Saudis may well be the next targets of Iraqiaggression, despite the lack of evidence for this. As well as makingmilitary conflict almost inevitable, this move has further far-reachingconsequences as it involved the deployment of US troops on Saudi soilsee as holy by many Muslims. Osama Bin Laden has been quoted severaltimes stating that his primary objective is the removal of infideltroops from Saudi territory – this particular foreign policy decisionmay have been as crucial as any other in triggering the 9/11 attacks.
The war itself hardened opinion against the US in the Arab and Islamicworld. The massive military superiority of US forces and the perceivedslaughter of reluctant Iraqi conscripts by the American militarymachine soon saw Saddam’s aggression in Kuwait forgotten and enabledhim to portray himself as a relative hero fighting American imperialistaggression. The war was seen as hypocritical and duplicitous,manufactured by the US to further its own oil interests rather than toprotect Kuwaiti sovereignty or uphold international law.
Sanctions imposed on Iraq that followed the war were seen across theMiddle East as further evidence of American disregard for Muslim lives.Certainly, the damage done to the Iraqi people by the harsh sanctionsregime is immense. Some of the evidence collected on the effects ofsanctions explains the anger felt towards the US:
• Iraq’s regression over thee previous decade was the worst of 193countries surveyed by a 2003 UNICEF report (p126 Chomsky 2003)
• A 1999 UNICEF report found that the mortality rate for children underfive had more than doubled since the imposition of sanctions (p91 Zunes2003)
• Estimates of the total number killed due to malnutrition andpreventable disease as a direct consequence of war damage and sanctionshave ranged from a quarter of a million to over one million, themajority of whom have been children. (p91 Zunes 2003)
In addition the diseases such as cholera and typhoid, which hadpreviously been eliminated from Iraq, were reintroduced. Theimportation of ambulances and other emergency vehicles was banned andthe sanctions regime further prevented Iraqi hospitals from purchasingspare parts for equipment such as incubators and kidney dialysismachines. These circumstances, in addition to the continued bombing ofIraq during the 1990s continued to add to resentment towards the US.Ordinary Iraqis felt great anger towards the US, something that maywell have played a part in the difficulties the US has experienced withthe general population in the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq.
Another crucial element of US policy in Iraq which affected itsdecisions in dealing with Iraq after 9/11 was the decision to allowSaddam to stay in power end even put down an uprising by his ownpeople. The decision was made to protect US interests in the region inthe absence of a suitable military junta being available to rule Iraqfirmly.. Chomsky argues that the Washington view appeared to be“whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the west and theregions a better hope for the region’s stability than did those who hadsuffered his repression” (p141Chomsky 2003).
Overall US policy in the Middle East prior to 9/11 had been based on adesire to maintain its influence in the regions and above all to keepcontrol of its oils supply. Israel apart, the US strategy did little toendear itself to the indigenous populations of the region.
As America came to terms with the 9/11 attacks one of the most strikingrealisations was the sheer unprecedented nature of the attacks. Whilstthe US had been directly and indirectly involved in killing civilianselsewhere in the world over the previous half century, 9/11 was thefist time that its own civilians had come under violent attack on theirown soil by an outside force. The US was not used to such a situationand its relative shock and anger at the situation goes someway toexplaining the quick decisions it made to launch military strikes atfirst Afghanistan and later Iraq.
It has generally been accepted that the operation was planned funded tosome degree by Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. It should be notedhowever that initially there was been little conclusive evidence ofthis. Despite an incredibly extensive intelligence investigation, therewas little direct evidence about the bombers as the US planned itsresponse to the attacks. Chomsky points out that Robert Mueller,director of the FBI, testified to Congress in 2002 that he ‘believed’the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though planned and implementedelsewhere (p121 Chomsky 2001).
