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Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “war on terror”

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Composite portrait: (top) President George W. Bush aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln announces the end of major combat in Iraq, May 1, 2003 (Stephen Jaffe, AFP); (middle right) U.S. Marines arrest Iraqi council members (hooded) in Baghdad, Nov. 2, 2004 (Anja Niedringhaus, AP); (bottom) Mosul’s Old City neighborhood reduced to ruins by U.S. bombardments in a campaign against ISIS, July 14, 2017 (Andrea Dicenzo, AFP)

II.  Five dimensions of the “war on terror”

  • Misnamed “counterterrorism” wars
  • Congressional authorizations and “forever wars”

III.  Framing and selling the “war on terror”

  • Historical antecedents
  • The Reagan administration’s “war on terrorism”
  • The George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror”

IV.  The futility of American techno-war in Afghanistan

  • 2001 Odyssey: Defeating the Taliban and losing sight of bin Laden
  • Explaining the U.S. failure in Afghanistan
  • Deception and confusion

V.  Pyrrhic victory in Iraq

  • Background on U.S.-Iraq relations
  • The invasion of Iraq
  • Occupational hazards
  • Insurgency and counterinsurgency
  • Sectarian conflict and terrorism
  • Costs of war and public opinion

VI.  Counterterrorism:  “The world is a battlefield”

  • Imprisonment and torture at Guantánamo
  • Killing by remote control

VII.  Homefront

  • Veterans
  • Anti-Muslim prejudice and government surveillance
  • International and domestic terrorism
  • Peace protests and politics

Did you know?

  1.  Of the nineteen men who carried out terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001, not one was from Afghanistan or Iraq.
  2.  Osama bin Laden, the Saudi native who masterminded the 9/11/2001 attacks, had been a de facto ally of the United States during the 1980s, recruiting Islamic jihadists to help defeat a Soviet-backed government in Afghanistan.
  3.  In declaring a “war on terror” on September 20, 2001, President George W. Bush followed the playbook of the Reagan administration which declared a “war on terrorism” in 1984, linking terrorism to nation-states.
  4.  U.S. forces mainly fought insurgents, not terrorists, in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Bin Laden escaped to Pakistan in December 2001.
  5.  The Afghanistan Papers, released in 2019, documented how senior U.S. officials “failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan through the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” according to Washington Post correspondent Craig Whitlock.[1]
  6.  During the 1980s, the Reagan administration was on friendly terms with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, providing military assistance to Iraq in its war against Iran.
  7.  Though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration made oil-rich Iraq the next target, claiming that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction.  No such weapons were found.[2]
  8.  On Feb. 15, 2003, between six and eleven million people demonstrated in 650 cities around the world against the threatened U.S. invasion of Iraq.[3]
  9.  With France, Germany, and other members of the UN Security Council opposing war against Iraq, the UN did not approve it, thus making the war illegal under international law.
  10.  The broader U.S. counterterrorism mission ran afoul of international humanitarian laws.  Human rights groups documented a wide pattern of torture and brutal treatment at U.S. overseas detention centers, notably Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and Guantánamo in Cuba.
  11.  As part of its “war on terror,” the U.S. assassinated suspected terrorists anywhere in the world via remotely controlled armed drones.  In February 2014, the European Parliament rebuked such methods, calling on member states to “oppose and ban the practice of extrajudicial targeted killings” and to “not perpetrate unlawful targeted killings or facilitate such killings by other states.”[4]
  12. The human costs of the U.S. “war on terror” were considerable.  Some 241,000 people were killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 2001 and 2021, including more than 71,000 civilians, and another 300,000 people were killed in Iraq, two-thirds of whom were civilian.  Over 14,500 U.S. soldiers and contractors lost their lives in these war zones.[5]

I.  Introduction

Imagine if Belgium had been ruthlessly attacked by terrorists as the United States had been on September 11, 2001.  Would Belgium have launched two wars against other nations?  Not likely.  Not being a military superpower, Belgium would have turned to the United Nations and sought assistance from other countries, building an international coalition to neutralize terrorist groups through intelligence sharing and police cooperation.  This was an option for the United States as well, but the George W. Bush administration had a larger agenda beyond counterterrorism.
The U.S. “war on terror,” announced by President Bush on September 20, 2001, served some of the same functions as the Cold War against “communism” (1946-1991).  It provided an overarching justification for U.S. global power projection and hegemony, bolstered U.S. military spending and the “imperial presidency,” and refurbished national myths of grandeur and “exceptionalism.”[6]  The Pentagon’s National Security Strategy of 2002 stated that U.S. military forces must be “strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military-build-up in hopes of surpassing, or equaling, the power of the United States.”[7]  That is the definition of global hegemony.[8]

Costs of War Project summary chart (click to enlarge)

Maintaining U.S. hegemony required an extensive network of military bases and installations abroad – some 800 as of 2022 – along with numerous military partnerships.  According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University:  “From 2018 to 2020, the United States government undertook what it labeled ‘counterterrorism’ activities in 85 countries.”  In thirteen of those countries – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Libya, Cameroon, Niger, and Tunisia – U.S. personnel were engaged in some form of combat, drone strikes, special forces missions, or planning and control operations.  The U.S. conducted joint military exercises in 41 countries and training operations in 79.[9]  In 2021, U.S. military expenditures totaled $801 billion (not including veterans’ health care costs), constituting 38 percent of $2,113 billion in global military expenditures, far more than any other nation.  The U.S. was also the world’s largest arms dealer, accounting for 39 percent of major arms deliveries worldwide between 2017 and 2021.[10]

This multi-part essay reviews and analyzes U.S. foreign policies in the two decades following the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the United States.  The next section (Section II) outlines five operational missions undertaken by the U.S. in the name of counterterrorism, ranging from the necessary protection of the American people to unnecessary wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.[11]  While it is widely known that the Bush administration made false claims in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it is less well known that the administration rejected opportunities to negotiate a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.
Section III examines the themes and arguments used to frame and sell the “war on terror” to the American people, beginning with a review of historical antecedents.  To a large degree, the Bush administration’s “war on terror” followed the playbook of the Reagan administration’s “war on terrorism” in the 1980s, but with greater effect.[12]
Sections IV and V examine the conduct and costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, respectively.  Both wars devolved into long-term occupations with harsh counterinsurgency measures resulting in large numbers of civilian casualties.[13]  Section VI surveys U.S. global counterterrorist operations, which included extrajudicial rendition (kidnapping), indefinite detention (holding prisoners without trial), torture, and assassination of suspected terrorists by armed drones, all of which violated international humanitarian laws, undermined cooperation with other nations, and were largely ineffective.
Section VII surveys various aspects of the “homefront,” including veteran issues, government surveillance, anti-Muslim prejudice, and peace protests and politics.  The last section probes what lessons may be learned from America’s misadventures and suggests alternatives to Pax Americana.

*         *          *          *          *

II.  Five dimensions of the “war on terror”

A second plane closes in on World Trade Center Tower 2 in New York, City, just before impact, Sept. 11, 2001 (Reuters)

On the morning of September 11, 2001, nineteen men – fifteen from Saudi Arabia, two from United Arab Emirates, one from Lebanon, and one from Egypt – highjacked four U.S. commercial jets and turned them into attack missiles.  Using small knives, pepper spray, and physical force, the hijackers gained entry into the airplane cockpits.  As four of the hijackers – Mohamed Atta, Ramzi Binalshibh, Marwan al Shehhi, and Ziad Jarrah – had previously attended flight schools in Florida, Arizona, and Minnesota, they knew how to reroute the Boeing jets to designated targets.[14]  Two of the aircraft struck the World Trade Center in New York City causing the massive, 110-story Twin Towers to collapse.  One smashed into the Pentagon.  Another, presumably headed for the White House, crashed into an empty field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers courageously fought the hijackers.  All in all, nearly 3,000 people died and over 6,000 were injured.  Americans were shocked and outraged, bewildered as to why this happened, and fearful of future attacks.[15]

The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) quickly concluded that the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were members of al Qaeda, a terrorist group led by Osama bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi native residing in Afghanistan.  Bin Laden had once been a de facto ally of the United States, with both helping Afghan Mujahideen guerrillas defeat a Soviet-backed government during the 1980s.  He turned against the U.S. in the lead-up to the 1991 Persian Gulf War when the U.S. established military bases in Saudi Arabia.  In February 1998, bin Laden issued a fatwa, or religious proclamation, denouncing the U.S. for “occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian Peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, terrorizing its neighbors, and turning its bases in the Peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighboring Muslim peoples.”  He called on all Muslims “to kill the Americans and their allies – civilian and military.”[16]   Muslim religious leaders deemed the fatwa invalid as bin Laden had no standing as a religious scholar.

Osama bin Laden, speaking at a news conference in Afghanistan, May 26, 1998 (AP)

Bin Laden put his manifesto into practice by orchestrating two bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania on August 7, 1998.  A total of 224 people were killed, including twelve Americans.  President Bill Clinton responded by ordering Tomahawk cruise missiles fired at four paramilitary training camps in Afghanistan associated with al Qaeda, and a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan, erroneously identified as a chemical weapons plant.[17]  Clinton also authorized the CIA to assassinate bin Laden, but the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center was unable to locate him for three years running.  Beginning in September 1999, the CIA picked up international “chatter” indicating that a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil was being planned.  The chatter increased in 2001, but neither the CIA nor the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was able to discover the plan or identify the operatives.[18]

President George W. Bush, during his first nine months in office, paid little heed to urgent warnings of a terrorist attack.  After September 11, he presented himself as the paramount leader in a global fight against terrorism.  As Bush later explained to journalist Bob Woodward in an interview, “I had to show the American people the resolve of a commander in chief that was going to do whatever it took to win.  No yielding.  No equivocation.  No, you know, lawyering this thing to death, that we’re after ‘em.  And that was not only for domestic, for the people at home to see.  It was also vitally important for the rest of the world to watch.”[19]
In the weeks following 9/11, the president regularly met with his principal advisers – Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA director George Tenet, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill, and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card – to discuss counterterrorism strategy and public relations.  Bush declared early on that the American people must be shown visible progress.  He told the principals that he would keep a “scorecard” to measure and demonstrate his administration’s accomplishments.  “And we’ve got to start showing results.”[20]

President George W. Bush addressing Congress, Sept. 20, 2001 (photo by Eric Draper, G. W. Bush Presidential Library)

On September 20, Bush delivered a televised address to a joint session of Congress in which he announced a new “war on terror” and outlined multiple objectives.  Though presented in seamless sequence, the objectives entailed distinct operational missions:  (1) protect the American people from future terrorist attacks, (2) bring bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders to justice, (3) defeat all terrorist groups with international capabilities, and (4) counter, possibly by war, any nation that aided or harbored terrorist groups.[21]

The first order of business was to ensure the safety of the American people.  “We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans,” Bush said.  “Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security.  These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level.  So tonight, I announce the creation of a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to me – the Office of Homeland Security.”  The new agency would eventually coordinate twenty-two sub-agencies responsible for the detection of terrorist threats within the United States and related responses.[22]  Bush also secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop, without a warrant, on American citizens’ communications.[23]
The second important task was to bring the perpetrators of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to justice.  “Who attacked our country?” asked Bush.  “The evidence we have gathered all points to a collection of loosely affiliated terrorist organizations known as al Qaeda,” led by “a person named Osama bin Laden.”  Bush did not offer any clues as to how the U.S. might find and capture or kill bin Laden.  Instead, he immediately folded this second objective into a third, calling for a global war against terrorism.
“This group and its leader,” continued Bush, “are linked to many other organizations in different countries, including the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.  There are thousands of these terrorists in more than 60 countries. . . . Our war on terror begins with al Qaeda, but it does not end there.  It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”
This third dimension greatly expanded and complicated the nation’s counterterrorism mission.[24]  Indeed, U.S. intelligence agencies had been unable to thwart the designs of even one terrorist organization – al Qaeda.  The global scope was nonetheless appropriate insofar as the U.S. cooperated with other nations and the United Nations.  On September 12, at the behest of the United States, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1368, declaring “international terrorism as a threat to international peace and security” and expressing its “readiness to take all necessary steps to … combat all forms of terrorism.”[25]
Bush did not address the sticky problems involved in international cooperation.  National governments characteristically disagree on what kinds of violence constitute “terrorism,” which groups should be labeled “terrorist,” and which nations, if any, should be designated as “state sponsors of terrorism.”[26]  As of September 2001, the U.S. State Department identified 23 groups as “foreign terrorist organizations,” five of which were Palestinian, and listed seven nations as “state sponsors of terrorism,” including Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Sudan.[27]  Other nations undoubtedly kept different lists.

In sympathy with Americans after 9/11, members of a Maasai tribe in Kenya donated 14 cows to the U.S., given to diplomat William Brancick at a ceremonial gathering (photo by Josh Haner)

Bush attempted to sweep away the difficulties of international cooperation by brazenly calling on all other nations to follow the U.S. lead.  “Every nation in every region now has a decision to make:  Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” he said.[28]  While virtually every government in the world sympathized with Americans in the aftermath of 9/11, the implication that any government that disagreed with the U.S. over targets or strategy was “with the terrorists” hardly facilitated global teamwork.  The Bush administration intended to call the shots in the newly announced global “war on terror.”  As one unnamed senior official told New York Times reporters, “The fewer people you have to rely on, the fewer permissions you have to get.”[29]

“How will we fight and win this war?” Bush asked rhetorically in his September 20th speech.  “We will direct every resource at our command – every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war – to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.”
Although Bush used the term “war” to describe the nation’s global counterterrorism mission, the primary means of rooting out terrorist cells involved intelligence gathering, police operations, financial regulations, and diplomatic cooperation.  While military-like SWAT (special weapons and tactics) teams might be needed at times, mobilizing national armies against stateless individuals and clandestine cells made no sense.[30]
This reality, however, was problematic for Bush, as police and intelligence operations were unlikely to produce the impressive “results” he desired.  Apart from the possible capture or killing of bin Laden, which could not be predicted, there was nothing sensational about counterterrorism – which is mainly concerned with preventing terrorist attacks.  Employing military force, on the other hand, would demonstrably exact retribution for the 9/11 attacks and visibly prove the president’s resolve in the eyes of his domestic audience.

White House principals (L-R) Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and Colin Powell (Ron Edmonds, AP)

The military option meant targeting nation-states.  At a meeting of the principals on September 12, Vice President Chaney explained, “To the extent we define our task broadly, including those who support terrorism, then we get to states.  And it’s easier to find them than to find bin Laden.”  In another meeting on September 25, Bush affirmed, “We can’t define the success or failure in terms of capturing UBL [bin Laden].”[31]

Defining success in terms of capturing bin Laden would have left too much out of President Bush’s control.  Who knew how long bin Laden could prevail in a game of cat and mouse?  Framing the mission in terms of military action against states, on the other hand, would allow the administration to display its power at a time of its choosing and pursue its larger geopolitical goals.[32]

Misnamed “counterterrorism” wars

Bush added this fourth dimension to his announced “war on terror” when he declared in his September 20th address that the U.S. would “pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. . . . From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.”  The implicit military threat here transformed the phrase “war on terror” from a metaphor – in the vein of Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” and Richard Nixon’s “war on drugs” – into actual war plans.  Indeed, Bush’s blanket threat posed the possibility of many wars – against any nation identified by U.S. leaders as a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[33]
Though none of the suicidal terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attacks were from Afghanistan, Bush made it the first state target.  The Taliban government of Afghanistan had allowed bin Laden to remain in the country despite repeated entreaties from U.S. and Saudi officials over the past three years to expel him.  Bush now demanded that the Taliban deliver to the U.S. “all the leaders of al Qaeda who hide in your land” and also allow the U.S. “full access to terrorist training camps, so we can make sure they are no longer operating.”  The president added, ominously, “These demands are not open to negotiation or discussion.  The Taliban must act, and act immediately.  They will hand over the terrorists, or they will share in their fate.”[34]

Taliban ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef at a news conference, Oct. 10, 2001 (BBC News)

Bush’s conflation of al Qaeda with the Taliban was the origin of much misery to come.  Whereas al Qaeda represented a real threat to the security of the United States, the Taliban did not.  The Taliban did not participate in the planning or implementation of the 9/11 attacks; nor did they endorse the terrorist actions afterward.  Indeed, the chief spokesperson for the Taliban at the time, Foreign Minister Wakeel Ahmed Mutawakel, told the Arab television network Al Jazeera, “We denounce this terrorist attack, whoever is behind it.”  The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, also condemned the attacks.  “We want to tell the American children that Afghanistan feels your pain,” said the ambassador. “We hope the courts find justice.”[35]

Bin Laden had been a guest of the Taliban government since being expelled from Sudan in 1996.  He had curried favor with the Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, by funding construction projects and recruiting international jihadists to fight against the Taliban’s internal enemies.  There were nonetheless many Taliban leaders who wanted to get rid of bin Laden and the al Qaeda Arabs, especially after the United Nations imposed economic sanctions on Afghanistan in November 1999 due to al Qaeda’s international terrorist activities.
A deal with the Taliban was not out of the question, but this could be accomplished only through dialogue, not an ultimatum.  On September 18, 2001, Pakistani intelligence chief Mahmud Ahmed informed U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage that he had conveyed to Mullah Omar all U.S. demands.  Omar’s response, according to Ahmed, was “not negative on all these points.”[36]  Direct talks were hampered by the fact that there was no U.S. envoy in Afghanistan.  In early October, Taliban ambassador Zaeef held a news conference in Quetta, Pakistan.  “We are ready for negotiations,” he said.  “Only the way of negotiations will solve our problems . . . We have yet to receive any detailed evidence about the persons responsible for the horrendous act of terrorism, or other links with bin Laden or al Qaeda.”[37]  Such evidence was never delivered.
On October 14, a week after the U.S. air war against Afghanistan began, Afghanistan’s deputy prime minister, Haji Abdul Kabir, reiterated the point, telling reporters, “If the Taliban is given evidence that Osama bin Laden is involved” and the bombing campaign is stopped, “we would be ready to hand him over to a third country,” adding that it must be a state that would never “come under pressure from the United States.”   The Bush administration refused all conditions, and the war continued.  “There’s no need to discuss innocence or guilt.  We know he’s guilty,” President Bush told reporters.[38]
Between 1998 and the fall of 2001, U.S. officials had met in secret with Taliban representatives at least thirty times to discuss ways in which the Taliban could bring suspected terrorist bin Laden to justice.[39]  The main sticking point was that U.S. officials wanted bin Laden to face trial in the U.S., whereas the Taliban would agree only to turn bin Laden over to a neutral third country.  According to the Washington Post, “Some Afghan experts argue that throughout the negotiations, the United States never recognized the Taliban need for aabroh, the Pashtu word for ‘face-saving formula.’  Officials never found a way to ease the Taliban’s fear of embarrassment if it turned over a fellow Muslim to an ‘infidel’ Western power.”
Milton Bearden, the CIA station chief in Pakistan from 1986 to 1989 who had overseen the U.S. covert aid program to the Mujahideen, blamed the diplomatic failure on U.S. obtuseness and inflexibility.  “We never heard what they were trying to say,” he told the Washington Post.  “We had no common language.  Ours was ‘give up bin Laden.’  They were saying ‘do something to help us give him up.’”  Similarly, Richard Hrair Dekmejian, an expert in Islamic fundamentalism, commented, “We did not engage these people creatively.  There were missed opportunities.”[40]
Bin Laden was akin to a corporate executive of a multinational corporation with headquarters in Afghanistan and operations across the world.  Al Qaeda was not tied to Afghanistan as a home base.  Indeed, following the U.S. air assaults on Afghanistan, which began October 7, 2001, bin Laden and most of his top aides slipped across the border into Pakistan, leaving Afghanistan largely free of the terrorist group.  The quick military victory over the Taliban by Northern Alliance forces backed by overwhelming U.S. air power in the late fall of 2001 was greeted in the U.S. as a phenomenal success, but it was not a victory over al Qaeda, which continued to operate out of Pakistan.  In early December, President Bush pulled out his scorecard and crossed off only six of the top 22 al Qaeda leaders, these being killed or captured; the rest remained at large.[41]  The war did achieve at least one of the “results” Bush desired.  His public approval rating skyrocketed from 51 percent to 90 percent that fall.[42]
While forcing al Qaeda leaders to run and hide undoubtedly disturbed their operations, the larger effect of the U.S. war in Afghanistan was to deflect U.S. counterterrorism efforts.  The Taliban became the replacement “terrorists” for the absent al Qaeda in this mislabeled “war on terror.”  Richard C. Holbrooke, appointed U.S. special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan in January 2009, commented, “We may be fighting the wrong enemy in the wrong country,” referring to the fact that the remnants of al Qaeda had moved to Pakistan.[43]

Map of U.S. Operation Neptune Spear that killed bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (Wikipedia, click to enlarge)

For some twenty years, tens of thousands of U.S. troops were sent to Afghanistan to buoy up the central government in Kabul.  They fought, not against terrorists threatening the United States, but against a reconstituted Taliban insurgency; against local Afghans enraged by U.S. military assaults (air strikes, night raids, and drone attacks) that killed an estimated 71,000 civilians; and against a corrupt kleptocracy in Kabul.[44]  On May 2, 2011, a Navy Seal team killed Osama bin Laden in his Pakistani hideout.  Yet this action had no virtually effect on the U.S. counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, which continued for another decade.[45]

In August 2021, the Taliban regained control of Kabul and, by prior treaty agreement, U.S. troops departed.  Many Americans rued this outcome, but in truth, the war was unnecessary and avoidable to begin with.  However regressive the Taliban’s social policies, the Taliban were not international terrorists and should not have been treated as such by successive U.S. administrations.  Adam Nossiter, the Kabul bureau chief for the New York Times, pointed out that the ideological narrative posited in Washington concerning the Taliban was not shared in Afghanistan:  “The United States thought it was helping Afghans fight an avatar of evil, the Taliban, the running mate of international terrorism.  That was the American optic and the American war.  But the Afghans, many of them, were not fighting that war.  The Taliban are from their towns and villages.”[46]  The Taliban had roots in the Pashtun ethnic majority in Afghanistan and the support of many students at Islamic madrassas (the word “Taliban” in the Pashto language means “students”).