What though were the motivations for those that carried out thebombings? Certainly a hatred for the US, fuelled to a large extent byits policies in the Middle East was a contributing factor. Whilst somecommentators have linked 9/11 to an attack on globalisation or as adirect response to the Gulf War or the Israeli-Palestinian peaceprocess, the most likely reasons are those put forward by writer RobertFisk. Fisk has interviewed Bin Laden on several occasions and arguesthat the terrorist attack on the US was inspired predominantly by thedeployment of US troops onto holy land in Saudi Arabia. Fisk suggeststhat as the mujahadeen had fought a holy war to drive the Russians outof Afghanistan, so they were now fighting to have US troops move out ofSaudi Arabia. This is an argument supported by Chomsky who quotes BinLaden from 1998 stating: “the call to wage war against America was made(when it sent) tens of thousands of troops to the land of the two HolyMosques over and above…its support of the oppressive, corrupt andtyrannical regime that is in control. These are the reasons for thesingling out of America as a target. (Fisk Robert, Independent onSunday, September 16, 2001) Fisk offers other suggestions as tomotivations for the attacks. One is that Bin Laden’s long term aim isto overthrow all the American supported regimes in the middle East,Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia included, and that 9/11 was in effect atrap to lure the US into a massive retaliation against Muslimpopulations that would in turn persuade Muslim populations to rise upagainst their own corrupt leaders and the US influence in the region.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and perceivedAmerican support for Israel is another theory put forward in explainingthe 9/11 attacks. Certainly America’s links with Israel have causedresentment in the Middle East and notably since 9/11 there have beenattempts by the US to get the peace process back on track. Again, Fisksupports this theory that US action in Israel and across the MiddleEast may have contributed to the 9/11 attacks and that this needs to beunderstood by the US if it is to move forward and prevent furtherattacks. Fisk writes: “No the Israelis are not to blame for whathappened. The culprits were Arabs not Israelis. But America’s failureto act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missilesto those who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for thedeaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of whichWashington is the principal supporter – all these are intimatelyrelated to the society that produced the Arabs who plunged America intoan apocalypse of fire last week” (Fisk, Independent on Sunday,September 16, 2001).
There are other suggested motivations for the attacks on 9/11 and ananalysis of these is equally applicable in assessing the options for USforeign policy after 9/11. Certainly the level of anti-Americansentiment in the Middle East has increased since 2001 and US policymakers would be wise to take account of this feeling before planningfuture interventions. Chomsky suggests that the attacks were notretribution for any one action or particular policy that the US hasundertaken in the Middle East, but rather a reaction to decades ofintervention in the area that has been detrimental to ordinary Muslims.Assessing the attacks against the background of US policy in the MiddleEast he argues that “the likely perpetrators are a category of theirown, but uncontroversially they draw support from a bitterness andanger at US policies in the region, extending those of earlier Europeanmasters (p13 Chomsky 1999).
The 9/11 attacks lifted foreign policy issues and national security toa level of importance with the American public not seen since theVietnam War. Public opinion was something that the Government had totake into account in devising its strategies for foreign policy andsecurity.
Certainly, the threat of terrorism is influential on public attitudesin the US, particularly in relation to the use of force. A survey takenby the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press in May 2004found that 88 per cent of Americans now rate “taking measures toprotect the US from terrorist attacks” as a top foreign policypriority. In a similar vein, despite some reservations about the war InIraq that had begun by the time of the survey 60 per cent ofrespondents believed that the use of military force can be used againstcountries that pose a serious threat to US national security but havenot yet attacked.
Such public attitudes to security impress upon the Government arequirement to be proactive in terms of security. The feeling of the USpublic appears to be largely that intervention abroad can be justifiedunder the broad scope of ‘preventing another 9/11’
There are some contradictions in public attitudes. Whilst there issupport for proactive intervention abroad if deemed necessary, publicdisquiet with the war in Iraq hints at public criticism to the way thatthe Bush administration has conducted foreign policy. 59 per cent ofthose surveyed between July 8-18 2004 found fault with the Bushadministration for being too quick to use force rather than making aconcerted effort to find diplomatic situations. This tied in withfinding that 49 per cent against 37 per cent believe that US foreignpolicy should strongly take into account the interests of US allies,rather than be based mostly on the national interests of the UnitedStates. have been further criticisms of the way that the Government hashandled the intervention in Iraq. For example a survey completed inAugust 2004 saw 52 per cent disapprove of the way that the US wasmanaging the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. 58per cent also suggested that President Bush does not have a clear planfor bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.
There is also evidence however that the American public wishes to seesome hard-line authoritarian measures both in domestic and overseaspolicy. 49 per cent against 29 per cent are worried that the Governmenthas listened to concerns about civil liberties rather than taken thenecessary steps to protect the country. The poll also states thatwhilst 53 per cent of Americans believe that torture should rarely ornever be used to gain information from suspected terrorists, a sizeableminority, 53 per cent, thinks that torture can at least sometimes bejustified.
Attitudes between supporters of the two major political parties alsosome differences in security issues. Notably it is supporters of Bush’sRepublican Party that actively encourage a firmer line in securityissues. For example, since the 9/11 attacks a growing number ofDemocrats (51 per cent) and Independents have come round to the viewthat US wrongdoings with other countries may provided the motivationfro the attacks whilst Republicans reject this view by a resounding 76per cent. Views on global standing also show the divergence of opinionin American society. 80 per cent of Democrats and 74 per cent ofindependents state that other countries less respect the US than in thepast, yet only 47 per cent of Republicans believe that the US has lostrespect. What is clear that from within its own ranks, the RepublicanGovernment has a strong support for intervention in the Middle East orindeed anywhere in the world if it believes it necessary. The Bushadministration has used its hard-line in foreign policy as an electoralstrong point and is aware that, with the correct type of marketing tothe American people, future interventions abroad can be vote winners inaddition to a means to serve security of strategic purposes.
US officials were talking of military intervention in Afghanistanwithin days of 9/11.The primary reason given for this was that OsamaBin Laden’s Al Qaeda group was the force behind the attacks on America,and that supported by the Taliban government, Bin Laden’s group hadbeen able to set up training camps and direct terrorist operations fromAfghanistan. The US however was unwilling or unable to provide anyevidence of this before launching a massive bombing campaign againstAfghanistan
The country had played an important role in US foreign policy for anumber of decades. US policy in the Afghanistan between 1979 and 1991had been largely dominated by a fear of the Iranian revolution andabout worries about Soviet domination of oil fields in the region. TheUS had given considerable backing to mujahadeen fighters who had foughtagainst the Soviet invasion. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson spoke in1998 about US policy in central Asia: “this is about our energysecurity which depends on diversifying our sources of gas and oilworldwide. It is also about preventing strategic inroads by those whodon’t share our values” (p30 Scott Dale). The same sentiments would beapplicable in 2001 – in the mid 1990s US oil companies had concluded a$8 billion thirty year contract with Azerbaijan to develop in Caspianoil fields as well as developing less secure oil investments incountries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (p5 Dale Scott Peter –Drugs, Oil and War – The United States in Afghanistan, Columbia andIndochina, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Maryland 2003). With manyof the Central Asian states facing internal armed opposition togovernments growing rich from oil deals, there has been a growingpressure for the US Government to make the region secure – Afghanistanis strategically placed to ensure that the US can do this.
The US had also had issues historically with Afghanistan over thecountry’s production of heroin. In the late 1990s, Afghanistan had beenthe world number one producer of heroin yet there had been evidencethat the Taliban Government was cracking down on this. Jane’sIntelligence Review had reported in October 2001 that “ the ban imposedby Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in July 2000…resulted in some 70per cent of the world’s illicit opium production being virtually wipedout at a stroke” (p33 Dale Scott 2003). Following the 9/11 attacks theUS may have been tempted to link the war on terror with the war ondrugs but this may have caused some embarrassment – as the US began toally itself with the Northern Alliance in an attempt to overthrow theTaliban it became aware that the Alliance had just trebled opiumproduction in the areas that it controlled (p31 Dale Scott 2003) . DaleScott notes that opium production has risen again sharply since theTaliban has been overthrown and argues that “the US was not waging awar on drugs in short, but a war helped by drugs (p31 Dale Scott 2003)
Prior to 9/11, the US government’s relation with the Taliban regime hadbeen mixed. An American and Saudi group of oil companies had developedplans to build gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, throughAfghanistan to Pakistan and other Asian markets. The Taliban emerged asthe most likely force to be able to see through the venture and stronglobbying by the oil companies had persuaded US Government to gibe tacitbacking to commercial dealings with the Taliban. However the growinghard-line fundamentalism of the regime, particularly towards women drewcriticism in the US. The bombing of US embassies in East Africa in 1998was a turning point and something that impacted on American decisionmaking post 9/11 – the bombings were traced back to Osama Bin Laden, bythen based in Afghanistan. As Lesch states: “For harbouring the allegedperpetrators of these attacks, and hosting training facilities forbelieved terrorists, the Taliban became the United States number oneculprit and target. This was forcefully demonstrated by the cruisemissile attacks on these camps in August 1998” (p454 Lesch 2003). Bythe time of the terrorist attacks in New York, Afghanistan was alreadywell established as a possible target for future militaryintervention.