The American optic also prevented U.S. leaders from including the Taliban in the new Afghan government formed in the fall of 2001, and from facilitating reconciliation between Taliban leaders and their rivals.  Alissa J. Rubin, a journalist who covered the war in Afghanistan during the early years, described the Taliban’s initial attempts at reconciliation:

It was in the waning days of November 2001 that Taliban leaders began to reach out to Hamid Karzai, who would soon become the interim president of Afghanistan:  They wanted to make a deal.  “The Taliban were completely defeated, they had no demands, except amnesty,” recalled Barnett Rubin, who worked with the United Nations’ political team in Afghanistan at the time.  Messengers shuttled back and forth between Mr. Karzai and the headquarters of the Taliban leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, in Kandahar. . . . But Washington, confident that the Taliban would be wiped out forever, was in no mood for a deal.[47]

At a Pentagon press briefing on November 19, 2001, Rumsfeld was asked:  “Mr. Secretary, we’re getting reports that Mullah Mohammed Omar is trying to negotiate a surrender from Kandahar – surrender for himself, the Taliban, including those now being encircled by Northern Alliance forces at Kunduz.  Is that true?  And if so, what are the terms of the surrender the United States will accept?”  Rumsfeld curtly replied, “The United States is not inclined to negotiate surrenders.”[48]  This dismissive attitude carried over into the UN-sponsored conference in Bonn, Germany, where a new Afghan central government was formed in early December 2001.  According to Carter Malkasian, a civilian Pentagon adviser with firsthand experience in Afghanistan, “Rumsfeld vetoed any peace with the Taliban.  He also sent a private warning to Karzai that any deal would be against U.S. interests.”[49]

This uncompromising U.S. approach doomed peacemaking within Afghanistan.  According to U.S. diplomat James Dobbins, “A number of Afghans with the Taliban offered to surrender and, when they did, we [the U.S.] put them in prison, in Bagram [near Kabul] and Guantánamo [Cuba], and there was never any discussion if that was a good idea.”  Malkasian similarly noted, “One mistake was that we turned down the Taliban’s attempt to negotiate.  We were hugely overconfident in 2001, and we thought the Taliban had gone away and weren’t going to come back.  We also wanted revenge, and so we made a lot of mistakes that we shouldn’t have made.”[50]

Journalist Anand Gopal

Although Afghan military commanders had been fighting each other over political power since the late 1970s, negotiations, compromises, switching sides, and reconciliations were part of the Afghan way of war.  Once it became clear that the Taliban government would not prevail against the Americans and their allies, “it didn’t take long for Taliban leaders to flock to the proverbial bargaining table, hoping to cut deals with the new government,” according to Pakistani journalist Anand Gopal who conducted extensive interviews in Afghanistan.  “It was a replay, in their minds, of their own rise to power, when they had struck accords with anyone willing to submit to their authority.”  Gopal describes the efforts of Mullah Obaldullah, a senior Taliban leader, to find an accommodation with the invading Americans:

“We expected that if we offered no resistance, they would accept us and we could live in peace,” said former minister of defense Mullah Obaidullah, one of the movement’s most senior figures.  Obaidullah, a confidant of supreme leader Mullah Omar, attempted multiple times to engineer deals with the new authorities.  In January 2002, he contacted Kandahar governor Gul Agha Sherzai with a compelling offer:  in return for amnesty, he would pledge loyalty to the Karzai government, forswear political life, and submit to regular government monitoring.  Joining him were six other leading Taliban officials, including the notorious one-eyed, one-legged Mullah Turabi, who as minister of justice and head of the religious police had been a zealot’s zealot, an architect of edicts outlawing everything from kite flying to music.  The group now accepted the US-backed government’s legitimacy, and after Sherzai signed off on the deal, retired quietly to their home villages. . . .

The Obaidullah group, and the three top Taliban officials who went to Khas Uruzgan in January 2002 in search of a pact (only to be stymied by the standoff between the district’s competing governors) were far from the only ones looking to make arrangements.  In fact, from Washington’s list of the twenty-seven most wanted Taliban, a majority attempted to engineer similar deals. . . . No sooner had the olive branch been extended, however, than it was withdrawn.  When news of Sherzai’s deal with Obaidullah and his comrades surfaced, U.S. officials were furious.  Responding to Washington’s pressure, Sherzai reversed his position, announcing that all Taliban would be detained and handed over to the Americans.  Obaidullah and company fled to Pakistan.[51]

Ironically, in the view of many Afghans, the Americans themselves had switched sides.  During the 1980s, the U.S. had armed and aided Mujahideen jihadists against a Soviet-backed government, whereas now the U.S. was fighting the Taliban, an offshoot of the Mujahideen.  Some former Mujahideen fighters, such as Abdul Salam Zaeef, helped found the Taliban movement in September 1994.[52]  Former Mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, once a favorite of the U.S., asked rhetorically, “What’s the difference between the Soviet occupation and the American occupation?  Is there a difference? . . . Afghans are fighting the U.S. presence in Afghanistan with the same motivation that they did the Soviets.  There is not difference between the two jihads. . . . Yesterday, they called us freedom fighters.  But when we do the same thing today, they call us their enemies, and they call us terrorists.”[53]

The distinction between the Taliban and al Qaeda is meticulously explored by researchers Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn in An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan (2010).  The title summarizes their conclusion that the two entities were distinct and should not have been conflated by U.S. leaders.[54]  The idea of delinking the Taliban and al Qaeda belatedly struck Newsweek political commentator Fareed Zakara after seven years of fighting in Afghanistan.  In the February 9, 2009 issue of Newsweek, he wrote, “The most important departure from current thinking would be to make a distinction between Al Qaeda and the Taliban. . . . Now, it is certainly true that some elements of the Taliban might be closely wedded to Al Qaeda.  But others are not.  Even the most hard-line Taliban – the so-called Quetta Shura led by Mullah Omar – have at various points made overtures to the Afghan government, always asking that they be distinguished from Al Qaeda.”[55]

The fifth dimension

The fifth dimension of the “war on terror” entailed turning this elastic phrase into a justification for military action against virtually any state; that is, states that had nothing to do with 9/11 or al Qaeda.  Top Bush administration officials conceived of the “war on terror” as an overarching framework for justifying the pursuit of U.S. global interests and power goals generally, much like the Cold War anti-communist framework.  “The Global War on Terror,” writes the historian Andrew Bacevich, “now became the organizing principle for American statecraft, serving a function comparable to the Cold War during the second half of the prior century.”[56]  From this perspective, marking the Taliban government as a military target in the incipient “war on terror” was not a strategic blunder or mistake at all but rather a calculated attempt to establish the legitimacy of military responses to 9/11, which then could be applied to other nation-states.
Iraq was the next target, indeed the primary target for a number of officials.  Bringing down Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had been the goal of a group of influential neoconservatives, or neo-cons, since the end of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.  Led by William Kristol, Robert Kagan, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, Richard Perle, and others, the group formed the Project for an American Century in 1997 and successfully lobbied Congress to pass the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998.  The act stated, “It should be the policy of the United States to support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”[57]  With the election of George W. Bush as president, the neo-cons were placed in key policymaking positions.  Following the 9/11 attacks on the United States, they saw their opportunity.
Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz wasted no time in pushing the U.S. toward a regime-changing invasion of Iraq.  On the very day of the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld raised the question at a National Security Council meeting as to whether Iraq should be a priority on the U.S. hit list.  “Not now” came the reply from other principals, but maybe later.  President Bush was on board.  On September 12, he told a White House group that included Richard A. Clarke, chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council, “See if Saddam did this.  See if he’s linked in any way.”  The following day, Clarke heard Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz talking about “getting Iraq.”  Clarke turned to Powell, “I thought I was missing something here.  Having been attacked by al Qaeda, for us now to go bombing Iraq in response would be like our invading Mexico after the Japanese attacked us at Pearl Harbor.”[58]

Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld, the major architects of the war against Iraq, testify before the 9-11 Commission, March 2004 (Wikiwand)

On September 14, Wolfowitz went public.  “It’s not just simply a matter of capturing people and holding them accountable,” the deputy secretary of defense told the press, “but removing the sanctuaries, removing the support systems, ending states who sponsor terrorism.”  Wolfowitz said that the U.S. would wage “a campaign, not a single action” against terrorist groups and the governments that support them.[59]  In a meeting of the principals the following day, he suggested that it would be easier to win a war against Iraq than against Afghanistan, given the latter’s reputation as “the graveyard of empires.”  Rumsfeld, for his part, complained that Afghanistan lacked adequate military targets and asked again whether it was time to attack Iraq.  At another meeting on September 25, Rumsfeld queried, “Look, as part of the war on terrorism, should we be getting something going in another area, other than Afghanistan, so that success or failure and progress isn’t measured just by Afghanistan?”[60]

After the war in Afghanistan began in October, Rumsfeld requested that General Tommy Franks, head of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), prepare plans for invading Iraq.  Franks presented his war plans to Rumsfeld on December 4, about the same time that the Taliban fell from power.  “Taking down the Taliban regime, and taking down Afghanistan,” reflected Ali Soufan, former FBI Special Agent, “was just a step for some people in Washington to go to another war, and it’s in Iraq . . . [a] country that had nothing to do with 9/11.”[61]
Along with military invasion plans, the Bush administration initiated a propaganda campaign aimed at convincing Americans and the world that Saddam Hussein had to be ousted.  Lacking evidence of Iraqi involvement in 9/11 or any connection to al Qaeda, President Bush focused his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, on demonizing Saddam Hussein as another Adolf Hitler.  He described Iraq as part of an “axis of evil,” consisting of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, that was “seeking weapons of mass destruction.”  If obtained, these states “could provide these arms to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred.  They could attack our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States.  In any of these cases, the price of indifference would be catastrophic.”[62]
The phrase “axis of evil” was designed to rekindle memories of World War II, the “good war,” in which the U.S. fought the Axis powers of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan; and by analogy, to make the idea of war against Iraq seem reasonable.  In fact, there was no alliance between Iraq, Iran, and North Korea; indeed, Iraq and Iran fought a war in the 1980s that cost the lives of some one million people.[63]  (Bush’s justifications are further analyzed in Section III.)

Speaking before the UN Security Council on Feb. 5, 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell accused Iraq of developing WMD, including dry anthrax that can kill in small amounts (AP)

To be sure, nuclear proliferation was and is a danger to the world community, but Bush proffered a skewed view of the problem by ascribing the danger only to governments deemed unfriendly to the U.S., and not to America’s friends.  Israel, for example, acquired its nuclear arsenal without protest from the United States.  In a 2002 report titled “Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East,” Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that the following nations in the Middle East and South Asia possessed weapons of mass destruction:  Egypt (chemical), India (chemical, biological, nuclear), Iran (chemical, biological), Israel (chemical, biological, nuclear), Libya (chemical), Pakistan (chemical, biological, nuclear), and Syria (chemical, biological).[64]  The U.S. itself possessed large caches of all three types of weapons of mass destruction and an ample supply of missiles to deliver them; and U.S. leaders never renounced the first use of such weapons.

In addition to targeting U.S. geopolitical adversaries, Bush assumed it was up to the U.S. rather than the UN to prevent “rogue states” from acquiring weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and that offensive military force was an appropriate means of prevention.[65]  U.S. unilateral aggression against perceived threats abroad became official policy in the National Security Strategy for the United States of September 2002.  This policy, which became known as the Bush Doctrine, justified “preventative” wars in order to deter possible future attacks on the United States, a prescription that had no basis in international law.[66]  According to international relations scholar Patrick Hayden, the Bush Doctrine reserved for the U.S. alone, as the world’s only military superpower, “the right to strike preemptively at any perceived threat with or without UN endorsement and irrespective of international legal prohibitions.”[67]
In the lead-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Bush administration officials cherrypicked intelligence and included rumors discounted by the CIA, to the effect that Iraq was developing nuclear and chemical weapons and that such weapons could be transferred to terrorist organizations.[68]  “The problem here,” said Condoleezza Rice in an interview on September 12, 2002, “is that there will always be some uncertainty about how quickly he [Saddam Hussein] can acquire nuclear weapons.  But we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”[69]  The image of a mushroom cloud caught the public’s attention.  “We know they have weapons of mass destruction,” Rumsfeld insisted on September 26.  “There isn’t any debate about it.”[70]
Among the principals pushing for war, Secretary of State Colin Powell was considered the most reticent – at least until he made the case for war at a UN Security Council on February 5, 2003.  “Iraq cannot prove that it has disarmed,” he averred.[71]  Like other U.S. officials, Powell used a clever ruse to convict Iraq in the eyes of the world, demanding that Iraq prove it had no WMD, rather than relying on U.S. or UN inspection teams to prove that Iraq had such weapons.  This “guilty unless proven innocent” scheme was exactly opposite the legal procedure in U.S. courts which assume innocence unless proven guilty.  As it was, invading U.S. troops found no hidden caches of WMD, making a mockery of the pre-war hype against Iraq.

UN Special Commission on Iraq chairman Hans Blix briefs the UN Security Council on the search for WMD, March 7, 2003 (Arms Control Assn.)

Hans Blix, the Swedish diplomat who served as the UN’s chief weapons inspector from 2000 to 2003, described the Bush administration as having “the same mind frame as the witch hunters of the past,” looking for evidence to support a foregone conclusion of guilt.  Speaking with CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour one year after the invasion, he said that the primary difficulty his team faced was the “problem of proving the negative.  For example, how can you prove that there is not a tennis ball in this room?  Or that there is no anthrax in all of Iraq?”  He added, “There were about 700 inspections and in no case did we find weapons of mass destruction.”  In the end, said Blix, America’s pre-emptive war “bred more terrorism there and elsewhere.”[72]

Had Hans Blix and his UN inspection team been allowed to complete their search for WMD in Iraq, this would have established the legitimacy and viability of UN arms control agencies and furthered world security through world law.  Instead, the U.S. took pre-emptive military action, engaging in an unnecessary war, undermining international law and setting a dangerous precedent for other powerful nations.
The U.S. war against Iraq was heralded as part of the “war on terror,” but in reality, it had nothing to do with curbing terrorism.  As in Afghanistan, tens of thousands of U.S. troops were sent to fight, not against international terrorists, but against Iraqis resisting foreign domination.  Though many Iraqis were happy to see Saddam Hussein toppled, the massive destruction wrought by the U.S. invasion followed by an inept and abusive U.S. occupation destabilized the country and fostered insurgencies and sectarian violence as well as the arrival of new terrorist groups.

Richard A. Clarke, White House counterterrorism czar, resigned over the Iraq War in March 2003 (Simon & Schuster photo)

Clarke, appointed by President Bill Clinton in May 1998 as the first National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counterterrorism, resigned in March 2003, charging that the Iraq War was a diversion from the nation’s counterterrorism efforts.  In his book, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (2004), he wrote, “In Muslim countries, the U.S. invasion of Iraq increased support for al Qaeda and radical anti-Americanism.  Elsewhere, we were now seen as a super-bully more than a superpower, not just for what we did but for the way we did it, disdaining international mechanisms that we would later need.”  Clarke took issue with Bush’s claim during the 2004 election campaign that the U.S. was “fighting the terrorists in Iraq so that we don’t have to fight them in the streets of America.”  In his view, Bush “never points out that our being in Iraq does nothing to prevent terrorists from coming to America, but does divert funds from addressing our domestic vulnerabilities and does make terrorist recruitment easier.”[73]

Other knowledgeable people also recognized Bush’s war against Iraq to be counterproductive in the global struggle against terrorism.  French foreign policy adviser Bruno Tertrais stated in 2004, “The campaign [in Iraq] conducted by the United States has strengthened the Islamists’ sense of being totally at war against the rest of the world.”  Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiére, the first vice president of the Tribunal de Grande Instance de Paris, concluded:  “The war in Iraq did not reduce the terrorist threat, and in fact, has increased the risk of attacks in the United States and Europe by increasing the level of Islamist and anti-American rhetoric, by diverting the attention of political leaders from the central issue of the war on terrorism, and by encouraging the view among the public that the war on terrorism is nearly won.”[74]

Although a majority of U.S. citizens voiced support for the war when it began, many people in the U.S. and across the world were not taken in by the Bush administration’s pre-war propaganda.[75]  Antiwar protests increased in number and size over the course of 2002.  They peaked on Feb. 15, 2003, when somewhere between six and eleven million people demonstrated in 650 cities around the world to protest the threatened U.S. invasion of Iraq.[76]  Three million marched in Rome, the largest single antiwar demonstration in history; another 1.5 million in Madrid, one million in Great Britain, and close to half a million in New York City.[77]  Phyllis Bennis, one of the organizers in the U.S., commented on how these worldwide demonstrations affected the outcome of a war resolution pushed by the U.S. and Britain in the UN Security Council:

It was an amazing moment – powerful enough that governments around the world, including the soon-famous “Uncommitted Six” in the Security Council, did the unthinkable: they too resisted pressure from the United States and the United Kingdom and said no to endorsing Bush’s war.  Under ordinary circumstances, alone, U.S.-dependent and relatively weak countries like Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico and Pakistan could never have stood up to Washington.  But these were not ordinary circumstances.  The combination of diplomatic support from “Old Europe,” Germany and France who for their own reasons opposed the war, and popular pressure from thousands, millions, filling the streets of their capitals, allowed the Six to stand firm.[78]

London antiwar protest, Feb. 15, 2003 (Wikipedia)

U.S. and British representatives, recognizing that they did not have the votes to pass their war resolution, refrained from submitting it.  President Bush nonetheless announced that the U.S. would proceed with the invasion, joined by a “coalition of the willing.”  He asserted that Saddam Hussein was in breach of Security Council Resolution 1441 passed on November 8, 2002, and of previous resolutions calling on him to give up WMD, even though UN inspectors were still conducting investigations.  France responded that these previous resolutions were insufficient grounds for war.[79]  This claim was reinforced by the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva which declared on March 18:

A war waged without a clear mandate by the Security Council would constitute a flagrant violation of the prohibition of the use of force.  Security Council Resolution 1441 does not authorise the use of force.  Upon its adoption, France, Russia and China, three permanent members of the Security Council, issued a declaration indicating that the Resolution excludes such authority.  The bottom line is that nine members of the Security Council, including the five permanent members, need to actively approve the use of force – such support is blatantly lacking.[80]

The U.S. war against Iraq, as such, was illegal under international law.  It was not undertaken for self-defense and not approved by the UN Security Council, the only two legal bases for war.  Asked in September 2004 whether the invasion of Iraq was illegal, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told BBC News, “Yes, if you wish.  I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view; from the charter point of view, it was illegal.”[81]

The invasion of Iraq ultimately undermined America’s standing in the world.  According to the Pew Research Center (June 3, 2003):

The war has widened the rift between Americans and Western Europeans, further inflamed the Muslim world, softened support for the war on terrorism, and significantly weakened global public support for the pillars of the post-World War II era – the U.N. and the North Atlantic alliance. . . . In addition, majorities in five of seven NATO countries surveyed support a more independent relationship with the U.S. on diplomatic and security affairs.  Fully three-quarters in France (76%), and solid majorities in Turkey (62%), Spain (62%), Italy (61%) and Germany (57%) believe Western Europe should take a more independent approach than it has in the past.[82]

So much for following the U.S. lead.  When President Bush visited stalwart ally Prime Minister Tony Blair in London in November 2003, he was met by 110,000 protesters at Trafalgar Square.  When he visited Ireland in June 2004, 10,000 people turned out for a “Stop Bush” rally in Dublin, while others marched in Shannon, Galway, and other Irish cities.[83]

Congressional authorizations and “forever wars”

The transformation of U.S. counterterrorism operations into regime-changing military interventions and wars was underpinned by Congressional legislation.  Although not intended as an abdication of its Constitutional powers, Congress passed two authorizations that allowed successive administrations to engage in wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as conduct combat operations and airstrikes in at least ten other nations – Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, Kenya, Mali, Nigeria, Niger, and Tunisia.[84]

Congress was quick to act after the 9/11 attacks.  On September 14, 2001, both chambers passed an Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) that permitted the president to “use all necessary and appropriate force” against “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001.”  The act furthermore empowered the president to take action against any nation that harbored terrorist organizations (as defined by the U.S.) “in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.”[85]  The vote was 420 to 1 in the House and 98 to 0 in the Senate.  The 2001 AUMF did not define terrorism nor mention any specific enemy.  Hence, presidents were free to fill in the blanks.[86]  National security expert Karen J. Greenberg writes:

Riddled with imprecision, its terminology was geared to codify expansive powers.  The president could ‘use all necessary and appropriate force’ with no limits specified and could do so against a nameless set of enemies. . . . The battlefield, like the enemy, was nameless. . . . Nor was there a mention of what could signal the end of conflict.  In sum, it was to be a war with neither temporal nor geographical boundaries, and lacking definitional limits when it came to the enemy.[87]

Representative Barbara Lee

The one dissenting House member, Barbara Lee, Democrat of California, explained her vote in a later interview.  “Growing up with stories and being in a military family,” she said, “I understand that we don’t want to send our young men and women into harm’s way if we can avoid that.”  Her father was a veteran of World War II and Korea.  She was concerned that Congress was rushing to approve a war without a clear strategy or endgame.  She confirmed her decision to vote against the measure after attending a memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral for the victims of 9/11, where President Bush vowed to “rid the world of evil.”  Reverend Nathan Baxter, in prayer, called upon the nation’s leaders to “consider the necessary actions for national security” but not allow the U.S. to “become the evil we deplore.”[88]  In later years, many members of Congress, including future president Senator Joe Biden, regretted their vote for war.