The 9/11 attacks left the US first and foremost to be seen to doingsomething about whoever was behind the attacks. Although the finger ofsuspicion pointed at Afghanistan there was little immediate directevidence of this. The US Government took up a position that levered itinto a position to be able to take military action against a widenumber of possible targets. It was a strategy defined partly for USsecurity interest and partly to help in the securing of longer-termstrategic goals. As Zunes writes of the open ended mandate given byCongress in interpreting what is a terrorist group: “given thatPresident Bush has declared that any government harbouring terroristswill be treated as terrorists themselves, this broad definition raisesthe prospect of US military intervention against any number ofcountries simply because they resist American political demands” (p196,Zunes 2003).
Once the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had been identified as amilitary target there appeared little chance that the US considerdiplomatic channels of pursuing possible links to the 9/11 attackers.Zunes argues that “despite such moral and legal questions and recentexamples pointing to the dubious efficacy of responding to terrorism bylarge –scale military operations, it was immediately clear that theUnited States would launch a major military operation at thecentrepiece of its response to the terrorist attacks of September 11,2001” (P205 Zunes 2003). The administration argued that the Taliban wasunwilling to negotiate to resolve the conflict yet this was largely dueto the absence of an International Criminal Court, delayed largely dueto US objections, which prevented the Taliban from finding a facesaving solution of handing over Bin Laden without appearing tosurrender him to a hostile government. In addition, the US alsorefused Taliban requests to provide evidence of Bin Laden’s culpabilityas it considered extradition. It was quite happy to fly in the face ofworld opinion and instigate a concerted campaign of bombing inAfghanistan. The US view at the time was that the Taliban was directlylinked to the 9/11 attackers, yet in fact as the bombing campaign waslaunched, the US did not know who the bombers were. FBI DirectorMueller’s suppositions about Taliban links came in June 2002 and werenot conclusive –certainly there was no chance that President Bush couldhave been certain of Afghanistan’s indirect responsibility when heauthorised bombing attacks eight months earlier.
The FBI based its justification for the intervention in Afghanistan onthe supposition that the regime there had been behind what was deemed awar crime (p200 Chomsky 2003). Such claims lack legitimacy, not leastas the US response was responsible for civilian deaths on a greaterlevel than had occurred in New York. A former directors of Human RightsWatch Africa alluded to this in an address to the International Councilon Human Rights Policy in Geneva in 2002 stating: “I am unable toappreciate any moral, political or legal difference between this jihadby the United States against those it deems to be its enemies and thejihad by Islamic groups against those they deem to be their enemies”(p201 Chomsky 2003)
The US ignored the view of groups within Afghanistan opposed to theTaliban when setting about its course of military intervention. Shortlyafter 9/11, up to 1000 Afghan leaders had gathered in Peshawar todiscuss plans to overthrow the Taliban. One of their first actions wasto appeal to the US to stop the bombing raids and the killing ofinnocent civilians. At around the same time, Abdul Haq, a highlyregarded Afghan opposition leader was openly critical of the USintervention stating that the bombing was a huge setback for thecountry and that the US was “trying to show its muscle, score a victoryand scare everyone in the world. They don’t care about the suffering ofthe Afghans or how many people we will lose” (p201 Chomsky 2003). Itwas an accurate description of US policy making.
There has been some argument from those in favour of the militaryassault on Afghanistan that it was a just war. Christopher Greenwoodhas argued that the US has the right of self defence against “those whocaused or threatened….death and destruction” (p205 Chomsky 2003) whilstJean Bekthe Elshtain has tried to justify the war within her own fourpoint framework for a just war – 1) force protects the innocent fromcertain harm, 2) the war must be openly declared or otherwiseauthorised by a legitimate authority, 3) it must begin with the rightintentions and 4)it must be a last resort after other possibilities forthe redress and defence of the values at stake have been explored (p203Chomsky 2003). None of these criteria can be seen to have been met inrelation to US intervention in Afghanistan.
One of the other arguments used by the US administration is that theevil of terrorism is absolute and must be met with similar or greaterferocity. This again ties in with the Bush doctrine that a country thatharbours terrorists will be treated like a terrorist. Where thisargument falls down is in the level of response. As terrible a crime asthe 9/11 attacks were, it is difficult to see how a lengthy anddevastating bombing assault on areas known to contain civilians can beseen as an appropriate response to any terrorist attack.
Assessing the successes of the military intervention in Afghanistanfrom the viewpoint of US security leads to the view that there wereonly limited successes. Around 600-800 AL-Qaeda fighters were killedwhilst it is suspected that only about one quarter of AL-Qaeda fightersin Afghanistan were amongst its most committed members. The majority ofthe groups leaders escaped with estimates suggesting that for everyAl-Qaeda leader killed, a further 130 Afghan civilians were killed(p209 Zunes 2003). Certainly the military intervention was a set backof sorts for the terrorist organisation but according to Carl Conetta’sreport “most of the organisations capabilities to conduct far reachingterrorist acts resided and resides outside of Afghanistan, and thusfell beyond the scope of Operation Enduring Freedom” (p209 Zunes 2003).Whether high altitude bombing is an effective way to fight againstterrorists on the ground is also questionable. It should also be noted,that whilst the US military launched waves of bombing attacks onAfghanistan, evidence produced later indicated that the majority of thekey figures involved in the 9/11 attacks had lived in residential areasin Hamburg, Germany and undertook flight training in Florida ratherthan Afghanistan.
It is difficult to see the long-term security benefits for the USfollowing its intervention in Afghanistan. The sight of one of theworld’s richest nations bombing innocent civilians in one of thepoorest has done little for America’s image across the Islamic worldand indeed it is likely that one of the effects of the campaign may beto hinder international cooperation in fighting terrorism – thetracking down of terrorist cells needs cross border cooperation andmore often than not the support of Muslim countries. The US operationsin Afghanistan have made that type of support in future less likely tobe forthcoming. After the 9/11 attacks the US had the support andsympathy of many moderate Muslim states but this support has rapidlydiminished. The New York Times in fact reported only a few weeks intothe bombing campaign that “portraits of the United States as a lonely,self-absorbed bully taking out its rage on defenceless Afghanistan areon the rise” (p211 Zunes 2003). The US would have been better advisedto have either avoided or limited military action in Afghanistan. Froma security perspective, its intervention has done relatively little toprevent the possibility of future terrorist attacks. From a widerstrategic viewpoint, the intervention has removed a government hostileto US aims in the area and had given a greater position of influence inAfghanistan and looking towards Central Asia.
>From the summer of 2002,the Bush administration had set itssights on an invasion of Iraq. It linked the regime to internationalterrorism, painted a picture of Iraq as a threat to regional andinternational security and campaigned against Saddam Hussein’s despoticregime and appalling human rights record. The idea that Iraq was armedwith WMDs and actively seeking a nuclear capability was also stronglypushed into the public sphere. In September 2002, Bush had announcedhis administration’s National Security Strategy that declared that theUS maintained the right to resort to force to eliminate any perceivedchallenge to US global hegemony.
In reality, genuine security based reasons for the US invasions of Iraqare difficult to find. Despite the efforts of American intelligencethere is little or no evidence to link Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, theweapons of mass destruction (WMD) touted by the Americans an theBritish as a justification for war have not materialised and there islittle to suggest that the Iraqi military, after a decade of sanctions,was in a position to threaten its regional neighbours.
US military superiority over Iraq had been firmly established in theGulf War of 1991 and the establishment of no-fly zones plus occasionalbombing raids served to consolidate the US position of power in theregion. Keeping the Iraqi military weak was part of US strategythroughout the 1990s and the administration would have realised thiswhen looking at targets for military intervention after 9/11. Air ForceBrigadier General William Looney, head of the US central Command’sAirborne Expeditionary Force had confirmed as far back as 1998 that:“They know we own their country. We own their airspace…we dictate theway they live and talk. And that’s what’s great about America rightnow. It’s a good thing, especially when there’s a lot of oil out therethat we need” (p102 Zunes 2003).
The decision to go to war with Iraq had clearly been made by February2003. The deployment of 200,000 troops to Kuwait, Saudi Arabia andQatar at this time served as ample evidence of this (p250, Said Edward,From Oslo to Iraq and the Roadmap, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2004).The actual military threat from Iraq to its neighbours and to the USwas minimal. Saddam’s regime may well have been brutal and deplorable,but an analysis based purely on security terms would lead to theconclusion that regional neighbours such as Turkey, Israel or evenJordan could easily have overwhelmed any Iraqi military threat. Regimechange was more at the forefront of the thinking of US policy makers.This is partly due to the ongoing refusal by Saddam’s regime to simplybow to American will in the region. Saddam’s lack of cooperation withweapons inspectors in some ways was to the advantage to the US – itgave it more of an opportunity to try and justify an invasion. Zunessuggests that one of the gravest offences of regimes such as that inIraq is simply not to fall into line with American wishes, as have doneso many other corrupt regimes in the region: “It is becomingincreasingly apparent that the most serious offences by Iran and Iraqin the eyes of US policy makers are not in the area of human rights,terrorism, nuclear ambitions, subversion or conquest, but in daring tochallenge American power in the Middle East” (p104 Zunes 2003).