At the behest of the Bush administration, Congress signed off on a second AUMF on October 16, 2002, in anticipation of the war against Iraq.  This act authorized the president to use the U.S. Armed Forces “as he determines to be necessary appropriate in order to – (1) defend the national security of the United States against the continuing threat posed by Iraq; and (2) enforce all relevant United Nations Security Council resolutions regarding Iraq.”[89]  Notwithstanding the use of the word “defend,” the Bush administration used this AUMF to take offensive military action against Iraq based on the unproven assumption that Iraq had acquired WMD.  Both acts remained in force through 2021, providing the legal basis for engaging in a broad range of military activities in other lands.
Ronald Spiers, former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan, wrote in March 2004 that President Bush’s “‘war on terrorism’ is a war without an end in sight, without an exit strategy, with enemies specified not by their aims but by their tactics. . . . The President has found this ‘war’ useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn’t want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically.”[90]

On October 30, 2017, two weeks after four U.S. service members were killed in Niger in a counterterrorism mission, a Congressional Hearing was held in which Senator Benjamin Cardin of Maryland appealed for a new approach:

It seems we have U.S. troops deployed almost everywhere in the world. In addition to significant deployments in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, and major deployments in South Korea, Japan, and Europe, U.S. forces are and have been engaged in counterterrorism operations in Yemen, Somalia, Ethiopia, Libya, and Chad, with extensive advice, train, and capacity-building efforts in many more. . . .

The United States has relied for too long on military force as the first response to the problems of terrorism, insurgency, and instability abroad.  In this [Donald Trump] administration, one wonders – one wonders whether it has become the first and only response.  It has proposed a dramatic increase in the defense budget, while the foreign affairs’ budget has been slashed by 30 percent.  Very soon, practically the only tools left in the U.S. foreign toolbox will be the massive hammer applied everywhere for lack of better options.  We need to both authorize and to set limits on the use of that hammer.  In so doing, perhaps the administration will rediscover the necessity and the value of diplomacy, development, and support for human rights as the means to build a safer world for everyone, especially the United States.[91]

In February 2019, Rep. Barbara Lee introduced legislation to repeal the 2001 AUMF.  “The authorization to use military force has been used over 41 times in about 19 countries not related at all to 9/11,” she said.  “It’s also been used for domestic spying in the United States.  It’s been used in Somalia, Yemen, you name it.  It’s been used all over the world as the basis to use force, and to bomb and engage in military operations.”[92]  The House passed Rep. Lee’s bill by a vote of 268-161, but the Senate failed to pass a corresponding measure and thus the AUMF lived on.[93]

In the final analysis, the “war on terror” was a vacuous phrase.  Literally, it meant that war would be waged against a violent tactic, without identifying who the enemy might be.  This lack of inherent content proved eminently useful to U.S. officials, as it allowed them to fill in the blanks and define the “enemy,” directing American anger over 9/11 at their chosen targets.

*          *          *          *          *

III.  Framing and selling the “war on terror”

This section examines the themes and arguments used to frame and sell the so-called “war on terror” to the American people, noting contradictions between rhetoric and practice.  It begins with a review of historical antecedents.

Historical antecedents

The gap between words and deeds in the history of U.S. foreign policy is wide.  Nearly a century before the George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror,” President Theodore Roosevelt issued the Roosevelt Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine which asserted the right and responsibility of the U.S. to militarily intervene in nations of the Western Hemisphere in order to prevent “chronic wrongdoing.”  As Roosevelt stated in December 1904, “Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in the Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the United States, however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international police power.”[94]

Theodore Roosevelt

Roosevelt’s claim was a ruse, as there was no international law or institution to support this self-assigned hemispheric policeman role.  Nor did the concept of “chronic wrongdoing” have any legal legitimacy.  It was a pliable, amorphous rationale that allowed U.S. leaders to use it as they saw fit – which they did.  Over the next thirty years, the U.S. conducted numerous military interventions in Central American and Caribbean nations, generally to secure U.S. economic interests and client governments.  The Roosevelt Corollary paralleled the equally misleading “civilizing missions” of Great Britain and France in Asia and Africa.

Woodrow Wilson

President Woodrow Wilson offered a variation of the “civilizing mission” in his war message to Congress on April 2, 1917.  The United States, he said, would fight for “the rights of all mankind” and to make the world “safe for democracy.”  Such high-minded idealism was needed to convince Americans to enter the slaughterhouse of the Great War (First World War).  Promoting human rights and democracy, however, were hardly the war goals of the U.S. and its allies.  Indeed, in the aftermath of the war, the British and French expanded their empires in the Middle East and the U.S. continued to lord over the Philippines and impose authoritarian military rule in Haiti and the Dominican Republic.[95]

The rhetorical mission to spread democracy gained credence in the Second World War, given the dictatorial nature of America’s enemies, but it was not why the U.S. entered the war.  Nor was this a goal of America’s allies.  The Soviet Union was thoroughly authoritarian, while Great Britain was intent on keeping its African and Asian colonies in tow.  The idea nonetheless corresponded with America’s internal democratic institutions and presented to American citizens a moral rationale for becoming a world power in the aftermath of the war – even if the U.S. did not actually promote democracy.
U.S. foreign policies during the Cold War were riven with contradictions and hypocrisy.  While rhetorically committed to freedom and democracy, the U.S. aided a host of repressive and dictatorial governments, including at various times, authoritarian regimes in Greece, South Korea, French-controlled Vietnam (1950-54), South Vietnam (1954-75), Indonesia, Iran, Zaire, Cuba, Haiti, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Brazil, Chile, Pakistan, and the Philippines.  The U.S. also covertly aided the overthrow of democratic governments, notably in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Chile (1973), each of which was replaced by a murderous rightist regime backed by the United States.  The truth about U.S. policies was obscured by references to U.S.-supported governments as the “free world,” and by patriotic idealism and missionary zeal, exemplified by President John F. Kennedy’s promise “to pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”[96]

Harry S. Truman

The term “terrorist” was occasionally used during the Cold War, mainly to bolster the “bad guy” image of communists.  President Harry Truman employed it in his Truman Doctrine speech of March 1947, when he declared that the Greek state was “threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by communists.”  This was a half-truth at best, as the Greek royalist government was violently repressive and had outlawed the Greek communist party – which formerly held seats in the national legislature.  According to one U.S. official, “That the Greek government was corrupt, reactionary, inefficient, and indulged in extremist practices was well known and incontestable.”[97]  Truman nonetheless depicted the Greek civil war as a mythic battle between democracy and totalitarianism, establishing the dominant U.S. ideological framing of the Cold War.[98]

Lyndon B. Johnson

The Kennedy and Johnson administrations similarly employed the “terrorist” label to depreciate communist-led North Vietnam and its southern allies.  As communications professor Carol Winkler notes, “All violent acts of the Viet Cong, the NLF [National Liberation Front], or the North Vietnamese were [labeled] terrorism.  All actions by the United States and its allies were [labeled] counterterrorism.”[99]  The CIA’s Orwellian-named “Counter Terror” program initiated in 1965 was described by one CIA analyst as an attempt to use “techniques of terror – assassination, abuses, kidnappings and intimidation – against the Viet Cong leadership.”  The operation was renamed the Phoenix program in 1968 and expanded into a systematic assassination campaign responsible for the deaths of some 20,000 people.[100]

Jimmy Carter

U.S. Cold War policy was officially designated as “containment,” indicating a defensive mission, but the U.S. also undertook offensive actions aimed at undermining states deemed friendly to the Soviet Union.  Afghanistan was one such state.  In the summer of 1979, President Jimmy Carter signed off on a CIA program to secretly aid the Mujahideen guerrillas who were attempting to oust a communist-led government.  The jihadist rebellion prompted Soviet military intervention in December 1979, which in turn led to a major war.  Beyond aiding the Mujahideen, the U.S. collaborated with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to recruit, arm, train, and finance Islamic jihadists from around the world.[101]

Among those who flocked to Afghanistan was Osama bin Laden.  Working alongside Saudi, Pakistani, and U.S. agents, bin Laden raised funds from wealthy Saudis, directed construction projects, recruited Arab jihadists, and established military training camps.  In 1988, he initiated al Qaeda (meaning “the base”), a jihadist terrorist group with global ambitions.  When the communist-led government of Mohammad Najibullah fell in April 1992, Washington policymakers viewed their handiwork with satisfaction, oblivious to the blowback yet to come from fostering jihadist militancy.[102]

The Reagan administration’s “war on terrorism”

International terrorism has long been a problem for all nations.  The year 1975 was labeled by Newsweek magazine the “Year of Terror” after a wave of assassinations, hijackings, hostage takings, letter bombings, and armed raids around the world.  No one at the time suggested that the U.S. or any other nation undertake wars or military invasions to subdue terrorism, as it was understood that preventing terrorism and apprehending terrorists were essentially police and intelligence functions.  The U.S. response to terrorism during the 1970s generally involved beefing up security and surveillance, especially at U.S. embassies, establishing better communication and coordination among agencies, and adopting new regulations designed to prevent theft of nuclear materials and sabotage of nuclear power plants.[103]  These were reasonable policies.
The Reagan administration played up the “terrorist threat” alongside the “communist threat” in order to justify more muscular foreign policies.
During the 1980s, the Reagan administration sought to change the way Americans viewed terrorism, from focusing on clandestine groups to demonizing alleged state sponsors of terrorism.  Administration officials played up the “terrorist threat” alongside the “communist threat” in order to justify more muscular foreign policies.[104]  Ideologically, the goal was to reinforce the “evil” nature of America’s geopolitical foes while establishing the U.S. as the “good guy,” the global crusader for justice, reinforcing self-righteous nationalist myths.
On January 28, 1981, Secretary of State Alexander Haig announced at his first news conference that “international terrorism will take the place of human rights” as the administration’s priority concern.  Terrorism, he averred, “is the ultimate in abuse of human rights.”  Haig identified the Soviet Union as a state sponsor of terrorism, accusing it of “training, funding and equipping” terrorists.[105]
Haig’s statement was cause for concern among some terrorism experts.  “Combatting terrorism is a police problem,” said Walter Laqueur of Georgetown University.  “Haig made a sweeping statement.  He seemed to make terrorism synonymous with all forms of political violence.  One should be a bit more careful.”[106]  In fact, Haig was clear in his intentions.  His purpose was to apply the “terrorist” label to U.S. geopolitical adversaries while identifying the U.S. as the champion of counterterrorism.  Critics at the time were berating the administration for supporting state terrorism in El Salvador, where U.S.-trained military units and their allied “death squads” were committing scores of murders and atrocities.[107]  Haig and company wanted to shift the spotlight to America’s foes.
In subsequent years, administration officials undertook concerted efforts to establish a “terrorist threat” narrative.  There were four major discursive threads:
(1) hyping the “terrorist threat,” in part by describing terrorist attacks as “acts of war against the American people,” thereby making U.S. military action seem reasonable in response;
(2) identifying U.S. geopolitical rivals as sponsors of terrorism, a so-called “network of terrorist states” that included the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, Iran, and Libya;
(3) establishing “self-defense” legal arguments to justify the use of force against alleged state sponsors of terrorism; and
(4) demonizing terrorists and their alleged sponsors as “evil” while scripting the U.S. as a righteous nation duty-bound to save the world from terrorism (in addition to communism).

President Ronald Reagan, 1981 (Ron Edmonds, AP)

President Ronald Reagan, known as the Great Communicator, sounded the alarm bell in a letter to Congress on April 26, 1984, asserting that international terrorism posed a “growing threat to our way of life . . . a frightening challenge to the tranquility and political stability of our friends and allies . . . [and] a severe challenge to America’s foreign policy.”  He linked these alleged threats to rival nations, stating that “the training and support of terrorist groups and activities by a number of countries has reached alarming proportions.”  The U.S., as such, must “assure that the states now practicing or supporting terrorism do not prosper in the designs they pursue.”[108]

Administration officials extensively promoted these themes in what amounted to a propaganda blitz.  Reagan claimed that “the deadly menace of international terror” posed a “pervasive and insidious threat to all free peoples” (October 19, 1984); that a “confederation of criminal governments” is “now engaged in acts of war against the government and people of the United States” (July 8, 1985); that “Government-sponsored terrorism, in particular, cannot continue without gravely threatening the social fabric of all free societies” (April 23, 1986); and that terrorism constitutes “a unique threat to free peoples” as well as “an attack upon the world,” and the U.S. “would not tolerate what amounts to acts of war against the American people” (May 7, 1986).[109]
Secretary of State George Shultz, the man in charge of diplomacy, similarly ratcheted up fear of terrorism in a speech on October 25, 1984.  He described terrorism as a threat, not just to U.S. “national security” and “our way of life,” but also to “Western moral values” and “modern civilization.”  Terrorism, he said, “is not just criminal activity but an unbridled form of warfare,” and it “is being used by our adversaries as a modern tool of warfare.”  As such, he argued, a forceful response was needed, a “war on terrorism.”  “We should be alarmed,” said Shultz.  “The magnitude of the threat posed by terrorism is so great that we cannot afford to confront it with half-hearted and poorly organized measures.”[110]
A far less sensational assessment of the dangers of international terrorism was presented in an unheralded official report titled “Public Report of the Vice President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism,” published in February 1986.  The report noted that in 1985, “23 Americans overseas lost their lives [due] to terrorists,” while “two citizens were killed within our own borders.”[111]  Though disturbing, these numbers hardly merited the inflated warnings by administration officials, especially when compared that year to the number of homicides (18,980), motor vehicle deaths (43,825), drug overdose deaths (3,612), and lightning strike fatalities (74).[112]

April 19, 1986: People look at the damage caused by a US air raid on Tripoli. The strike was allegedly directed at key military sites but missiles also hit Ben Ashur, a densely populated suburb in the capital (Joel Rabine, AFP)

All in all, during President Ronald Reagan’s eight years in office (1981-1989), there were 518 U.S. fatalities attributable to international terrorism, 248 military and 270 civilian.  Most of the deaths occurred in two incidents:  the bombing of Marine barracks in Lebanon in October 1983, which killed 241 U.S. military personnel, and the bombing of Pam Am Flight 103 over Scotland in December 1988, which killed 190 U.S. citizens.  The first incident was war related, as the Marines entered a volatile area occupied by Lebanese, Israeli, Palestine Liberation, and Syrian-backed forces.  The bombing of the Pam Am flight also had military overtones, as Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi appears to have directed this act of terrorism in response to the U.S. bombing of Libya in April 1986 – which killed at least 37 people and injured 93, including two of Qadhafi’s sons (casualty reports vary).  Other U.S. civilian deaths, including 26 embassy personnel, totaled 80 between 1981 and 1989, or about ten per year.[113]  Murders in the U.S. during this same eight-year period totaled 162,000, or over 20,000 per year.[114]

Americans were less than enthusiastic about the administration’s anti-terror campaign in large part because the actual threat did not measure up to the administration’s hype.  International endorsement of the Reagan administration’s so-called “war on terrorism” was also lacking.  According to international relations scholar Richard Jackson, U.S. rhetoric differed “markedly from other states like the United Kingdom and Spain, where a war-based language of counter-terrorism was entirely absent.”[115]
To be clear, the Reagan administration’s innovations with respect to counterterrorism were in inflated rhetoric rather than policy.  In terms of counterterrorism operations, apart from the bombing of Libya, the administration continued much the same as previous administrations, working to prevent terrorist attacks and struggling to identify and apprehend suspects when they occurred.  The rhetorical framework advanced by the Reagan administration did not take deep root at the time, but it laid the basis for President George W. Bush’s post-9/11/2001 “war on terror” campaign, which did gain wide public acceptance.
Legal and moral justifications under Reagan
In arguing that international terrorism amounted to “war” against the United States, Reagan administration officials established the basis for justifying U.S. military actions abroad as “self-defense.”  In July 1985, President Reagan stated that, “under international law, any state which is the victim of acts of war has the right to defend itself.”[116]
While international law makes allowances for national self-defense, it does not confer an absolute right.  Article 51 of the United Nations Charter makes it clear that self-defense is conditional:  “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security.”  The intent of this article is to allow all nations to defend themselves against immediate attacks while reserving ultimate decision-making authority to the UN Security Council.  National leaders are not empowered to self-define “self-defense.”
Other sections of the UN Charter (Article 2, sections 3 and 4) require nations to exhaust all diplomatic options before resorting to war and to obtain UN approval prior to military actions.  Article 39 assigns to the UN Security Council sole authority to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression,” and to “make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken. . . . to maintain or restore international peace and security.”[117]
Secretary Shultz nonetheless argued in a speech in February 1988 that the U.S. not only had the right to “defend” itself against international terrorism, but also that such defense includes offensive action.  “The terrorists are waging war against us,” he said.  “And we have every right under international law to defend ourselves.  Part of that defense is to take the offense.”  Shultz offered as an example the “American bombing raid on Libya” on April 15, 1986, which “opened a new chapter in the international fight against terrorism.”  He added, “European allies, initially a little reluctant, very quickly followed with political, diplomatic, and economic measures against Libya.”[118]  The U.S. strike was mainly in response to a bomb explosion in a West German discotheque ten days earlier that killed three people, including two Americans, and wounded 154 more, including 50 to 60 Americans.  U.S. officials said that the bombing was part of a “pattern of indiscriminate violence” against Americans by Libya.[119]
Contrary to Shultz’s claim, responses of the world community to the U.S. retaliatory strike against Libya were overwhelmingly negative.  According to international law scholar Gregory Francis Intoccia:  “Positive American reaction to the raid was not shared by other Western nations.  Most American allies in Western Europe criticized the attack.”  Greece and Italy denounced the U.S. air strike as setting “dynamite to peace” and “provoking explosive reactions of fanaticism,” respectively.  France viewed the bombing as a reprisal “that itself revives the chain of violence.”  Belgium regretted the American “recourse to a military action.”  West Germany warned that “a violent solution will not be successful and is not very promising.”  Foreign ministers of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations condemned the U.S. raid at their meeting in New Delhi, India.  The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution condemning the U.S. attack on Libya by a vote of 79 to 28, with 33 abstentions.[120]  Notwithstanding this global censure of U.S. retaliatory violence, Reagan administration officials continue to claim that the U.S. was acting on behalf of the world community in “defending” against international terrorism.
More than this, the Reagan administration framed its “war on terrorism” as a crusade against “evil.”  President Reagan, in his various speeches, referred to “the evil scourge of terrorism” (October 17, 1985); declared that the world must “stamp out this ugly, vicious evil of terrorism” (June 30, 1985); and opined that “terrorism is the preferred weapon of weak and evil men” (April 15, 1986).  Having also described the Soviet Union as an “evil empire” and the “focus of evil in the modern world” in a speech to the National Association of Evangelicals on March 8, 1983, it was a simple matter to link terrorism to the Soviet Union by virtue of their allegedly “evil” characters.[121]  The attribution of “evil,” as such, was not merely rhetorical excess but served a useful, if malign, geopolitical purpose.
The corollary to this labeling of U.S. adversaries as “evil” was the presumption that the United States is “good,” its foreign policies benevolent and protective.  Arriving at this superlative generalization required that much U.S. history be whitewashed, including the nation’s engagement in offensive wars and terrorism, disregard for international law, and profound contradictions between stated principles and actual policies.[122]
U.S. terrorism in Nicaragua

The CIA “assassination manual,” authorized by CIA supervisor Duane Clarridge, provided illustrated instructions in Spanish on how to make a bomb and blow up a local police station (click to enlarge).

The contradictions in the 1980s were most notable in the Reagan administration’s rhetoric and policies toward Nicaragua.  In seeking to undermine and overthrow the leftist Sandinista government – which came to power in a popularly supported revolution in July 1979 – the U.S. organized a counterrevolutionary group, known as the Contras, which attacked villages, laid road mines, and murdered government employees, including teachers and health workers.[123]  The discovery of a CIA-produced “assassination manual” in October 1984 confirmed the administration’s culpability as a state sponsor of terrorism.[124]  The 134-page manual, written in Spanish, encouraged the “selective use of violence” against Nicaraguan officials, judges, security officers, and others.  “If possible, professional criminals should be hired to carry out specific selective ‘jobs,’” the manual advised.  Other pages explained how to assassinate victims with a rope, wire, belt, pistol, rifle, shotgun, machine gun, or explosives.[125]

Upon hearing about the manual, Senator Claiborne Pell, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, commented, “The administration has launched an aggressive anti-terrorism campaign, and yet we seem to be engaged in the very same terrorist activities which we deplore elsewhere.”[126]  Rep. Samuel Gejdenson, chair of the House Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, remarked, “It’s clear we have a situation where the Contra targets are primarily and almost exclusively civilians.”[127]

Adm. Stansfield Turner

Gejdenson’s subcommittee held a three-day hearing in mid-April 1985.  Among those testifying was former CIA director Admiral Stansfield Turner who acknowledged, “Rightly or wrongly, there are many of us today who see the actions of the Contras as being beneath the ethical standards we would like the United States to employ.  And specifically, I believe it is irrefutable that a number of the Contras’ actions have to be characterized as terrorism, as State-supported terrorism.”[128]

The Reagan administration responded to the revelation of its misdeeds by ratcheting up its rhetorical attacks on the Sandinistas.[129]  “If the Sandinistas are allowed to consolidate their hold on Nicaragua,” Reagan warned on March 5, 1986, “we’ll have a permanent staging ground for terrorism.”[130]  The following month, he accused the Sandinistas of “training, supporting, and directing, as well as sheltering terrorists” and drug dealers.  He added that “the march of freedom, especially in Central America, and the fight against terrorism, are directly related.”[131]  Contrary to the president’s claims, however, Newsweek noted that “Reagan’s own State Department contradicted the president’s assertion that Brazilian radicals are being trained in Nicaragua”; also that the U.S. “Drug Enforcement Administration can’t substantiate his charge that the Sandinistas have been involved in international narcotics trafficking.”[132]  A 1988 report by the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations identified the Contras, not the Sandinistas, as being involved in international drug trafficking.[133]
In addition to supporting the Contras, the CIA directly engaged in acts of terrorism by employing covert agents to mine Nicaraguan harbors and blow up oil storage tanks in April 1984.  In response, the Sandinista government brought suit against the U.S. in the International Court of Justice, or World Court.  On June 27, 1986, the court ruled that “by training, arming, equipping, financing and supplying the Contra forces or otherwise encouraging, supporting and aiding military and paramilitary activities in and against Nicaragua,” the U.S. was “in breach of its obligation under customary international law not to intervene in the affairs of another State.”  The ruling obliged the U.S. to cease its support for the Contras and make reparation payments to Nicaragua “for all injury caused.”[134]  The Reagan administration ignored the ruling.  Adding insult to injury, Reagan appointed Duane R. Clarridge, the CIA division chief who organized the main Contra group, as director of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center in 1986.[135]
All in all, the first “war on terrorism” was a huge scam, designed by the Reagan administration to provide cover for its aggressive foreign policies by branding designated enemies as “terrorists,” making the specious claim of “self-defense,” and denying its own state-supported terrorism.

Al Qaeda terrorism

The bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by al Qaeda operatives in August 1998 signified a real terrorist threat to the United States.  Al Qaeda was feared not only for its barbaric surprise attacks but also for its apparent ability to recruit Muslim radicals, or jihadists (holy warriors), although the vast majority of Muslims (about 24 percent of the world population) have rejected terrorist violence.  President Bill Clinton discounted al Qaeda’s stated reasons for the attacks – the existence of U.S. military bases on the Saudi Arabian peninsula and the so-called U.S. “colonization” of the Middle East – and explained the group’s motivation as a morbid hatred for America and its values:  “America is and will remain a target of terrorists precisely because we are leaders,” said Clinton, “because we act to advance peace, democracy and basic human values; because we’re the most open society on Earth; and because, as we have shown yet again, we take an uncompromising stand against terrorism.”  The next president, George W. Bush, would similarly ignore political considerations and explain the motives of al Qaeda in moralistic terms:  they “hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble. . . .”[136]

Osama bin Laden, age 16 (second from right), with 21 members of his family in Falun, Sweden, in 1971.  One of his elder brothers was conducting business there with Volvo (Camera Press)

Osama bin Laden (on right) with two of his brothers and two unrelated women during a visit to Oxford, England, in 1971 (The Times, London)

The leader of al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, did not begin his life as a terrorist.  He was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in 1957, the 17th of 52 (half) brothers and sisters.  His father, Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden, a native of Yemen, accrued substantial wealth in the construction business and became close to the Saudi royal family.  Osama graduated from King Abdul-Aziz University in Jeddah with a degree in public administration in 1981.  He used his inherited wealth and knowledge of construction to establish a prominent role for himself in support of the Mujahideen revolt in Afghanistan during the 1980s, working in tandem with Pakistani and U.S. (CIA) agents.

Alia Ghanem, Osama bin Laden’s mother (photo by David Levene, The Guardian, 2018)

Osama’s mother, Alia Ghanem (Hamida al-Attas), was born in Syria and married Osama’s father at the age of fourteen.  She was his fourth wife and they divorced soon after Osama’s birth.  Osama helped raise her other children from a later marriage to Mohammed al-Attas.  Journalist Martin Chulov interviewed Ghanem in 2018.  She described her firstborn son, Osama, as shy, smart, and pious.  “He was a very good child until he met some people who pretty much brainwashed him in his early 20s,” said Ghanem.  “You can call it a cult.  They got money for their cause. I would always tell him to stay away from them, and he would never admit to me what he was doing, because he loved me so much.”[137]  None of Osama’s brothers and sisters endorsed terrorism, and most were decidedly pro-Western in their dress and attitudes.

The practice of terrorism, in any case, is not fundamentally rooted in religion of any kind.  The most lethal terrorist act in the U.S. during the 1990s was committed by a home-grown antigovernment militant.  Timothy McVeigh, an ex-Army soldier who had fought in the Persian Gulf War and been awarded the Bronze Star, came to the conclusion that the U.S. government was the enemy of the people, or at least the white nationalists and antigovernment extremists whom he admired.  On April 19, 1995, he parked a rented Ryder truck in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City.  Inside the vehicle was a powerful bomb made out of agricultural fertilizer, diesel fuel, and other chemicals.  The bomb’s massive explosion demolished one-third of the building, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and wounding several hundred more.  McVeigh showed no remorse.  He told his biographers that he wanted to get caught in order to give a platform to his antigovernment message.[138]

The George W. Bush administration’s “war on terror”

Aerial view of the Pentagon Building in Washington, DC, three days after a plane crashed into the SW corner of the building, resulting in 189 fatalities (DoD photo)

The manufactured themes of the Reagan administration’s “war on terrorism” rose to the fore again in the George W. Bush administration’s post-9/11/2001 “war on terror.”  There was one huge difference.  The 9/11 attacks immediately convinced Americans of the real danger of international terrorism, and thus the vast majority were eager to support the administration’s counterterrorism program.  The president needed only to define the threat and direct the response.  According to Bruce Hoffman, Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, “the phrase ‘war on terror,’ was an enormously compelling summons to battle, but it was enormously misleading.”  U.S. policies, he argued, should have focused “on the group, the individuals that had caused the 9/11 attacks and were continuing to threaten us.  Once it became a war on terror, it became anything that scared us.”[139]

The amorphous quality of the “war on terror,” announced on September 20, 2001, served the Bush administration’s larger purposes.  The phrase was meant to be flexible and applicable to a variety of adversaries and approaches.  The administration’s rhetorical framework was similar to that of the Reagan administration but with some adaptations.  Bush administration officials:
(1) hyped the threat of international terrorism as an “act of war” against the United States – notwithstanding the fact that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by nineteen stateless terrorists, all originating from friendly countries – thus making U.S. military actions seem reasonable in response;
(2) expansively defined the “terrorist threat” to include adversarial nation-states, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and, North Korea, thereby identifying potential targets for U.S. military actions;
(3) advanced legalistic “self-defense” arguments to justify both the use of force against other nations and extreme counterterrorist measures such extraordinary rendition (kidnapping), indefinite imprisonment, torture of detainees, and assassination of suspected terrorists; and
(4) employed a dualistic moral framework in which terrorists and their alleged state sponsors were demonized as “evil,” while the U.S. was charged with a mission to save the world from terrorism, a jihad of its own.
At a commemoration service held at the National Cathedral in Washington on September 14, 2001, President Bush called the nation to arms, declaring, “War has been waged against us by stealth and deceit and murder.”  As such, “our responsibility to history is already clear:  to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil.”[140]

Richard Jackson writes that Bush administration officials “employed a hyperbolic language of threat that directly echoed Reagan’s earlier formulations.”

According to the administration, terrorism posed not just a threat of sudden violent death to individual citizens, but a “threat to civilization,” a “threat to the very essence of what you do,” a “threat to our way of life,” and a threat to “the peace of the world.”  The cold war notion of a “threat to our way of life” vastly inflates the purported danger:  instead of a tiny group of dissidents with resources that do not even begin to rival that of the smallest states, it implies that today’s terrorists are as powerful as the Soviet empire was once thought to be with all of its military resources.[141]

The connection between terrorist groups and nation-states was initially made through the presence of bin Laden and al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan.  Though the Taliban had no part in the 9/11 attacks or in al Qaeda’s international operations, the Bush administration equated the two and proceeded to overthrow the Taliban government using massive air power in combination with local alliances (see Section IV).  The next target, Iraq, required more sleight-of-hand to justify U.S. military intervention, as no connections could be found between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda or 9/11.  The president nonetheless charged in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, “Iraq continues to flaunt its hostility toward America and to support terror,” although he did not specifically link Iraq to al Qaeda.[142]

Crusading against evil

Bush administration officials presented Saddam Hussein as the new Adolf Hitler.

The administration’s most potent rhetorical strategy was to frame terrorists and alleged terrorists such as Saddam Hussein as “evil doers.”  Bush used the terms “evil” or “evil doers” nine times at a press conference on the White House lawn on September 16, 2001.[143]  He repeated these terms six times in a speech on October 11, and three more times in a speech on November 10.[144]  He told Newsweek in November that Saddam Hussein was “evil.”[145]  Such rhetoric had strategic implications.  If Saddam Hussein was an “evil” leader, then peace negotiations were futile and he must be removed by force.  Indeed, administration propaganda was designed to remake Saddam Hussein into a new Adolf Hitler in the minds of Americans, thus justifying a U.S. war to oust him.

President Bush, in his State of the Union Address on January 29, 2002, identified Iraq as part of a fictional “axis of evil,” a reference to the Axis powers of World War II.  The point here was to brand Iraq as a formidable enemy by analogy and to establish the idea that a war to remove him was necessary and proper.  The phrase was conjured up by White House speechwriter David Frum with input from National Security Advisors Condoleezza Rice and Stephen Hadley.  Senior advisor Karl Rove considered it a signature phrase that would indicate “a great mission” for the United States.[146]
According to the Mideast scholars Daniel Heradstveit and G. Matthew Bohham, “The use of the phrase Axis of Evil was a restructuring of the American understanding of the ‘War on Terror,’ in which the focus shifted from Usama [Osama] bin Ladin and al Qa’ida [Qaeda], with their allies and bases in Afghanistan, to a series of other states, whose involvement in that operation ranged from minimal to non-existent.”  The phrase assumes a “dualistic picture of the world,” with the U.S. considered “a Force for Good, even the Force for Good.  This means that anything it chooses to do is Good and anything that offends or inconveniences it is Evil.”[147]
This is a recipe for holy wars, a concept that has a long history in the West quite apart from Islamic jihadism.  The First Christian Crusade in 1095 was launched by Pope Urban II with the words, “Enter upon the road to the Holy Sepulcher; wrest that land from the wicked race, and subject it to yourselves.  God has conferred upon you above all nations great glory in arms. . . . Accordingly undertake this journey for the remission of your sins, with the assurance of the imperishable glory of the kingdom of heaven.”  Under this ideological framework, the Crusaders could take the land of Jerusalem, kill Muslim inhabitants (identified as “the wicked race”), and regard themselves as morally superior for doing so.[148]

A few weeks after President Bush’s State of the Union address, New York Times correspondent Robert Worth reflected on the connections between the incipient “war on terror” and the Cold War.  In an article titled “Truth, Right and the American Way; A Nation Defines Itself by Its Evil Enemies,” he noted that during President Bush’s recent tour of Asia “some world leaders worried publicly that the war on terrorism was starting to look suspiciously like the last great American campaign – against Communism.”

It is hard to miss the cold war echoes.  Once again America’s allies are being told that the world is divided starkly into zones of good and evil, darkness and light, and that “the United States and only the United States can see this effort through to victory,” as Vice President Dick Cheney told a gathering at the Council on Foreign Relations two weeks ago.

America’s discovery of an enemy who is not merely an enemy, but “evil,” has impeccable historical credentials. In a long history of responding to real and perceived threats, it seems clear that this large, heterogeneous country defines itself in part through its nemeses. . . . And to the extent that those enemies are seen as evil, America can regard itself as good, a desire rooted in the Puritan vision of establishing a new Eden in a fallen world. . . .

The country’s religious roots and its continuing high level of religious faith make Americans more likely to see enemies not just as opponents but as evil.  Linked to that is the belief that America is the world’s last best hope of liberty, so that those who oppose America become the enemies of freedom.[149]

The framing of Hussein as “evil” established the basis for fearful forecasts that if the Iraqi leader were left to his own devices, he would acquire weapons of mass destruction and either attack the United States or pass them on to terrorists.  This framing was extremely potent.  In the public mind, it diminished the need for actual evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as the very idea that Saddam Hussein could acquire such weapons and would use them was enough for many Americans to support a U.S. invasion.

In April 2003, one month after the U.S. invasion of Iraq began, Vice President Dick Cheney explained that “no rational person can doubt that terrorists would use such weapons of mass murder the moment they are able to do so.”  Such a prediction was based on the belief – or propaganda – that Saddam Hussein was evil incarnate and would willingly use WMD against the West, if not directly, then by his alleged association with terrorists.  As such, the Iraqi leader had to be removed from office, if not executed (the U.S. did both).  “If we are to protect the American people and defend civilization against determined enemies,” said Cheney, “we cannot always rely on the old Cold War remedies of containment and deterrence.  Containment does not work against a rogue state that possesses weapons of mass destruction and chooses to secretly deliver them to its terrorist allies.”[150]  In short, only offensive military action could accomplish the task of removing the alleged threat.

President Bush, aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, declares victory in Iraq on May 1, 2003 (Scott Applewhite, AP)

On May 1, 2003, President Bush stood on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, 30 miles off the coast of San Diego, with a large banner inscribed with “mission accomplished” behind him.  He declared that major U.S. combat operations in Iraq were over.  “The liberation of Iraq is a crucial advance in the campaign against terror.  We’ve removed an ally of al Qaeda, and cut off a source of terrorist funding.”  As is common in U.S. foreign policy, the president mixed security rationales (stopping terrorism) with idealistic ones (promoting freedom and democracy).  “In this battle,” he continued, “we have fought for the cause of liberty . . . the tyrant has fallen, and Iraq is free.”[151]

Bush failed to mention that international law does not permit aggression against other nations for purposes of removing a tyrannical government or bringing democracy, if indeed that can be done by military interventions.  Nor did Bush mention the fact that, following Hussein’s removal, Iraqis were subjected to the dictates of U.S. rule via the Coalition Provisional Authority, and that thousands of Iraqis were imprisoned as suspected insurgents.
As the U.S. invasion turned into an occupation, President Bush attempted to shore up the “liberation” rationale during a brief trip to the Philippines in mid-October 2003, suggesting the Filipino experience under American rule (1899-1946) as a model for Iraq.  “America is proud of its part in the great story of the Filipino people,” he said.  “Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines from colonial rule.”  Bush’s grasp of history was woefully lacking here.  The real story was that the U.S. replaced the Spanish as colonial overlord of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.  U.S. forces helped Filipino rebels defeat the Spanish in August 1898, then turned on the very same rebels when they resisted U.S. control.  Rather than liberating the Philippines, the U.S. fought a brutal and racist four-year war to suppress Filipino independence, resulting in the death of some 200,000 Filipinos and 4,200 U.S. soldiers.  The Philippines remained a U.S. colony until 1946.[152]
The following month, Bush expanded the “liberation” theme from Iraq to the entire Middle East.  “As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish,” said Bush on November 7, 2003, “it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export.”  One editor of Arabic daily newspaper commented that, yes, “Arabs want democracy.  They hate their corrupt regimes . . . But they are not going to listen attentively to the speech of the American president, first because consecutive American administrations over the past fifty years supported those regimes. . . . And because all true democracies in the world came as a result of internal struggle, not due to foreign intervention, particularly American.”[153]
In January 2005, President Bush shifted rationales from the rhetorical “war on terror” to a crusade against “tyranny.”
By the end of Bush’s first term, the “war on terror” theme had been eclipsed by the “liberation” rationale in administration propaganda.  In his Second Inaugural Address in January 2005, Bush referred to “tyranny” five times but never once uttered the words “terror” or “terrorism.”  He declared that “the force of human freedom” was the greatest weapon against tyranny and hatred, and he made the dubious assertion that the “survival of liberty in our land increasingly depends on the success of liberty in other lands.”  Channeling the Truman Doctrine of 1947, Bush stated that “it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.”[154]  He failed to recognize or acknowledge that such “support” for democracy entailed violent and wrenching U.S. invasions for which no Afghani or Iraqi had voted.
As the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turned into quagmires over the next two years, Bush administration officials periodically revived the “terrorist threat” along with other rationales to convince the public to stay the course.  “If American forces step back before Baghdad is secure,” said Bush in his 2007 State of the Union Address, “the Iraqi government would be overrun by extremists on all sides. . . . And out of chaos in Iraq would emerge an emboldened enemy with new safe havens, new recruits, new resources, and an even greater determination to harm America.  To allow this to happen would be to ignore the lessons of September the 11th and invite tragedy.  Ladies and gentlemen, nothing is more important at this moment in our history than for America to succeed in the Middle East, to succeed in Iraq and to spare the American people from this danger.”[155]

Misleading the public

On March 16, 2004, one year after the U.S. invaded Iraq, a U.S. House of Representatives investigative committee issued a report titled “Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration’s Public Statements on Iraq” in which numerous “misleading statements” by administration officials were catalogued.  Its findings include the following:
  • President George Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made a total of “237 misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq” in 125 separate appearances between March 17, 2002 and January 22, 2004. “Most of the misleading statements about Iraq – 161 statements – were made prior to the start of the war.  But 76 misleading statements were made by the five Administration officials after the start of the war to justify the decision to go to war.”
  • “The 237 misleading statements can be divided into four categories. The five officials made 11 statements that claimed that Iraq posed an urgent threat; 81 statements that exaggerated Iraq’s nuclear activities; 84 statements that overstated Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons capabilities; and 61 statements that misrepresented Iraq’s ties to al Qaeda.”
  • “Between September 12, 2002, and July 17, 2003, President Bush [alone] made 55 misleading statements about the threat posed by Iraq in 27 separate public appearances. . . . Some of the misleading statements by President Bush include his statement in the January 28, 2003, State of the Union address that ‘the British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa’; his statement on October 2, 2002, that ‘the Iraqi regime is a threat of unique urgency’; and his statement on May 1, 2003, that ‘the liberation of Iraq . . . removed an ally of al Qaeda.’”
  • Misleading statements about Iraq made by other principals include: 51 by Vice President Cheney, 52 by Secretary Rumsfeld, 50 by Secretary Powell, and 29 by National Security Advisor Rice.[156]
The administration’s intentionally misleading statements were magnified by a secret public relations operation organized by the Pentagon.  The operation was not disclosed until 2008, when the New York Times successfully sued the Defense Department to gain access to some 8,000 pages of records describing the activities of 75 former military officers employed to establish what Pentagon public relations executive Torie Clarke called “information dominance” in the media.  Clarke’s office provided the officers with “talking points” and made the officers available to the news media as “expert” commentators.  Some of the retired generals were affiliated with particular news agencies, including retired Army generals Paul E. Vallely, a Fox News analyst, and Montgomery Meigs, an NBC analyst, while others were lobbyists and consultants for military contractors, including retired Air Force general Donald W. Shepperd.