Freeing the oppressed Iraqi people and spreading democracy to theregion was another justification put forward by US officials formilitary intervention in Iraq. Despite the irony of this argument beingput forward by the nation that had implemented the harsh sanctionsregime and continued intermittent bombing campaigns over the previousdecade, it was a reason taken on by the few nations in agreement withthe US, Britain included. Much of this argument was supported bycomment from officials from Iraqi opposition groups, however the factthat they had lived outside of Iraq for so long suggests that they werelargely out of touch with Iraqi opinion.
A further possibility for the US intervention in Iraq is thepossibility that it could become a regional threat to Israel, somethingthat would have a huge impact on US interests in the region. Saddam hasbeen quick to use Scud missiles to attack Israel during the 1991 GulfWar in the hope of galvanising Arab support. It is a theory supportedby Edward Said who suggests that Iraq, even in its weakened state aftera decade of sanctions, is the only Arab country that has the human,natural and infrastructural resources to consider a challenge toIsrael’s (US backed) domination of the region. This though is a rathertenuous theory- - quite simply Iraq could not have contemplated amilitary confrontation with Israel.
The effects of the invasion on the Iraqi state have been little shortof devastating with much of the modern infrastructure being destroyedin the early states of the invasion, to be followed by the looting andburning of museums and artefacts of one of the world’s greatestcivilisations. Edward Said is particularly scathing towards US DefenceSecretary Donald Rumsfield in relation to his view of the wantondestruction of Iraq: “Rumsfield managed to put himself in a classbeyond even Hulagu, the 13th century Mongol ruler who sacked Baghdadand destroyed its library, throwing its contents into the Tigris.‘Freedom is untidy’ he said on one occasion, and, ‘stuff happens’ onanother. Remorse or sorrow were nowhere in evidence” (p269 Said, 2004).
The US demonstrated through its policies in Iraq after 9/11 that it waswilling to largely go it alone in its confrontational stance. OtherEuropean nations, unconvinced by claims of Iraq’s military potentialpreferred to let the work of the UN weapon inspectors run its course.Germany and France both unequivocally opposed the war in line with vastmajority of public opinion, leading to scathing comments from DonaldRumsfield that ‘Old Europe’ was of little consequence to the US.Elsewhere in Europe, public opinion was equally against an illegal war.A Gallup poll conducted across Europe shortly before the invasion foundthat support for a war carried out by America and its alliesunilaterally did not rise above 11 per cent in any nation and supportfor if actually mandated by the UN ranged between 13 and 51 per cent(p131 Chomsky 2003).
An analysis of the US intervention in Iraq draws few conclusions from asecurity perspective. There is no evidence that Iraq was involved in9/11, little credible evidence that it was armed with WMDs and in factmost of the evidence points to Iraq, decimated by sanctions, being oflittle military threat to its regional neighbours, let alone the US. Itis more likely that the intervention in Iraq was inspired by acombination of two things – one simply the need to be seen in the eyesof the electorate to be taking action against those responsible for9/11 and secondly to remove Saddam and install a regime that would morereadily accommodate US strategic interests in the region.
Chapter Seven – Foreign Policy Elsewhere in the Middle East
Elsewhere in the Middle East, American policy has been largely toattempt to shore up its support amongst regimes that had been friendlytowards it prior to 9/11. The leadership of many of the repressivestates in the region have remained committed to good relations with theUS in spite of the growing hostility to the US amongst civilians acrossthe region. Indeed, the US would class as a success the number ofstates in the Middle East that have cooperated in some way to the waron terror.