Many of the commentators “shared with Mr. Bush’s national security team a belief that pessimistic war coverage broke the nation’s will to win in Vietnam, and there was a mutual resolve not to let that happen with this war,” according to the New York Times.  Initial efforts were aimed at making the case for war against Iraq:

In the fall and winter leading up to the invasion, the Pentagon armed its analysts with talking points portraying Iraq as an urgent threat. The basic case became a familiar mantra: Iraq possessed chemical and biological weapons, was developing nuclear weapons, and might one day slip some to Al Qaeda; an invasion would be a relatively quick and inexpensive “war of liberation.”[157]

The administration’s propaganda campaign was largely successful.  A Pew survey taken in October 2002 found that 66% of American adults said that Saddam helped the terrorists involved in the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.  Two-thirds of Americans, as such, believed a lie perpetrated by administration officials.  The mainstream media in the U.S. did little to counter administration propaganda.  In a scholarly study of television news media in the eight months leading up to the Iraqi invasion (August 1, 2002 through March 19, 2003), political scientists Danny Hayes and Matt Guardino found that “Bush administration officials were the most frequently quoted sources, the voices of anti-war groups and opposition Democrats were barely audible, and the overall thrust of coverage favored a pro-war perspective. . . . With relatively little debate among U.S. elites about the wisdom of invading Iraq, news coverage privileged the Bush administration’s hawkish position.  Alternative perspectives from actors within the United States – either from members of Congress or anti-war groups – were given scant air time.”[158]  There was, in short, more domestic opposition to the incipient war than reported in the mainstream media (see Section VII).

As the “war of liberation” in Iraq turned into a counterinsurgency war in the summer of 2003, Rumsfeld revived the Pentagon propaganda program, creating a plan to “re-energize surrogates and message-force multipliers” who could deliver administration “themes and messages” to millions of Americans “in the form of their own opinions.”[159]  According to a Washington Post survey, August 7-11, 2003, nearly seven in ten Americans continued to believe that Hussein was personally involved in the 9/11 attacks.[160]

President Barack Obama delivers an address to the nation on U.S. counterterrorism strategy, Sept. 10, 2014 (White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Barack Obama, upon entering the White House in January 2009, dropped the phrase “war on terror” but nonetheless continued many of the policies marked out by the Bush administration.  According to scholars Richard Jackson and Chin-Kuei Tsui, “the Obama administration has in many respects expanded Bush’s war on terror to new regions and theaters.”  Indeed, “every major facet of the Bush-led ‘war on terror’ approach has been continued, institutionalized, and in many cases, expanded and intensified.  Moreover, Obama’s counterterrorism approach continues with the same broad underlying concepts, narratives, frames, assumptions and philosophy.”[161]

In the end, what was most important in selling U.S. foreign policies was not the particular rationales but the essential idea that the U.S. was a good and righteous nation, a morally superior nation that could be trusted to wield military power in protective and beneficent ways.  Were the U.S. to be seen as acting in an evil manner, or worse, having evil intentions (inhabiting the wrong side of the good-versus-evil dualism), then U.S. military power and global influence could not be justified.  Nations deemed villainous cannot, without alarming the world, establish large armies, develop high-tech weaponry, amass weapons of mass destruction, build extensive military bases abroad, engage in “pre-emptive” wars, sustain large military budgets, or inculcate their citizens with military pride.  Only “good” nations can do these things.  Power in the hands of “evil” nations is viewed as a threat to world peace.  From the point of view of U.S. leaders and many citizens, the U.S. must be seen as a righteous nation whatever course of action it takes.

*          *          *          *          *

IV.  The futility of American techno-war in Afghanistan

In September 1999, George W. Bush, then a presidential candidate, introduced his proposed defense program at the Citadel military school in Charleston, South Carolina.  His speech was written by Richard Armitage, a veteran of the CIA’s Phoenix program which was responsible for the deaths of some 20,000 Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam War.[162]  Bush proclaimed that “a revolution in the technology of war” was at hand and the U.S. needed to take advantage of it:

Our forces in the next century must be agile, lethal, readily deployable . . . We must be able to project our power over long distances . . . Our military must be able to identify targets by a variety of means – from a Marine patrol to a satellite – then be able to destroy those targets almost instantly, with an array of weapons . . . In the air, we must be able to strike from across the world with pinpoint accuracy . . . perhaps with unmanned systems.[163]

Bush’s words provided an endorsement at the highest levels for the technologist dreams of those who had shaped the development of American military forces since the end of World War II.  The opportunity to implement these dreams of unrivaled American superiority would come after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.  The newly announced “war on terror” would provide the opportunity to showcase the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) which included an expansive information and surveillance infrastructure, more powerful and precise aerial weaponry, robotics, and other innovations.[164]

With Bush in the White House, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld – a notorious “addict of RMA fantasies,” according to author Mike Davis – presided over the creation of a new Office of Force Transformation which funneled billions of dollars into high-tech weaponry and surveillance and communication systems.[165]  One of the featured weapons was the $30 million MQ-9 Reaper drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) capable of remaining in the air for 42 hours while carrying 1,000 pounds of munitions, including laser-guided bombs.[166]  Another was the Guided Bomb Unit (GBU-24), a precision-guided, bunker-busting munition fitted with a state-of-the-art “thermobaric” warhead designed to incinerate hardened targets.[167]
Under Rumsfeld’s watch, at least thirty new technologies were developed and tested, many by private military contractors on the public payroll.[168]  These innovations included foliage penetrating radar sensors, microwave antipersonnel guns that stun rather than kill with intolerable heat, dazzling lasers used for crowd control, cell phone tracking devices, pilotless helicopters, cargo hauling drones, satellites capable of detecting campfires, and much more.[169]  Talon robots developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) accompanied Special Forces in at least one classified mission, a step toward fulfilling the fantasy of fighting wars by machine.[170]  Conservative gadfly George Gilder referred to the al Qaeda terrorists as “Osama bin Luddites,” suggesting that U.S. technology would prevail against a primitive enemy who hid out in caves.[171]

Gen. Tommy Franks

Integrating RMA innovations in battlefield operations was the job of the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, a high-tech command-post reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek.  High-flying UAVs, which one Air Force officer likened to a low-earth orbit satellite, provided panoramic views of regions the size of Illinois, while low-flying UAVs honed in on “kill targets.”  Once identified, officers could order air-strikes through the Pentagon’s secure internet server, communicating with Special Forces equipped with satellite telephones and laptop computers hooked up to modems.  CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks, who led the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, wrote that the “revolution in sensor technology, coupled with flying observation platforms (many mounted on new Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), promised today’s commanders the kind of Olympian perspectives that Homer had given his gods.”[172]  For those living under this Olympian surveillance, however, the experience may be more aptly described as a technological police state, being in constant fear of attack, a state of terror.

The technological wizardry of the RMA imbued U.S. military planners with a great deal of confidence in contemplating future wars.  U.S. military forces, they believed, would surely prevail in any military conflict.  This assumption was severely tested in the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Although U.S. forces quickly achieved victory and regime-change in both nations, military force proved of limited value, if not counterproductive, in subsequent nation-building efforts.[173]
U.S. technological innovations, moreover, were not nearly as effective as advertised.  Flawed or missing ground intelligence, limited visual surveillance, data overload, systems malfunction, and “confirmation bias” by drone operators working thousands of miles away (who knew little about their targets) combined to produce a frightful number of civilian casualties, which in turn incited deep resentment and insurgencies.  U.S. military leaders compounded the problem failing to investigate civilian casualties and rarely apologizing for mistakes.  Nor did the U.S. command significantly change its targeting strategies.  The killing of civilians went on year after year.[174]

Neighbors gathered near the wreckage from a U.S. drone strike in the courtyard of Zemari Ahmadi’s home in Kabul that killed ten people, August 29, 2021 (Jim Huylebroek, New York Times)

In the very last U.S. drone strike on August 29, 2021, just prior to the departure of U.S. troops, ten people, including seven children, were killed in a Kabul neighborhood.  The Pentagon immediately denied any wrongdoing, declaring the strike “righteous” and insisting that it had killed a terrorist transporting a bomb.  Only after the New York Times conducted an independent investigation, interviewing survivors and providing clear proof of the identities of the targeted individuals, did the Pentagon acknowledge, two weeks later, that the drone strike had killed civilians.  The suspected terrorist, Zemari Ahmadi, was a well-known humanitarian aid worker with an international nongovernmental agency, and the presumed bomb was a set of water containers.  The Times obtained video footage of the strike through a Freedom of Information lawsuit against the Pentagon.  The Pentagon’s own review of the botched strike remains classified, except for a one-page “fact sheet” made public which asserts that the U.S. officers responsible followed proper procedures and hence there was no basis for criminal proceedings.[175]

2001 Odyssey:  Defeating the Taliban and losing sight of bin Laden

The Taliban movement emerged amid a civil war that followed the fall of the communist government of Mohammad Najibullah in April 1992.  Immediately afterward, the victorious Mujahideen factions turned on each other in a vicious struggle for political power.  Cities were bombed and numerous atrocities were committed.  The Taliban formed in the Kandahar province in September 1994 under the leadership of Mullah Mohammed Omar.  Projecting an image of piety and extoling Islamic Shariah law, the Taliban gained acceptance as protectors of the largely Pashtun population.[176]  With arms and aid from Pakistan and a seemingly endless supply of recruits from Pakistani madrassas, Taliban fighters gained control over most of the country over the next two years, seizing Kabul in September 1996.  Some northern parts of the country remained in the hands of a fractious coalition known as the Northern Alliance, consisting mainly of Uzbek, Tajik, and Hazara ethnic groups.
Under Taliban Supreme Leader Omar, Afghanistan was renamed the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and a harsh religious social order was imposed – in stark contrast to the modernizing communist government of the previous decade.  The Taliban government banned music and dancing and showed its intolerance of other religions by destroying two towering, 1500-year-old Buddhist statues in early 2001.  “These idols have been gods of the infidels,” declared Mullah Omar.[177]

Massoud’s supporters in Kabul mourn his death on Sept. 10, 2001 (Kamran Jebreili, AP)

The United States, having armed and aided the Mujahideen guerrillas during the 1980s, steered clear of the Afghan civil war, but took renewed interest in Afghanistan when Osama bin Laden settled there in 1996.  Unable to convince the Taliban leadership to extradite bin Laden to the U.S., the CIA began supplying Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud, known as “the lion of Panjshir,” with over $200,000 per month along with communications equipment in an effort to undermine the Taliban.  On September 9, 2001, al Qaeda operatives posing as filmmakers killed Massoud – a present from Osama bin Laden to the Taliban.

On October 7, 2001, less than four weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States, the Bush administration initiated a war against Afghanistan, launching air strikes on Taliban and suspected al Qaida targets.  CIA agents teamed up with Northern Alliance “warlords,” including Uzbek commander Abdul Rashid Dostum in the north and Tajik commander Ismail Khan in the west.  In the south, CIA agents found Hamid Karzai, a Pashtun leader whose father had been killed by the Taliban in 1999.  Karzai, the future president, was wounded by shrapnel when a B-52 bomber dropped a single, satellite-guided, 2000-pound bomb close to U.S. forces fighting near Kandahar in early December 2001.  The bomb, hardly precise, killed three U.S. Special Forces soldiers and five allied Afghan fighters and wounded thirty-eight others.[178]

Abdul Rashid Dostum near Mazar-e-Sharif, Afghanistan, Nov. 2001 (Darko Bandic, AP)

Dostum’s Uzbek fighters, some on horseback, began a campaign to capture the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif on October 17.  They were aided by the overwhelming firepower of U.S. B-52 bombers and AC-130H Specter gunships fed live video from Predator surveillance drones, which annihilated hundreds of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters who had taken refuge in a fort in Mazar-i-Sharif.  Major Kurt Sonntag, a Special Forces officer, found utter “carnage” when he arrived on the scene.  “Every tree was stripped of all its bark and leaves,” he said.  “All the walls were hammered.  All the vehicles were riddled.  Every bit of livestock was dead.  And there were bodies and pieces of bodies everywhere.”  After the fall of Mazar-i-Sharif on November 9, Northern Alliance forces successfully laid siege to the city of Kunduz, the last remaining Taliban stronghold in the north.  Surrendering Taliban troops were transported to Sheberghan prison in sealed containers, a death trap in which some 1,000 prisoners died in transit.[179]  Surviving al Qaeda fighters, meanwhile, made their way to the Tora Bora caves near the Khyber Pass in eastern Afghanistan.

It was at this point, on December 3, that CIA officer Gary Bernsten sent a lengthy message to headquarters asking for up to 800 elite Army Rangers to assault the complex of caves and block escape routes.  CENTCOM commander General Tommy Franks turned him down.  Franks later explained that he wanted to maintain a “comparative light footprint of coalition troops in the theater.”  General Dell Dailey, who headed Joint Special Operations Command, agreed with Franks.  “We have won this war with special operations and CIA without conventional footprint and without any of the negatives that come back with a massive U.S. force.  Let’s not do it.”  Instead, the U.S. let loose a fifteen thousand pound “daisy cutter” bomb that killed scores of fighters but ultimately allowed bin Laden and most of his lieutenants to escape.  U.S. forces did not pursue bin Laden in Pakistan, a U.S. ally.[180]

Bin Laden’s escape prompted an investigation by the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, chaired by former anti-Vietnam War protestor and future secretary of state Senator John Kerry.  The official report, released in 2009, noted the real possibility of capturing or killing bin Laden and questioned the reluctance of top U.S. military leaders to pursue him:

There were enough U.S. troops in or near Afghanistan to execute the classic sweep-and-block maneuver required to attack bin Laden and try to prevent his escape.  It would have been a dangerous fight across treacherous terrain, and the injection of more U.S. troops and the resulting casualties would have contradicted the risk-averse, “light footprint” model formulated by Rumsfeld and Franks.  But commanders on the scene and elsewhere in Afghanistan argued that the risks were worth the reward.  After bin Laden’s escape, some military and intelligence analysts and the press criticized the Pentagon’s failure to mount a full-scale attack despite the tough rhetoric by President Bush.  Franks, Vice President Dick Cheney and others defended the decision, arguing that the intelligence was inconclusive about the Al Qaeda leader’s location.  But the review of existing literature, unclassified government records and interviews with central participants underlying this report removes any lingering doubts and makes it clear that Osama bin Laden was within our grasp at Tora Bora.[181]

The Senate report did not speculate as to why administration officials were so “risk-averse,” given the American public’s view that capturing or killing bin Laden was the number one counterterrorism mission.  One possibility, unmentioned in the report, was that key Bush administration officials wanted the “war on terror” to continue, irrespective of bin Laden, as the administration was already reviewing plans for an invasion of Iraq.  Had bin Laden been captured or killed in December 2001, the American public may well have concluded that there was no need for further military actions.  As it was, President Bush played down bin Laden’s escape.  At a news conference on March 13, 2002, he was asked by a reporter:  “Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden.  Why is that?”  Bush responded that “people don’t understand the scope of the mission.  Terror is bigger than one person.  And he’s just – he’s a person who’s now been marginalized. . . . So I don’t know where he is.  You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him.”  Bush went on to boast about U.S. military operations in Afghanistan which ousted the Taliban government in Kabul in roughly six weeks.  “We have a good strategy.  We are showing the world we know how to fight a guerrilla war with conventional means.”[182]

President Bush speaking at The Citadel, Dec. 11, 2001 (White House photo by Tina Hager)

The “war on terror” had turned a corner.  War, rather than police and intelligence operations, were touted as the primary means of combatting global terrorism – which now became conflated with insurgency.  President Bush trumpeted U.S. military prowess in another speech at The Citadel in Charleston on December 11, 2001.  “These past two months have shown that an innovative doctrine and high-tech weaponry can shape and then dominate an unconventional conflict,” he said.  “Our commanders are gaining a real-time picture of the entire battlefield, and are able to get targeting information from sensor to shooter almost instantly. . . . And our special forces have the technology to call in precision air strikes – along with the flexibility to direct those strikes from horseback, in the first cavalry charge of the 21st century.  This combination – real-time intelligence, local allied forces, special forces, and precision air power – has really never been used before.”[183] Bush did not mention the errant U.S. airstrike that killed a number of U.S. and allied soldiers and almost killed Karzai.

With military victory, however, came the political challenge of creating a viable government that could establish stability and win the loyalty of the people.  At the outset of the war, Rumsfeld disparaged the idea of nation-building and thus there was very little planning in Washington for the post-Taliban era.  The general idea was that the U.S. would establish a new government in Kabul and let Afghanis sort out the rest.  As of December 2001, there were about 2,500 U.S. troops, Special Forces, and CIA agents in Afghanistan, and no plans for a lengthy occupation.
Bush administration officials justified the continuing war on the Taliban on the basis that if the Taliban returned to power (or were given a place in the government), they would invite al Qaeda to return.  This was a speculative claim, at best.  Though bin Laden had helped the Taliban by plotting the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, he had broken his promise to Taliban leaders to refrain from engaging in international terrorist activities while in Afghanistan.  Even before the 9/11 attacks, veteran foreign correspondent Arnaud de Borchgrave said he was “stunned by the hostility” expressed for Bin Laden by the Taliban leaders he interviewed in June 2001.  According to Vahid Brown of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, relations between the Taliban and al Qaeda during this period were “deeply contentious, and threatened by mutual distrust and divergent ambitions.”[184]  Washington officials disregarded the rational interest of Taliban leaders in keeping bin Laden out of their country and made no attempt to negotiate a peace settlement (see Section II).

Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Dec. 2001 (Brennan Linsley, AP)

The first Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai, was chosen at an international conference at the Hotel Petersburg in Bonn, Germany, in early December 2001.  Karzai was born into a distinguished Pashtun family of the Popalzai clan in Kandahar.  During the 1980s, he had run a non-governmental organization that assisted the Mujahideen.  He was nicknamed “Gucci guerrilla” for spending most of his time networking in the lobby of the Islamabad Holiday Inn.  The following decade, Karzai worked as a consultant for Unocal Corporation which was interested in building a Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline from the Caspian region to the Indian Ocean.  Karzai initially supported the Taliban when it emerged in the fall of 1994 but cut ties in 1997 “after he saw the Taliban as they really were,” in the words of his brother, Ahmed Karzai.  After his father’s assassination in July 1999, Hamid Karzai became the khan (chief) of the Popalzai clan and supported the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance.

Karzai’s appointment in Bonn as interim leader of Afghanistan received an underwhelming response in the country.  “Mr. Karzai is less formidable player at home than foreigners perceive him to be,” wrote the New York Times.  Mohammed Fahim Dashty, editor of the Kabul Weekly newspaper, opined, “I can understand why people in the U.S. were intrigued by Karzai, but people in Afghanistan are not impressed.”[185]  There were nonetheless celebrations in Kabul and other cities when the Taliban government fell.  The Taliban’s strict social edicts, reflecting ultraconservative Pashtun social mores rather than Islamic codes of conduct, had forbidden unaccompanied women in public, banned music and dance performances, and required men to grow bushy beards, to name a few requirements, all of which generated resentment in many quarters, particularly among Afghan women.

Explaining the U.S. failure in Afghanistan

While there are many reasons for the failure of the U.S. and its Afghan allies to create a stable, popularly supported government in Kabul, the paramount reason lies in the origins of the war.

(1) Diplomatic failure:  Making the Taliban the enemy

In equating al Qaeda and the Taliban, identifying both as “terrorist” enemies of the United States, the Bush administration eschewed reconciliation with Taliban leaders and their integration into the new government; and in so doing, created tens of thousands of enemies (Taliban fighters), many being hardened combat veterans, whereas al Qaeda fighters numbered in the hundreds.  As the international affairs scholar Matt Waldman writes, “The Taliban – even those who accepted the new administration – were targeted and excluded.  U.S. officials mistakenly conflated the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, and failed to anticipate the Taliban’s resurgence.”[186]
As noted previously, the Taliban government played no part in the 9/11 attacks and no Afghans were involved.  Most of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia and the main source of funds for al Qaeda came from wealthy Saudis.[187]  These basic facts were obscured by the Bush administration’s rush to war in Afghanistan followed by the thrill of quick victory.  Upon taking Kandahar, U.S. soldiers raised a special American flag that had been signed by relatives of the victims of the World Trade Center attack, thus reinforcing the idea that the Taliban were partly responsible for the attack.
For the war against Afghanistan to have been justified under international law, it would have been necessary to prove that the Taliban had sent the terrorists, which it did not.  On the day that the U.S. initiated air strikes, October 7, 2001, U.S. ambassador to the UN John Negroponte sent a letter to the President of the UN Security Council declaring that the U.S. had initiated “self-defensive armed action” against Afghanistan based on “the decision of the Taliban regime to allow the parts of Afghanistan that it controls to be used by [al Qaeda] as a base of operation.”  The letter did not claim that Afghanistan organized or encouraged the September 11th attacks, only that it had harbored al Qaeda.  There is nothing in the UN Charter that allows for a nation to take military action against another nation for harboring terrorists.  Moreover, the charter directs that all possible means of diplomacy be exhausted before war can be initiated, which was not the case in the U.S. attack on Afghanistan.[188]

Ethnic groups in Afghanistan and Pakistan (Brown Univ. Choices Program). Pashtun identity extends across national borders.

U.S. leaders were nevertheless able to convince the United Nations to provide an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to secure the Afghan capital and surrounding area, thus lending an air of international legitimacy to the war.  In August 2003, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) took command of the ISAF mission and expanded its operations to the whole country.  Forty-two nations contributed troops to ISAF before it closed down in December 2014 and turned responsibility for security over to the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces.[189]

Taliban leaders and fighters, for their part, regrouped in Pakistan.  Pakistani officials, particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, had been supportive of the Afghan Taliban from its inception in 1994.  Pakistan was one of only three nations to recognize the Taliban government (1996-2001), in large part to secure Afghanistan as an ally against India, Pakistan’s geopolitical rival.  The Pakistani government arrested a number of al Qaeda leaders but left the Taliban alone.  Indeed, as Richard Armitage noted, “We had substantial information that there was direct assistance from the Pakistan government to the Taliban between 2002 and 2004.”[190]
With no possibility of a negotiated return, the Taliban began offensive operations in the spring of 2002, aimed at both overthrowing the Afghan government and coercing the withdrawal of foreign forces.  To Jalaluddin Haqqani, a former Mujahideen leader once praised by U.S. Representative Charlie Wilson of Texas as “goodness personified” for his efforts to secure arms for the Mujahideen guerrillas, it was necessary to organize a jihad against the U.S. occupation.  “They [U.S.-NATO] can occupy all the cities but they can’t occupy all the mountains,” he stated.  “So we will go to the mountains and we will resist.  Just like we did against the Soviet Union.”[191]
U.S. officials in Washington were slow to recognize what was happening.  On May 1, 2003, the very day President Bush gave his “mission accomplished” in Iraq speech, Secretary Rumsfeld held a press conference in Kabul in which he declared that major combat operations in Afghanistan had ended.  Rumsfeld said that the U.S. would henceforth work with coalition partners to help bring security and prosperity to the country, building schools, hospitals, and roads in every Afghan province, or what General Tommy Franks called “stabilization and reconstruction activities.”[192]  Had the U.S. done this without turning the Taliban into an enemy, Americans would no doubt have been lauded for their generosity.
The key lesson here was summarized in one sentence by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) in its August 2021 report, What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction:  “in Afghanistan, the U.S. government refused opportunities to reconcile with the defeated Taliban and declined to implement an inclusive, post-conflict peace process, so the Taliban soon rebuilt itself as a powerful insurgency.”[193] With safe havens in Pakistan and support from much of the Pashtun population, Taliban fighters could continue indefinitely.

(2) Indiscriminate assaults on civilians and the environment

The second most important reason for the inability of the U.S. to achieve a stable and peaceful society in Afghanistan was the brutal methods of warfare and occupation it employed, methods which terrorized and enraged Afghans and ultimately fed the insurgency.  Thousands of Afghan civilians lost their lives from U.S. bombing raids, drone attacks, and night raids.  The technological wizardry that so fascinated U.S. war planners was often indiscriminate in its effects.  The combination of “pinpoint accuracy” and faulty intelligence – which identified wedding parties and social gatherings as Taliban targets – produced tragedy after tragedy.

Abdul Haq (right), hero of anti-Soviet resistance (BBC News)

Abdul Haq, a former Mujahideen commander who fought with the U.S. against the Taliban until he was killed on October 26, 2001, was highly critical of U.S. bombing practices.  In an interview with journalist Anatol Lieven in Peshawar, Pakistan, on October 11, he said, “Military action by itself in the present circumstances is only making things more difficult – especially if this war goes on a long time and many civilians are killed.”  He continued:

We should be concentrating on avoiding bloodshed as far as possible. The Taliban are like a crystal ball.  They are very hard, but brittle.  If they are hit in the right way, they will shatter into a million pieces.  But bombing the whole of Afghanistan is not the right way.  Instead, we should undermine the central leadership, which is a very small and closed group and the only thing which holds them all together.  If they are destroyed, every Taliban fighter will pick up his gun and blanket and disappear back home, and that will be the end of the Taliban.  But the US is trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone in the world.  They don’t care about the suffering of the Afghans or how many people we will lose.  And we don’t like that.[194]

Analogous to its British and Russian predecessors, the U.S.-NATO occupation uprooted communities, altered local power structures, and aggravated tensions between the Tajik, Uzbek, Hazara, Noorzai, and Pashtun ethnicities along with localized tribes.[195]  With few al Qaeda leaders actually in Afghanistan, the U.S. military spent most of its time fighting local Afghanis opposed to the foreign occupation.  Journalist Anand Gopal described the insurgent movement as a “mélange of nationalists and Islamists, shadowy kohl-eyed mullahs and head-bobbing religious students as well as erudite university students, poor illiterate farmers and veteran anti-Soviet commanders” unified in their aversion to foreign occupation.[196]

Ali Kadhim Hashim stands in front of his home where 14 family members were killed, including his parents, wife, and children, in a U.S. Marine helicopter attack in al-Nasiriyya on March 23, 2003 (Reuben E. Brigety II, Human Rights Watch)

Marc Herold, a professor of economic development at the University of New Hampshire, undertook a careful analysis of witness accounts and media reports concerning U.S.-NATO bombing raids in the first twenty weeks of the war.  He tabulated the costs as follows:

  • between 3,000 and 3,400 civilians killed directly by U.S. bombs and missiles;
  • another 4,000-6,000 civilians injured, many requiring protheses;
  • 4,000-6,000 dead Taliban and allies;
  • an additional 3,300 Afghan refugees dying of hunger, disease and cold in camps;
  • an additional estimated 5,000 war widows and thousands of orphans;
  • destroyed animals and livestock;
  • an infrastructure further destroyed – bridges, power plants, water supplies, roads, communication systems, hundreds of incinerated trucks, burned fuel storage facilities, etc.;
  • environmental costs, including loss of agricultural lands and forest fires.[197]

Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke, in a study for the Pentagon titled “The Ongoing Lessons of Afghanistan” (May 6, 2004), stated that it “seems possible that total casualties range from 1,500 to 3,000 by late December 2001, but there is no way to estimate such figures or to separate the constant casualties from factional fighting, warlordism, and sheer banditry from those caused by the US and its non-Afghan allies.”  The authors nonetheless documented a dozen actions in which U.S. airstrikes killed civilians between October 8, 2001 and January 24, 2002.  These included the killing of four UN workers in Kabul, raids “on fleeing supporters of Sheik Omar in Khakriz (north of Khandahar) [that] may have killed 30-70 civilians,” an air strike near Khost in which 12-27 persons were killed, the bombing of a weapons depot in the village of Qualai Niazi that killed “part of a wedding party,” and, on January 24, 2002, U.S. special operations that killed 16-18 “innocent civilians targeted by a rival Afghan faction.”[198]  The latter refers to a situation in which Afghan factions intentionally misinform U.S. commanders that their rivals are Taliban or al Qaeda in order to have them neutralized.  U.S. commanders, being unfamiliar with the people, language, culture, and politics of the regions they occupied, sometimes fell for these ruses.[199]

On July 1, 2002, a U.S. airstrike in the town of Deh Rawood killed dozens of civilians at a wedding party (Assoc. for Diplomatic Studies and Training)

The January 24th incident prompted the first public protest in Kabul against occupying U.S. forces.  Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded that U.S. and Coalition forces “take all necessary measures to ensure that military activities to capture terrorist groups do not harm innocent Afghan civilians.”   Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah more emphatically averred, “This situation has to come to an end.  Mistakes can take place, human errors are possible, but our people should be assured that every measure was taken to avoid such incidents.”  In Washington, meanwhile, President Bush blithely asserted in his State of the Union Address on January 29 that “new technologies help to protect our soldiers, and as importantly help protect innocent lives.”[200]

U.S. military commanders made little effort to investigate civilian casualties, let alone take responsibility or issue apologies and compensation.  In July 2002, abundant evidence led Lt. General Dan K. McNeill to grudgingly admit that U.S. warplanes had attacked a wedding party in the village of Kakarak in Uruzgan province, killing 48 and wounding 117.  McNeill claimed that antiaircraft fire had been seen coming from the area – though no trace of antiaircraft guns was found – and thus there was no cause for disciplinary action.  He nonetheless promised to find ways to avoid such mistakes in the future.[201]

The “mistakes” continued, however, and increased.  A Human Rights Watch report tallied the human toll:  In 2006, U.S. and NATO airstrikes resulted in 116 Afghan civilian fatalities in 13 bombings; in 2007, there were 321 civilian fatalities in 22 bombings.  “The harm done by airstrikes,” noted the report, “is not limited to the immediate civilian casualties”:

Airstrikes have caused significant destruction of civilian property, and have also forced civilians to flee and vacate villages, adding to the internally displaced population of Afghanistan.  In every case investigated by Human Rights Watch where airstrikes hit villages, many civilians left the village because of damage to their homes but also because of fear of further strikes.  People from neighboring villages also sometimes fled in fear of future strikes on their villages.  They have also had significant political impact, outraging public opinion in Afghanistan and undermining public confidence in both the Afghan government and its international backers.[202]

President Karzai, despite being wholly dependent on U.S. support, issued an appeal on April 26, 2008.  “I am not happy with civilian casualties coming down; I want an end to civilian casualties,” he said.  “Because the war against terrorism is not in Afghan villages, the war against terrorism is elsewhere, and that’s where the war should go.”[203]  Karzai wanted the U.S. and NATO forces to focus on stopping the infiltration of militants from Pakistan, not on subduing Afghan communities.

Karzai’s appeal had no apparent effect.  An airstrike in July 2008 in the eastern province of Nangarhar struck a wedding party, killing 47 civilians, including the bride.  On November 3, 2008, a U.S. missile killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others at a wedding party in the southern province of Kandahar.  Karzai issued another appeal at a news conference called to congratulate Barack Obama on his election victory.  “The fight against terrorism cannot be won by bombardment of our villages,” said Karzai. “My first demand from the U.S. president, when he takes office, would be to end civilian casualties in Afghanistan and take the war to places where there are terrorist nests and training centers.”[204]
In May 2009, a U.S. airstrike wiped out much of the village of Bola Boluk in western Farah province, killing 147 civilians, including 73 children.  Handwritten lists of the dead were compiled by the villagers and given to Afghan officials.  General Stanley McChrystal, who took command in Afghanistan in mid-2009, ordered a review of air strike procedures.  “We must,” he wrote, “avoid the trap of winning tactical victories, but suffering strategic defeats by causing civilian casualties or excessive damage and thus alienating the people.”[205]

McChrystal was correct in acknowledging that the bombing attacks were alienating the Afghan people and undermining popular support for the U.S.-backed government, but “tactical victories” nonetheless remained the paramount U.S. military objective.  Moreover, the very nature of the war – a war in which U.S. and Coalition forces could not distinguish between insurgents and the general population – assured high levels of civilian casualties.  In March 2010, the New York Times reported:

American and NATO troops firing from passing convoys and military checkpoints have killed 30 Afghans and wounded 80 others since last summer, but in no instance did the victims prove to be a danger to troops, according to military officials in Kabul. “We have shot an amazing number of people, but to my knowledge, none has ever proven to be a threat,” said Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who became the senior American and NATO commander in Afghanistan last year. . . . Though fewer in number than deaths from airstrikes and Special Forces operations, such shootings have not dropped off, despite new rules from General McChrystal seeking to reduce the killing of innocents.  The persistence of deadly convoy and checkpoint shootings has led to growing resentment among Afghans fearful of Western troops and angry at what they see as the impunity with which the troops operate – a friction that has turned villages firmly against the occupation.[206]

The U.S. way of war ensured a constant stream of new recruits for the insurgency, whether led by the Taliban or not.  The growing insurgency, in turn, led the Bush administration to increase the number of U.S. troops from 10,000 in January 2003 to 37,000 in January 2009.  President Barack Obama, upon taking charge in January 2009, ordered a “surge” of U.S. troops in order to roll back insurgent gains in the Helmand Province and elsewhere, raising the number to over 100,000 U.S. troops by 2011.  The surge coincided with a spike in “insider attacks” in which members of Afghan security forces fired on American soldiers.

U.S. Special Operations soldier conducting offensive operations in Logar Province, July 28, 2018 (photo by Sgt. Nicholas Byers,

The surge also produced more civilian casualties.  To take one example, on July 23, 2010, NATO responded to attacks on its “clearing operations” in the Sangin Valley in Helmand Province by firing a rocket that hit a large family compound in Rigi village, killing as many as 52 civilians.  U.S. and NATO officials immediately denied any wrongdoing.  “Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded,” said ISAF Communication Director Rear Admiral Greg Smith. “We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”  The Afghan government refused to whitewash the affair, declaring:  “Based on reports by the National Directorate of Security, a house in Rigi village in Sangin district of southern province of Helmand was hit with a rocket launched by NATO/ISAF troops leaving 52 civilians dead including women and children.”  The government’s press release editorialized that “success over terrorism does not come with fighting in Afghan villages, but by targeting its sanctuaries and financial and ideological sources across the borders,” meaning al Qaeda operatives in Pakistan.[207]

Journalist Jean MacKenzie, based in Kabul, decided to investigate the Rigi massacre.  After a harrowing trip to get to Rigi, she found Mohammad Khan, a 15-year-old boy whose mother had been killed in the airstrike.  “When the dust settled,” he told her, “I ran towards the compound.  I saw human bodies scattered everywhere.  I started looking for my mother, and finally found her, covered with blood and dust.  I pulled her out of the ruins.  I found three of my little brothers too, near my mother.  They were all dead.”[208]
Pakistani journalist Anand Gopal later visited the Sangin district and interviewed people.  “The scale of suffering was unknown in bustling metropolis like Kabul, where citizens enjoyed relative security,” wrote Gopal.  “But in countryside enclaves like Sangin the ceaseless killings of civilians led many Afghans to gravitate toward the Taliban.  By 2020, many households in Ishaqzai villages had sons in the Taliban, most of whom had joined simply to protect themselves or to take revenge; the movement was more thoroughly integrated into Sangin life than it had been in the nineties.”[209]

Afghans hold anti-U.S. demonstrations in Jalalabad province in March 2012, following the shooting of villagers allegedly by a U.S. soldier (Reuters)

The Wall Street Journal reported in May 2011 that U.S. “hunter-killer” teams, operating with maximum secrecy, had conducted thousands of raids over the past year, killing 3,200 “insurgents” and capturing well over twice that number.

One of those teams, a group of four Army soldiers led by Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs, engaged in “thrill-killings.”  On January 15, 2010, the group came upon fifteen-year-old Gul Mudin who was unarmed and doing farm work for his father.  Specialist Jeremy Morlock and Private Andrew Holmes killed the young man with a grenade and bullets, after which they stripped him and took photos of themselves beside his body.  Other murders followed.  In the village of Marach Agha on May 2, Sergeant Gibbs shot and killed an unarmed man.  When village elders later complained to U.S. Army officers that the man, a cleric, had been unarmed, platoon leader Lt. Stefan Moye explained that U.S. soldiers “didn’t just [expletive] come over here and just shoot him randomly.  And we don’t do that.”  But, of course, they did.  The murders were verified by Specialist Adam C. Winfield, one of the four, who informed his father, who in turn alerted the Army.  Gibbs, Morlock, and Holmes were respectively sentenced to life, 24 years, and seven years in prison, while Winfield received a three year sentence.[210]
When President Karzai stepped down in September 2014, he once again decried the U.S. way of war.  “Afghans on both sides are the sacrificial lambs and victims of this war,” he declared.  James Cunningham, the U.S. ambassador in Kabul, took umbrage at Karzai’s comments.  “His remarks, which were uncalled for, do a disservice to the American people and dishonor the sacrifices made by Americans here,” said Cunningham.[211]

Costs of War Project summary of Afghan War fatalities, Sept. 2021

American lives were indeed sacrificed in Afghanistan along with many others.  According to the Cost of War Project at Brown University, over the course of the 20-year war in Afghanistan, 2,324 U.S. military personnel and over 3,900 U.S. contractors and others lost their lives.  The toll among Afghans was much greater:  69,095 National Military and Police, 52,893 opposition fighters (Taliban and other insurgents), and 46,319 civilians.  Also killed were 1,144 Allied troops (NATO), of which 457 were British, 446 humanitarian aid workers, and 74 journalists.  All told, the war took the lives of over 176,000 people and injured and made homeless many more.[212]  This is a huge toll for an unnecessary war.