The US has maintained its warm relationship with Israel and attemptedto encourage progress in peace talks with the Palestinians. The Israelileadership has made strenuous attempts to link the US war on terror toits ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Whatever the rights ofwrongs of this analogy, it is a perception that that wins the US littlepopularity amongst the people of the Middle East. US support for Israelremains a complex issue – there are benefits in terms of business forarms exporters and more importantly because the alliance enhances USdomination in the region, yet the Arab anger that it generates withinIsrael itself and across the region remain a potential danger. Afurther possibility is that the on going relationship could actuallyharm America’s future security, a point made by former NationalSecurity Advisor Zbigniew Brezinski who commented that Israel: “asymbol of recovery of a people who were greatly persecuted now lookslike a country that is persecuting people. Meanwhile the United Statesand Israel and becoming isolated internationally. This could hurtAmerica’s ability to conduct its war on terrorism” (p170 Zunes 2003)
Elsewhere, in other states within the region, their leaders aredesperate to hang onto the status quo and the benefits that US supporthas brought to them, if not the vast majority of there populations.Said points to an acceptance of the US backed mistreatment of thePalestinians and states that: “so craven are the Arab regimes todaythat don’t dare state any of these things publicly. Many of them needUS economic aid. Many of them fear their own people and need US supportto prop up their own regimes. Many of them could be accused of some ofthe same crimes against humanity. So they say nothing and just hope andpray that the war will pass, allowing them to stay in power as theyare” (p219 Said 2004).
US foreign policy has remained pragmatic and focussed solely on itsown interests in the region. Whilst 9/11 brought about speculation of aclash of civilisations and irreparable division between the West andthe Islamic World, the US has happily maintained close links with SaudiArabia, one of the most fundamentalist states in the world. Thesecurity links with Saudi Arabia are particularly worthy of examinationin the light of the fact that so many Saudi citizens were directlyinvolved in the 9/11 bombings. Bin Laden, although he had been strippedof his citizenship in 1994, came from a still prominent Saudi familyand fifteen of the nineteen hijackers were also Saudi (p367 Lesch2003). Certainly within the US there were those who questioned Saudi’srole as a US ally and raised concerns about its political stability. Onthe other hand, the fact Bin Laden so openly displayed his oppositionto US intervention on Saudi soil made members of the Saudi governmentnervous. Whilst the Saudi regime is one of the most brutal andrepressive in the world, there is growing evidence of a growingdiscontent amongst its population, angry at the wealth of its rulerswho enjoy the benefits of the country’s oil resources whilst many ofits citizens live in poverty.
Relations between the two nations had been warm since the 1991 Gulf Warwhen Saudi Arabia had allowed hundreds of thousands of US troops, aswell as troops from other nations to base themselves in the kingdom.From Saudi perspective this had been done primarily due to its changingrelationship with Iraq following the invasion of Kuwait. BeforeSaddam’s invasion the Saudis had attempted to negotiate between Iraqand Kuwait and had suggested that Kuwait actually acceded to some ofIraq’s territorial claims. However, with the invasion, the Saudisdecided that Saddam could not be trusted and took the decision to allowUS forces into the kingdom. It was a controversial decision and broughtthe regime into conflict with the stricter Islamic elements with Saudipolitics. Both before and after 9/11 Islamic political activists havepetitioned against alliances that run counter to Islamic legitimacy,have demanded that the Saudis build up their own arms industry to easedependence on the West and have called for an end to giving aid andloans to what they call “un-Islamic regimes” like “Ba‘thist Syria andsecular Egypt” (p366 Lesch 2003).
Nevertheless, the security relationship between the two governments hasremained remarkably close. In 2002, approximately 5000 US militarypersonnel and between 100 to 200 US warplanes are stationed in SaudiArabia at any one time, an extensive naval force is based in Saudiwaters in the Persian Gulf and military consultations between the twocountries take place at the highest levels (p367 Lesch 2003). There wassome tension in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 when the Saudis refusedpermission for the US to use its bases to physically launch strikes onAfghanistan but permission was given for the US to coordinate the airwar from its control and command centres within Saudi Arabia. Thefuture security relationship between the two looks likely to remainstrong if the current Saudi rulers can remain in power and overcomeinternal hostility to the US presence.
Intervention in Iran appears to be high on the US agenda in the MiddleEast. Fired by an unshakeable belief, despite the evidence fromAfghanistan and Iraq, that its military interventions in the MiddleEast are justified, the Bush administration has made it clear that itwill consider an invasion of Iran if the current regime does notacquiesce with US demands and interests.