Unmeasured is the toll of the war on the environment.  Depleted uranium in U.S. munitions used in Tora Bora and elsewhere radiated the groundwater in Afghanistan, affecting the Kabul River Basin and ultimately the Indus River Basin, according to the historian Shah Mahmoud Hanifi.  This, in turn, has resulted in “widespread human and animal birth defects that are not discussed in the international community because of the profound censorship involved in the global war on terror.”  In addition, hundreds of U.S. military bases in Afghanistan blighted the eco-systems surrounding them, tainting soil and water with deadly toxins and polluting air through constantly burning “noxious burn pits used by these bases to incinerate everything from paper to human waste to military equipment including full vehicles.”  Speaking in December 2020, Hanifi urged the global community and U.S. citizens to take action against the “incredible criminal abuse of Afghanistan’s environment,” noting that U.S. “tax dollars are at work in radiating Afghanistan’s water supply.”[213]
Losing hearts and minds

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, 2010

General McChrystal, commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan in 2009-2010, acknowledged deficiencies in the U.S. way of war in a speech before the Council of Foreign Relations in October 2011:  “Most of us – me included – had a very superficial understanding of the situation and history, and we had a frighteningly simplistic view of recent history, the last fifty years,” he said.  The retired four-star general noted that U.S. personnel did not know the country’s languages (mainly Dari and Pashto) and did not make “an effective effort” to learn them.  Such cultural ignorance, he judged, impeded the military’s ability to build support for the host nation’s government and to counter the insurgents’ strength.[214]

The Pentagon initiated a number of programs in an effort to bridge the cultural divide and win hearts and minds.  The first was the Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRT) program, begun in 2002.  Its mission was to make friends with locals and undertake helpful programs such as building schools and health clinics and distributing food aid.  As in the Vietnam War, however, the program was compromised by the overriding military objective to sort friends from foes (and kill foes).  In the words of one soldier who headed a PRT, civilian-military integration is “a military tool to achieve military ends.”[215]
Two other U.S. cultural programs were similarly tainted.  The Human Terrain Teams (HTS), launched in 2007, recruited anthropologists, sociologists, and regional experts to provide U.S. military commanders and staff with a better understanding of local populations.[216]  The American Anthropological Association’s Executive Board issued a statement on October 31, 2007, noting that “information provided by HTS anthropologists could be used to make decisions about identifying and selecting specific populations as targets of U.S. military operations either in the short or long term.  Any such use of fieldwork-derived information would violate the stipulations in the AAA Code of Ethics that those studied not be harmed.”[217]
The Afghanistan-Pakistan (Af-Pak) Hands program, initiated by the Army in 2009, offered military personnel a seven-month crash course in local languages and culture.  The trained personnel were then deployed with Special Operations forces in “Village Stability Operations.”  According to Hanifi, “From 2009 to 2020 the Af-Pak Hands Program was celebrated for providing advanced culture-based counterinsurgency training to about one thousand soldiers from across the US military services, while during the same period the American covert drone war terrorized hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people in the preponderantly Pashto-speaking borderland communities in both countries. . . . Under the coercive veil of Af-Pak, Pashtun communities in the east of Afghanistan and Pashto-speaking populations in Pakistan experienced more intense covert imperial violence by drone bombing, night raiding, and renditioning than any other subregion.”[218]

U.S. Army Captain Brittany Ramos Debarros

U.S. Army Captain Brittany Ramos Debarros initially held out hope for such programs when she was deployed to the Kandahar province in 2012.  “When I was stationed in Afghanistan,” she recalled, “I really believed that we were there to help the Afghan people.  But you can’t take a situation that’s designed for violence and use it to build up healthy and safe communities.”[219]

We were trying to build something in our image without real buy-in or leadership from Afghan people, not because there was an unwillingness, but because of our arrogance.  The U.S. military is an institution designed to do as much violence as possible.  You can’t use it and tweak it a little and act like it’s going to give you a different result.[220]

Losing the war

U.S. Army Pfc. Shawn Williams is evacuated after being injured by a roadside bomb in Kandahar province, June 17, 2011 (DoD photo)

In the last years of the war, U.S. troops bestowed more training, weapons, and advanced gear upon Afghan security forces, only to find that some of the weapons and gear found their way into the hands of insurgents.  In November 2017, the New York Times reported that Taliban fighters were using captured Star-Wars-like headgear containing night goggles, and automatic rifles with telescope sights that could shoot out lasers, to overrun police posts.[221]

The favorite insurgent weapon, however, was the simple improvised explosive device (IED), which could be made cheaply and buried in roads, pathways, ditches, or fields in a few minutes.  In contrast to the overwhelming superiority of U.S. air power, U.S. ground forces often found themselves at a disadvantage, not knowing the terrain, the language, or the people, and ever fearful of stepping on an IED.  The latter possibility necessitated that companies move very slowly through rural areas, sometimes at a pace of one-half mile per hour.  Insurgents could see them coming from far off and prepare.
During the first eight months of 2017, the Donald Trump administration (2017-2021) tripled the number of bombs dropped on Afghanistan – 3,554 as of October 31, as compared to 1,337 in all of 2016, and 947 in all of 2015 – despite negotiating with Taliban leaders to end the war.[222]  In April 2017, a U.S. cargo plane dropped a 21,000-pound, GPS guided GBU-43/B Massive Ordinance Blast – the “mother of all bombs” – on an underground cave system in Nangarhar province where Islamic State militants were hiding.  The bomb, designed to obliterate everything within a 1,000-yard radius, ignited a flammable fuel mist that created a Hiroshima-like mushroom cloud.[223]  Former Afghan president Hamid Karzai tweeted afterward, “This is not the war on terror but the inhuman and most brutal misuse of our country as a testing ground for new and dangerous weapons.”[224]

Despite a notable record of atrocities by this time, U.S. tactics did not change.  Human Rights Watch reported in October 2019:

Search operations in Afghan villages to “kill or capture” insurgents conducted at night (“night raids”) have long raised controversy in Afghanistan because they frequently harm civilians and civilian property. . . . Afghan and foreign healthcare workers, journalists, and community elders all described abusive raids and indiscriminate airstrikes as having become a daily fact of life for many communities – often with devastating consequences.  Speaking to Human Rights Watch, one diplomat familiar with Afghan strike force operations referred to them as “death squads.”

The Afghan special forces that carried out many of these night raids, noted the report, were largely “recruited, trained, equipped, and overseen by the CIA.”  Oftentimes, they were joined by U.S. Special Forces, primarily Army Rangers, in “kill-or-capture operations.”[225]

Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. envoy, and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban delegation leader, shake hands after signing a peace agreement in Doha, Qatar, February 29, 2020 (Ibraheem al Omari, Reuters)

On September 2, 2019, the Trump administration’s special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, an Afghan-born former ambassador to Afghanistan (2004-05), Iraq (2005-07), and the UN (2007-09), reached an agreement with Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar, without the participation of the Afghan government.  The Taliban negotiating team included five former Guantánamo detainees.  The agreement stipulated that the U.S. would remove 5,400 troops from Afghanistan within 135 days, and the remaining 8,600 U.S. and Coalition forces would leave by May 2021.  Taliban leaders, in turn, agreed not to target U.S. troops in the ensuing months, to dialogue with the Afghan government, and most importantly, “to prevent any international terrorist groups or individuals, including al-Qa’ida and ISIS-K, from using Afghan soil to threaten the security of the United States, its allies and other countries.”[226]

The latter stipulation quite likely could have been achieved in September 2001, thus avoiding nearly two decades of war.  President Joe Biden, in his first year in office, followed suit with a promise to pull out all U.S. troops by September 2021.  His main argument, which was true from the outset, was that the U.S. had no “compelling interest to stay in Afghanistan.”[227]

(3) Abusive, corrupt, and inept governance

A third reason why the U.S. was unable to establish peace and stability in Afghanistan was that the central government in Kabul failed to gain the loyalty and respect of many Afghans.  This was due to a complex of reasons, the most important being the government’s partnership with abusive and corrupt warlords such as Abdul Rashid Dostum and Mohammad Ismail Khan.
According to Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch, during the war against the Taliban in November 2001, “Dostum’s forces massacred as many as 2,000 Taliban prisoners who were captured or had surrendered outside Kunduz. . . . I visited the mass grave – littered with human hair and clothes – in February 2002, and later interviewed a survivor who had hidden, wounded, under a pile of bodies and escaped before the bulldozers came to bury the bodies.”  Following victory in the north, Dostum’s militias turned south and “carried out systematic attacks on Pashtun villages, raping women, summarily executing civilians, and stealing livestock and land.”[228]
Dostum subsequently became Hamid Karzai’s Deputy Defense Minister and later served as Vice President of Afghanistan in Ashraf Ghani’s administration from 2014 to 2020.  Even so, in November 2016, Dostum and nine of his bodyguards were accused of abducting a political opponent and of beating and raping him repeatedly.  Dostum went into exile for a year and returned without penalty.  Several people familiar with the general have given accounts of his violence and sexual abuse, including rapes of underage boys and girls and the killing of his first wife, Khadija.[229]
Ismail Khan, of Tajik origins, led the fight against the Taliban in the western province of Herat in late 2001.  As governor of the province, he established a “pattern of widespread political intimidation, arrests, beatings, and torture by police and security forces,” according to a Human Rights Watch report in November 2002.  “Women and girls in Herat continue to suffer extreme forms of discrimination, including many Taliban-era practices that are now being revived.”  The reported concluded that “Herat has remained much as it was under the Taliban: a closed society in which there is no dissent, no criticism of the government, no independent newspapers, no freedom to hold open meetings, and no respect for the rule of law.”[230]
Gossman identifies other Afghan government officials who abused citizens, including Abdul Raziq, chief of police in the Kandahar province.  Raziq’s “litany of atrocities,” included “hundreds of enforced disappearances and torture of tribal rivals, civilians, and detainees.  With high-level support by the United States and other NATO countries, Raziq escaped justice for his abuses. The Taliban killed him in 2018.”[231]
Some Afghan military commanders sexually abused boys they had detained.  According to a New York Times exposé, “Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population.  The practice is called bacha bazi, literally ‘boy play,’ and American soldiers and Marines have been instructed not to intervene – in some cases, not even when their Afghan allies have abused boys on military bases, according to interviews and court records.”  The article quoted Dan Quinn, a Special Forces captain who had beaten up an Afghan militia commander for keeping a boy chained to his bed as a sex slave:  “The reason we were here is because we heard the terrible things the Taliban were doing to people, how they were taking away human rights.  But we were putting people in power who would do things that were worse than the Taliban did – that was something village elders voiced to me.”[232]

Rumsfeld (center), Ismail Khan (left), and Special US Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad (right) in Herat, April 27, 2002 (DoD photo)

The Bush administration publicly ignored the atrocities and sordid practices of its Afghan allies, preferring to celebrate the “liberation” of Afghanistan.  Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, after meeting with Ismail Khan in Herat on April 29, 2002, described Khan as “an appealing person . . . thoughtful, measured and self-confident.”  Speaking at a press conference in Washington shortly after his visit to Herat, Rumsfeld emphasized that “in the bulk of the country the armies, the militias, the forces that exist there, almost all of which have U.S. Special Forces involved with them and advising them and participating, are by their presence contributing to stability.”[233]

Gossman argues otherwise, writing that “relying on abusive warlords to fill security and political leadership roles, and largely ignoring wholesale corruption and rights violations, fostered deep resentment and distrust of the U.S. and Afghan governments, grievously weakened Afghanistan’s military and political capacities, and made it far easier for the Taliban to gain ground.”[234]  Likewise, Cheryl Benard of the Rand Corporation wrote in 2007, “the decision to coopt rather than confront the stakeholders kept warlords and druglords in the game.  This in turn contributed to the reestablishment of a system based on nepotism, patronage, and corruption rather than on merit or rule of law.  In a number of instances, egregious abuses were tolerated, eroding the public hope that a government operating on principles of law and justice was in the process of being installed.”[235]
Military and police training
Between 2002 and August 2021, the U.S. spent almost $83 billion equipping and training the Afghanistan National Defense and Security Forces, including almost $10 billion for aircraft and vehicles, according to SIGAR.[236]  The expenditures were supposed to create an Afghan National Army (ANA) of some 200,000 men, but the U.S. command was unable to verify the numbers.   In 2010, journalist Ann Jones observed recruits going through basic warrior training to get the promised pay and Kalashnikov rifle, then going home and enlisting under another name.  In a country where forty percent of the men were unemployed, she wrote that “joining the ANA for ten weeks is the best game in town.”[237]  It became common practice for ANA commanders to pocket the pay of “ghost” soldiers who deserted the army.  The commanders never reported the absences.  This deception resulted in inflated reports of the Afghan army’s size and power.  A Government Accountability Office assessment in 2008 determined that “about 40 percent of the ANA is capable of conducting operations with support of international forces.”[238]
“We really lacked the personnel and expertise to rebuild that country.  Not only did we not understand Afghanistan, but we didn’t even understand how we should have done the job.” – John Sopko, Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction
The Afghan National Police (ANP) proved to be as unreliable as the ANA in the impoverished, war-torn state.  After nearly $7 billion spent on training in eight years, Newsweek reported in a March 2010 cover story, titled “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” that trainees fumbled with their automatic weapons and could not hit man-size targets 50 meters away.  “Worse, crooked Afghan cops supply much of the ammunition used by the Taliban, according to Saleh Mohammed, an insurgent commander in Helmand province.  The bullets and rocket-propelled grenades sold by the cops are cheaper and of better quality than the ammo at local markets, he says.”  Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, the State Department’s top representative in the region, publicly called the Afghan police “an inadequate organization, riddled with corruption.”[239]
In 2003, the State Department awarded DynCorp of Falls Church, Virginia, a billion-dollar contract to train Afghan police.  DynCorp’s sullied reputation in Kosovo, where its employees and trainees were accused of sexual abuse and forced prostitution, proved no barrier to continuing work for the U.S. government.  DynCorp paid its American employees six-figure salaries, fifty times more than their Afghan counterparts.  When undertaking construction projects for ANA facilities, it failed to pay many of its subcontractors – who filed suit against the company.[240]
DynCorp was woefully unprepared for the job in Afghanistan where the literacy rate stood at 28% and local, ethnic, and religious affiliations typically trumped national loyalty.[241]  The company set up an eight-week training program, later cut to six weeks, that turned out barely-trained policemen who were obliged to engage in counterinsurgency warfare as well as perform policeman duties.  They became easy targets for the Taliban and died at twice the rate of ANA soldiers.  Of the 170,000 Afghans trained under the program since its inception, only about 30,000 remained on the force as of 2010, according to State and Defense officials.  A former mid-level DynCorp official called the program “dysfunctional,” citing dozens of weekly reports sent to Washington, almost all of which mentioned “corrupt” police officers or commanders.[242]

Former Taliban fighters crammed into a jail complex in Shebargan, Dec. 9, 2001, after surrendering to the Northern Alliance (Yuri Kozyrev, AP)

Afghan prisons were also mismanaged and rife with abuse, contributing to the appalling human rights climate bred by the war.  The International Committee of the Red Cross reported massive prison overcrowding, harsh conditions, lack of clarity about the legal basis for detention, prisoners held “incommunicado” in isolation cells, and inmates being subjected to cruel treatment in violation of the Geneva Conventions.[243]

Corruption was a major factor alienating the Afghan public from the U.S.-backed government.  Top government officials siphoned off billions of dollars in international aid, enriching the few at the expense of the many.  U.S. officials were aware of the corruption but, as their primary objective was to strengthen the Kabul government, they were reluctant to intervene.  The CIA, moreover, provided Karzai’s presidential office with a slush fund valued at “tens of millions of dollars,” according to the New York Times, enabling him to buy influence and loyalty among diverse groups (patronage), and “the cash did not appear to be subject to oversight and restrictions.”  An unnamed American official was quoted as saying that “the biggest source of corruption in Afghanistan was the United States.”[244]

The CIA also gave cash “to warlords, governors, parliamentarians, even religious leaders,” according to the Washington Post:

The U.S. military and other agencies also abetted corruption by doling out payments or contracts to unsavory Afghan power brokers in a misguided quest for stability.  “We had partnerships with all the wrong players,” a senior U.S. diplomat told government interviewers.  “The U.S. is still standing shoulder-to-shoulder with these people, even through all these years.  It’s a case of security trumping everything else.”[245]

Pentagon officials came up with a name for the corruption:  VICE, or Vertically Integrated Criminal Enterprise.  As VICE grew to alarming proportions, U.S. officials worried that it would undermine their nation-building project.  John Allen, the top commander in Afghanistan in 2012, told a Senate committee that year:  “We know that corruption still robs Afghan citizens of their faith in the government, and that poor governance itself often advances insurgent messages.”[246]

Yet corruption was thoroughly embedded in the government and could not be expunged without disrupting the tenuous political “stability” created under U.S. guidance.  This applied to the Afghan security forces as well.  “There were a lot of Afghans who seemed to have some patriotism and wanted to make their country better,” recalled Tracy Jeansonne, a former deputy sheriff from Louisiana who worked for DynCorp from May 2006 to June 2008.  “But a lot of the police officers wanted to be able to extort money from locals.  If we caught them, we’d suggest they be removed.  But we couldn’t fire anybody.  We could only make suggestions.”[247]
Afghan army and police units competed with Taliban militias to collect tolls from citizens at checkpoints along major roads.  According to one account by Ali Ahmad, a driver who regularly traversed the main highway between Kabul and Kandahar to deliver cargoes of potatoes, the Afghan army was worse.  The Taliban exacted a one-time toll of 6,000 Afghanis ($75), while government forces demanded from 1,000 to 3,000 Afghanis ($12 to $37) at twelve different checkpoints.  A U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in 2008 noted that “the Afghan government has failed to consistently deliver services in rural areas” and that “the Taliban have effectively manipulated the grievances of disgruntled, disenfranchised tribes.”[248]
John Sopko, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), declared in August 2021, just before the Taliban takeover, that U.S. investments had improved the lives of millions of Afghans by some measures, including increasing life expectancy and literacy rates, but that the gains were not commensurate with the money spent – roughly $145 billion.  With few Americans conversant in Afghanistan’s languages and with little knowledge of the culture and folkways, U.S. aid projects were routinely mismanaged and often not completed.  Accountability reports typically highlighted projects initiated rather than completed.  “We really lacked the personnel and expertise to rebuild that country,” Sopko said. “Not only did we not understand Afghanistan, but we didn’t even understand how we should have done the job.  And that’s because we never prepare for these types of actions, this type of reconstruction.”[249]

The Taliban, for their part, also sought to win the hearts and minds of Afghans, notwithstanding its own brutal violence and extortion operations.  As described by a former Taliban commander in the northern province of Kunduz, “They were cruel before [Mullah Omar died in 2013], but now they are trying to show a different face.  They have to show they can do everything the government can – but better.”  Under the leadership of Mullah Akhtar Mohammad Mansour, the Taliban deemphasized their draconian social codes and began attending to basic needs and resolving local disputes.  According to Dr. Ashley Jackson, co-director of the Centre for the Study of Armed Groups at the Overseas Development Institute, the Taliban “are working assiduously to out-govern [Ashraf] Ghani’s internationally recognized National Unity Government.”  In the district of Charkh, they seemed to be succeeding:

Administrators there are widely seen as fair and honest, making them outliers in a country consistently ranked among the world’s most corrupt.  Locals say there is remarkably little crime.  Disputes among neighbors or families are rare, and when they arise, the district governor or judge quickly settles them.  A health official regularly monitors clinics to make sure that doctors and nurses are present and that medicines are stocked.  Across the district’s schools, government teachers actually show up, and student attendance is high – an anomaly in a state system where absenteeism is rife.[250]

Centralization and economic policies

Village elders meet in Marja, Helmand Province, in March 2010 (Moises Saman, New York Times)

Two other facets to consider in terms of popular support for the Kabul government were the degree of centralization enforced and the viability of its economic policies.  Much decision-making power in Afghanistan has traditionally been vested in tribal councils (jirgas and shuras) and local and provincial governments.  Any attempt to create a uniform pattern, especially quickly, was not likely to succeed.[251]  This was true for the Taliban government, which imposed strict social edicts across the board, as well as for the previous communist government, which promoted national economic modernization and women’s advancement.  In particular, any government attempting to impose restrictions on poppy growing, the lifeblood of many poor farmers, was sure to arouse opposition.  The Karzai government and its successor, the Ashraf Ghani government, both quietly allowed poppy growing despite international censure.

There was little creative thinking with regard to restructuring the Afghan economy to meet basic needs.  The models supported by both Karzai and Ghani aligned with the International Monetary Fund and other free market promoters.  Ghani had studied at the American University of Beirut and joined a mostly Pashtun group known as the Beirut club.  This was an Afghan version of Chile’s infamous “Chicago Boys” who trained at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman and imported neoliberal doctrine back into their home countries.  In his 2008 book, Fixing Failed States, Ghani rejected national economic planning and social welfare state theories, and touted the importance of free-markets and multinational corporations in national development as well as integration into the global capitalist economy.  Ghani praised the formula of American southern states with their “low taxes, weak unions and business-friendly state governments” and military bases.[252]

President Barack Obama shakes hands with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, standing next to Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah during a NATO meeting on Afghanistan in Warsaw, July 9, 2016 (Janek Skarzynski, AFP)

In practical terms, this meant that the government created no viable alternatives to the growing poppy plants and the making and selling opium.  The overall income generated by this business was estimated in 2019 at between $1.2 billion and $2.1 billion, which exceeded the value of the country’s legal exports, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.[253]  The Taliban taxed this income in areas under their control, while top government officials ran profitable opium export operations for their own benefit.  General Douglas Lute quipped to SIGAR interviewers:  “We stated that our goal is to establish a ‘flourishing market economy.’  I thought we should have specified a flourishing drug trade – this is the only part of the market that’s working.”[254]

When Taliban forces approached Kabul in August 2021, Ghani fled the country, reportedly with sacks full of cash.  Saad Mohseni, who owns one of Afghanistan’s popular television stations, said that Ghani would forever “be known as the Benedict Arnold of Afghanistan.  People will be spitting on his grave for another 100 years.”[255]
The defeat of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan brought comparisons to the Vietnam War, but one key difference in the last days was that Taliban fighters and U.S. troops cooperated in enabling Americans and thousands of their Afghan cohorts to depart from the Kabul airport.  Many Afghans who remained feared retribution as well as the return of draconian restrictions on women.  The country was furthermore suffering from poor harvests and general economic collapse.
The suffering was made more difficult by the Biden administration freezing Afghan funds in international banks.  Humanitarian aid groups pleaded for more aid, while others argued against rewarding the Taliban.   Zalmay Khalilzad, who worked on Afghanistan policy under four American presidents, leaned toward the humanitarian option.  “I thought after the overthrow that we should use the leverage we had to get the Taliban off the terror list, gradually release funds, and reopen the [U.S.] Embassy – so we could get what we wanted from them in exchange, which is counterterror cooperation, women’s rights, and an inclusive government,” he told correspondent Jon Lee Anderson.[256]
Women’s rights

Afghan women march to demand rights after the Taliban regain power, Kabul, Sept. 19, 2021 (AP)

The Kabul government’s promotion of women’s rights generated a large measure of popular support in urban areas and among women generally, but there was resistance in conservative rural areas, often Pashtun.  The conflict over women’s rights was part of a long-running “culture war” dating back to 1919, when King Amanullah Khan began pushing Western-style reforms.[257]  During the 1970s and 1980s, women’s rights advanced due in large part to the efforts of communist-led movements and governments.  The Taliban abruptly reversed this progress during their rule (1996-2001), instituting an oppressive patriarchal system.