To some extent, Iran can be described as a more legitimate target thanIraq or Afghanistan, There is evidence that it does have an existingnuclear programme, it has mastered key nuclear-military technologies,and has long range missiles that could potentially carry a nuclearwarhead In addition it has a long history of hostility towards Israeland there has been some Iranian influence in Iraq since the USinvasion. As Peter Beaumont writes: “Seen from Washington, where allthese gaps these days seamlessly join up, it means that Iran is ahostile, terror-sponsoring state, meddling in Iraq and on the verge ofacquiring weapons with which it could target Tel Aviv” (Beaumont Peter,Why America has got it wrong on Iran, The Observer, November 21,2004). The attitude of the Bush regime is remarkably similar to thatprior to intervention in Iraq. The flimsiest of intelligence ispromoted as evidence of a threat (a claim that Iran was close tomodifying its missiles to take a nuclear pay load was revealed by theWashington post to have come from a single, unverified, “walk-insource.” The US also points to the fact that Israel has also stated inits annual intelligence assessment that Iran is now its greatestregional threat. In reality, Iran is less of a threat than it isportrayed. It may be reluctant to openly welcome weapons inspectors andto jump to the American tune but this is certainly partly due to anational pride and a feeling that it can be a player on the worldstage, not simply an other state in the Middle East that has to acceptthe dominance of Israel and the US. Its suggestion that it has anuclear capability may indeed be a wise strategic move in a regionwhere the US has recently invaded two of its near neighbours. PeterBeaumont again cleverly summarises US attitudes towards Iran stating:“there is a sense of deja vu about all this: that realities once againare being concocted for ideological expediency. And that left to itsown devices Washington will screw up the complex problem of Iran”(Beaumont, The Observer, November 21, 2004). It can only be hoped thatUS allies can talk the administration into a less confrontationalapproach with Iran.
The US has to realise that the awesome display of force used inAfghanistan and Iraq cannot be transferred and used as a solution toevery problem in every area of the Middle East It needs to find new andsubtler methods to deal with issues such as the Israeli-Palestinianconflict, the future of Iraq and addressing the economic problems ofthe region. Its ongoing support for harsh and undemocratic regimes inthe area also leaves it open to accusations of hypocrisy as it tries tolink its war on terror with the spread of freedom and democracy.
Chapter Eight – Conclusion
>From the viewpoint of the Bush administration, US interventions inthe Middle East since the 9/11 attacks have been highly appropriate.The government line is that both Afghanistan and Iraq have been involvein training and harbouring terrorists that were behind the attacks.Both nations were run by brutal and undemocratic regimes from which theindigenous population wished to be liberated, and, in the case of Iraq,there was a clear threat to regional and consequently US nationalsecurity from the regime in place.
Only a small part of this view is true. Both countries were run byoppressive regimes and many people within them will be glad for theopportunity to forge a new future. Whether they would have taken thewidespread civilian deaths in the ‘liberation’ process is anotherquestion. Also debatable is whether the lives of the populations inboth countries have genuinely improved since US intervention.
Otherwise, there is little evidence to suggest that the US policy ofmilitary intervention has been appropriate. Intervention in Afghanistanmay have seen the capture of a small number of terrorists and may havecaused a short –term hindrance to Al-Qaeda operations but it isdifficult to support the argument that the civilian deaths and damageto infrastructure are a worthwhile price to pay for such limitedsecurity gains. This is equally true in the case of Iraq. The events ofthe previous decade had seen the US destroy the majority of Iraq’smilitary capability, it must have been clear to those making high leveldecisions that there was no real credible evidence on WMD, yet the USstill chose to invade. The invasion had little to do with 9/11 – it wasclear that Iraq was not involved –it was an invasion to protect USstrategic interests.
Ignoring the massive resentment that its post-9/11 policies have causedacross the Middle East, the US may well see its policies in the regionas a success – certainly the interventions have increased its strategicdomination of the region. It would how be more honest to admit that thepurpose was as such –to consolidate and expand US influence in theregion. The military interventions can hardly be called legitimatesecurity responses to the events of 9/11.
Beaumont Peter, Why America has got it wrong on Iran, The Observer, November 21, 2004)
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Chomsky Noam, 9/11, Seven Stories Press, New York 2001
Chomsky Noam, Hegemony or Survival – America’s Quest for Global Dominance, Hamish Hamilton, London 2003
Dale Scott Peter, Drugs, Oil and War – The United States inAfghanistan, Columbia and Indochina, Rowman and Littlefield Publishersinc, Maryland 2003
Fisk Robert, America at War – Bush is walking into a trap in the Middle East, article, Independent on Sunday, September 16 2001
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