On November 19, 2001, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld held a press conference in which he tacitly justified U.S. intervention in Afghanistan on the basis of advancing women’s rights.  “Before the Taliban took power,” he said, “Afghan women were protected by law, had important freedoms, were active participants in the society.  Indeed, in 1977, women made up some 15 percent of the Afghanistan highest legislative body.  By the early 1990s, women comprised something like 70 percent of the school teachers, 50 percent of the government workers, and 40 percent of the doctors in Kabul were women.”  What Rumsfeld did not say was that much of this progress was due to the modernizing efforts of Soviet-backed communist governments and, secondly, that U.S. support for the Mujahideen jihadists during the 1980s reinforced conservative opposition to women’s equality in Afghanistan.[258]
After the Taliban’s ouster, the U.S.-backed Kabul government reinstated the liberalizing movement, particularly through a provision in the 2003 constitution that reserved a percentage of seats in the national parliament for women.  In 2005, women constituted 40 percent of registered voters and won 27 of 68 parliamentary seats in elections that year.  Women also held political office as provincial governors and district and city mayors, and served as cabinet ministers under different presidents.  More broadly, many Afghan women benefited from internationally funded programs focused on education, job skills training, and health care.
There is no doubt that the U.S. presence furthered women’s rights and opportunities in Afghanistan, notwithstanding the hardships and suffering wrought by war, and that the fall of the U.S.-backed government in August 2021 constituted a major setback.  Yet this can also be said of the communist government that fell from power in April 1992.  “In the 1980s, it was the Soviets that were ‘saving’ Afghan women,” writes feminist political geographer Jennifer Fluri.  “Fighting wars and providing assistance under the banner of ‘saving women’ is a false and flawed narrative that is used to garner political support and far too quickly and easily abandoned for geopolitical expediency.”[259]  If women’s rights – and human rights generally – are to be nurtured across national borders and cultural boundaries, then incentives are the appropriate means; for example, providing international funding for schools that do not discriminate on the basis of sex.  The billions spent on war by the U.S. over two decades could have been better used for this purpose.

Deception and confusion

Craig Whitlock, author

The shock of losing the war for Americans was anticipated to some degree by the release of the “Afghanistan Papers” by the Washington Post in December 2019.  The papers documented how senior U.S. officials “failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan throughout the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable,” according to investigative reporter Craig Whitlock.[260]  The New York Times similarly proclaimed in a front-page story, “Public Was Duped on Afghan War” (December 10, 2019).[261]

In 2016, Whitlock received a news tip that SIGAR was interviewing hundreds of officials and participants in the Afghan war, collecting transcripts for a volume titled “Lessons Learned.”  The lessons were intended for the sole use of U.S. officials, not the public; hence, those interviewed, including U.S. generals, low-level officers, diplomats, international aid workers, and Afghan officials, readily divulged their experiences and opinions to interviewers.  Obtaining the transcripts required considerable effort on the part of the Washington Post which filed two federal lawsuits and engaged in a three-year legal battle.  Ultimately, SIGAR was obliged to turn over more than 2,000 pages of interviews with 428 people conducted between 2014 and 2018.  While portions of the interviews and some names remained classified (redacted) for security reasons, on the whole, wrote Whitlock, “the interviews showed that many senior U.S. officials privately viewed the war as an unmitigated disaster, contradicting a chorus of rosy public statements from officials at the White House, the Pentagon, and the State Department, who assured Americans year after year that they were making progress in Afghanistan.”[262]
Based on the SIGAR interviews and other revealing material, Whitlock published The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (September 2021).  He wrote in the foreword, “As I gradually absorbed all the interviews and memos, it became clear to me that they constituted a secret history of the war – an unflinching appraisal of the never-ending conflict.  The documents also showed that U.S. officials had repeatedly lied to the public about what was happening in Afghanistan, just as they had in Vietnam.”[263]
General Douglas Lute, who served in the White House under presidents Bush and Obama as Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2007 to 2013, told interviewers in 2015:  “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan – we didn’t know what we were doing, . . . We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”[264]  Richard Boucher, who served as the Bush administration’s top diplomat for south and central Asia, reiterated the point, “We did not know what we were doing.”  British General David Richards, who led U.S. and NATO forces from 2006 to 2007, declared, “There was no coherent long-term strategy.  We were trying to get a single coherent long-term approach – a proper strategy – but instead we got a lot of tactics.”  Army General Dan McNeill, who twice served as the U.S. commander in Afghanistan during the Bush administration, said, “There was no campaign plan.  It just wasn’t there.”[265]

Photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus was shot dead by an Afghan policeman in April 2014 while waiting in her car for a colleague. The International Women’s Media Foundation established the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Journalism Award in 2015 (AP photo)

The irony of these confessions is that, despite their confusion, the top tier of military planners and decision-makers did not rethink or change their aggressive war strategy.  Indeed, from 2017 through 2019, U.S. military leaders relaxed the rules of engagement for airstrikes, resulting in more death and destruction.  Neta Crawford, director of the Costs of War project at Brown University, notes, “In 2019 airstrikes killed 700 civilians – more civilians than in any other year since the beginning of the war in 2001 and 2002.”[266]  Some of the incidents were reported in the New York Times:  “C.I.A.-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse” (December 31, 2018); “To Push Pace of Peace Talks in Afghanistan, U.S. Increases Strikes on Taliban” (February 9, 2019); and “U.S. Airstrikes Said to Kill at Least 10 Afghan Civilians” (February 11, 2019). The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported on March 25, 2019, that 13 civilians had been killed, mostly children, in an air strike by “international forces” near the northern city of Kunduz the previous week, according to preliminary findings.[267]

The right lessons, it seems, remained unlearned.  Military force was not the right tool to reshape Afghanistan, and foreigners were not the right people to do it.

Confusion and disorientation also plagued active-duty U.S. soldiers.  Sgt. James LaPorta of the Marines Corps Infantry, for one, spoke of his motivation to go to war and his experiences in Afghanistan, filmed in the documentary, “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror”:

I didn’t know anything about politics. I just knew we were attacked and I didn’t even know by who.  I didn’t understand the political environment around 9/11.  It was just sort of a call to serve, wanting to serve my country.  So, ten days after I graduated high school, I got into the Marine Corps.

James LaPorta

LaPorta was shipped off to Afghanistan, arriving on July 2, 2009, as a new offensive surge was getting under way.  His battalion commander welcomed the group with a speech that stressed the importance of their mission and noted that the largest helicopter operations since the Vietnam War were underway. On his first day of combat, LaPorta crammed into a helicopter that made its way to a small community of dirt huts surrounded by walls and fields.  It was quiet for the first 20 minutes, then the company began to take on fire.  The insurgents were well hidden.  “We don’t know who are the good guys and who are the bad guys,” said La Porta.  “The Taliban don’t wear uniforms.  They blend in with the local populace.”  Corporal Lance Sharp was hit.  LaPorta remained at his side as his blood poured into the ground.  Sharp could not be saved.  LaPorta asked himself, “What am I doing here?”

We had no idea what we were doing.  We did not know what the objective was.  I did not fire a single round until July 31, 2009.  This guy steps out from behind cover with an AK-47.  So I aimed down low on him.  The person that I shot didn’t look any older than 15.  And I’ve thought about what put us there in that moment.  Who was this person?  Were they really Taliban or were they forced to fight?  What if someone was invading my country?  Would I take a shot at them? [268]

Erik Erikson at the gravesite of his friend in Arlington National Cemetery

Erik Edstrom graduated from West Point and deployed to combat in Afghanistan as an infantry officer in the spring of 2007.  He led roughly 30 men in the poverty-stricken districts of Maywand and Zhari within Kandahar Province.  By the end of his tour eleven months later, 25 percent of his men had become casualties.  Yet, as he later wrote, “it was the Afghan people, not U.S. soldiers, who have been the greatest – and most numerous – victims of America’s longest war.  Nearly 4 million Afghans have been displaced from their homes.  Likewise, amid the fighting, the number of Afghan civilians who were injured or killed by our troops was multiples higher.”  At one point, he witnessed “the Arkansas National Guard shooting a busload of passengers, which should have been a court-martial offense, but was swept under the rug.”  More commonly, he saw Americans who “would not consult Afghan people about their opinions” and who “would patrol in a manner that was very aggressive.”[269]

And so I saw on a systematic basis, if I put myself in their shoes, I would never want to cooperate with the U.S.  What was it that we were doing that was particularly endearing?  We are asking them to cooperate with our invasion of their country during our war.  When dozens of wedding parties or funeral parties were struck by drones, you could see that whatever good will might have been achieved was going to dissipate.

Beyond these experiences, Edstrom noted bitterly that “the causes that these [U.S.] soldiers were being asked to participate in did not actually have anything to do with the national security of the people of the United States. . . . There is no betrayal more intimate than being sent to kill or die for nothing by your own countrymen.”

When I returned to America, the war came home with me, along with the regret of having harmed the people of Afghanistan. In the spring of 2011, while serving in the Honor Guard, I buried Tyler Parten, one of my close friends from West Point, in Arlington National Cemetery.  As the officer-in-charge, I had the somber job of handing the folded American flag to Tyler’s crying mother.[270]

Writing about his experiences in Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War (2020), Edstrom came to the view that the “future of humanity depends on our ability to grow our capacity for cooperation, not conflict.”[271]

*          *          *          *          *

V.  Pyrrhic victory in Iraq

There are no collected “Iraq Papers” to complement Craig Whitmore’s “Afghanistan Papers,” but many journalists, policy analysts, and academics have written as much, attesting to the “fiasco” of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.  The historian Andrew Bacevich wrote in May 2019, “The Iraq war was not a tragedy.  It was more like a crime, compounded by the stupefying incompetence of those who embarked upon a patently illegal preventative war out of a sense of panic induced by the events of 9/11.”[272]
While there are many differences between the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, they share three common features:  both were unnecessary from a national security point-of-view; both resulted in significant harm to civilians; and both turned into military quagmires.
The U.S. mission in Iraq did not fail in the same way that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan did, when the Taliban ousted the U.S.-backed government in Kabul in August 2021.  The Iraqi mission failed politically – from the vantage point of Washington policymakers – as the elected leadership of Iraq cozied up to Iran rather than to the U.S.  The Bush administration had envisioned a client state, more or less, in which Iraq would be a dependable oil producer for the West, an ally of the U.S. in international affairs, and a subsidiary military partner, allowing the U.S to establish bases and project its power across the Middle East.  Instead, as noted in an extensive U.S. Army study of the Iraq war published in 2019, “Iran appears to be the only victor.”[273]  Publicly, the administration hailed Iraq’s political transition from dictatorial rule to democracy, but the will of the people did not coincide with U.S. geopolitical interests.

Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani

Indeed, in January 2020, the Iraqi Parliament passed a resolution demanding an end to “any foreign presence on Iraqi soil” and an end to the “use of Iraqi airspace, soil and water for any reason” by foreign forces, meaning the United States.  There were 5,200 U.S. troops in Iraq at the time.  The non-binding measure was largely a reaction to the U.S. assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis at the Baghdad International airport on January 3, 2020.  General Soleimani was on his way to meet Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi.  The murders were carried out by U.S. armed drones launched from the al-Asad airbase in western Iraq.[274]

Anti-American protest in Baghdad, Jan 24, 2020 (Halan Akoy, VOA)

Two days later, thousands of Iraqis filled Baghdad’s Firdos Square to honor the assassinated leaders and protest this act of U.S. terrorism.  Another demonstration was held on January 24 that drew some 250,000 protesters, many heeding the call of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.  People waved Iraqi flags and held up signs that read “no, no to America” and “no, no to occupation.”  Some men expressed their anger by burning a paper American flag, while others carried signs saying, “I am an Iraqi against the presence of America.”  Some signs said more directly, “Death to America” or “Death to Israel.”  Hoda Hashimi, an employee with the Ministry of Trade, was more diplomatic, telling a reporter, “We don’t want Americans to leave, we want the troops to leave.  We want Americans to support our country but with contracts, not troops.”[275]

Baghdad protest, Jan. 24, 2020. This young man’s sign says “I am an Iraqi against the presence of America” (Heather Murdock, VOA)

In late January, Iraq’s prime minister asked the U.S. to send a delegation to discuss a mechanism for withdrawing U.S. troops.  The U.S. State Department said in response that it was ready to “recommit to our strategic partnership – [but] not to discuss troop removal.”[276]

Why not exit Iraq?  Sarhang Hamasaeed, director of Middle East Programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace, explained the geopolitical interests at work:  “You [the U.S.] leave Iraq, Iran will go deeper and deeper and dominate the state, giving them control over strategic energy reserves.  That’s not good for the global economy and stability and efforts to curb Iran’s agenda in the region.”[277]  The purpose of U.S. troops in Iraq, in other words, was to limit the influence of Iran.
The perceived threat of Iranian influence was also cited by the top U.S. commander for the Middle East, Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, in an interview with Associated Press (AP) reporters in December 2021.  “Iran still pursues a vision of ejecting us,” he said.  “And they see the principal battleground for that as being Iraq.  And I believe they are under the view that they can increase the friction in Iraq to where we will leave.”  According to the AP report, “McKenzie said that the U.S. will keep the current 2,500 troops in Iraq for the foreseeable future, and he warned that he expects increasing attacks on U.S. and Iraqi personnel by Iranian-backed militias determined to get American forces out.”[278]
As for terrorism, the presence of U.S. troops in Iraq seemed rather to attract jihadist attacks than quell them.  A case in point was a rocket attack on March 11, 2020, that killed two Americans and a British soldier and wounded fourteen others at Camp Taji, a military base north of Baghdad.  The party responsible was thought to be Kataib Hezbollah, a Shiite paramilitary group linked to Iran and designated by the U.S. as a terrorist organization.[279]
Two days later, the U.S. launched a retaliatory airstrike that killed six people – three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers, and a civilian worker – and damaged an unfinished civilian airport.  General McKenzie arrogantly justified the airstrike, saying, “These locations that we struck are clear locations of terrorist bases.  If Iraqi military forces were there, I would say it’s probably not a good idea to position yourself with Kataib Hezbollah in the wake of a strike that killed Americans and coalition members.”  The Iraqi military declared the American strike “an act against the Iraqi state and an aggression on its sovereignty which strengthen the unlawful tendencies.”[280]
In the Iraqi national elections of October 2021, the Sairoun party (Sadrist Movement) won a plurality of seats in the 329-member Council of Representatives, catapulting Muqtada al-Sadr into national leadership.  Al-Sadr had once led the Shiite Mahdi militia against occupying Coalition troops in the Basra region.  No longer an enemy of the U.S., U.S. leaders now looked to al-Sadr to maintain a balance between pro- and anti-Iranian political parties and to allow the U.S. to keep roughly 2,500 troops in Iraq “as trainers and not fighters” along with 4,500 contractors and a half-dozen military bases.[281]  Washington officials deemed the U.S. military presence in Iraq as being necessary to prevent closer ties to Iran and generally to sustain U.S. influence and military predominance in the region.

Background on U.S.-Iraq relations

The region was divided up by imperial powers in the Sykes-Picot Pact (DT)

The nation of Iraq originated in a secret treaty between British and French statesmen in 1916.  The Sykes-Picot pact plotted to carve up the Ottoman empire after the First World War, assuming an Allied victory, with the British ruling the Mesopotamia region (Iraq) and the French governing Greater Syria.  The plan was more or less implemented through a League of Nations mandate in the aftermath of the war.  Iraq, as a British client state, was nominally ruled by the Hashemite monarchy and an elected Parliament in which British officials often interfered.

The nation had no natural unity, being comprised of three major cultural-ethnic-religious groups:  Arab Sunni Muslims, mainly in the central provinces, Arab Shiite Muslims, largely in the south, and Kurdish Sunni Muslims in the north.  Iraq gained independence in 1932, after which the Hashemites continue to rule amid political turmoil.  In July 1958, a military coup led by Abd al-Karim Qasim overthrew the monarchy and established the Republic of Iraq.  The Qasim government had the support of the Iraqi Communist Party and shared Egyptian leader Gamel Abdel Nasser’s idea of pan-Arab nationalism and the nationalization of oil resources, although Qasim and Nasser were political rivals.
In March 1959, the Qasim government renounced participation in the anti-communist Baghdad Pact and signed a military and economic aid agreement with the Soviet Union.  The Eisenhower administration (1953-1961) took offense and began plotting against it.  In April 1959, CIA director Allen Dulles publicly decried Iraq as “the most dangerous spot on the globe.”[282]  U.S. interest in overthrowing the Qasim government subsided for a time after Qasim outlawed the Iraqi Communist Party in January 1960 (the party was growing too strong for Qasim’s taste), but it rose to the fore again after the Qasim government began nationalizing Iraq’s oil resources in December 1961.
The Kennedy administration (1961-1963) settled on supporting the Baath Party of Iraq (BPI) as an alternative to Qasim.  BPI was an anti-communist variant of the pan-Arab nationalist movement and had already attempted to assassinate Qasim in October 1959.  Baathist gunmen, including a young Saddam Hussein, ambushed Qasim’s motorcade in Baghdad, wounding Qasim.  Hussein and his fellow assassins escaped to Cairo where they were protected by Nasser.  In August 1962, the Kennedy administration dispatched Roy Melbourne to Baghdad to serve as the new charge´ d’affaires.  Melbourne was a veteran of the 1953 coup in Iran and would presumably play a similar role in Iraq.  In an effort to coordinate U.S. policy with major American oil companies, the U.S. State Department held a meeting with executives of Esso, Chevron, Texaco, Mobil, and Gulf on January 11, 1963.  The company heads, however, did not see that much difference between Qasim and the Baathist party, and thus were lukewarm to backing the coup plot.  Nor did the British ambassador Sir Roger Allen view the Baath Party as a viable alternative.[283]

Iraq is divided into three major ethnic-religious-cultural groups (DT)

The coup took place on February 8, 1963.  Baathist rebels captured and executed Qasim and his top lieutenants, then went on a systematic killing spree of Communist party members.   According to a contemporary account by Time magazine, “Hundreds of dogged men in green armbands, carrying mimeographed lists of Red leaders complete with home addresses and auto license plate numbers, methodically hunted down Communists . . . By last week the new regime had killed or jailed nearly 2,500 dissident Communists.  This was enough to win the applause of Western diplomats.”[284]  It is known that the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad had prepared a list of “known communists” to be targeted for capture or execution.[285]  James Akins, attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, 1963-1965, recalled in a 2004 interview that the 1963 Iraqi “revolution was of course supported by the U.S. in money and equipment as well. . . . It wasn’t talked about openly – that we were behind it – but an awful lot of people knew.”[286]  Ali Saleh Sa’adi, the Minister of the Interior of the new Baath government, plainly commented, “We came to power on a CIA train.”[287]

The Baath Party lasted ten months in its first go-round in power before being ousted by a counter-coup.  The party regained power in 1968 through a military coup in which Saddam Hussein played a key role.  Hussein became vice-president under President Ahmad Hassan al-Bakr, a relative, and also headed the government’s internal security network.[288]
The al-Bakr government lasted eleven years, during which time Iraq nationalized its oil industry, producing benefits for the Iraqi people.  In December 1975, President al-Bakr announced over Baghdad’s radio and television, “Iraq has now become the master of its oil wealth.”[289]  With increased revenues, the government was able to build roads, expand electrical generation, develop mining and other industries, modernize public health systems, and address illiteracy.  Electricity was brought to nearly every city in Iraq, and many outlying areas.  The government began an “Eradication of Illiteracy” program in 1978 that earned an award from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).[290]
On July 16, 1979, Saddam Hussein staged a palace coup, forcing the aging president to resign “for health reasons.”[291]  Over the next two weeks, he consolidated his power by ordering the execution of hundreds of legislators and officials.  Hussein henceforth became a virtual dictator.  He favored the Sunnis but kept the country together in part by funding public works of benefit to all, and in part by ruthlessly repressing Shiite and Kurdish rebellions.
Hussein’s palace coup occurred just after a revolution in Iran ousted Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in February 1979.  The U.S.-backed dictatorship of the Shah was replaced by a theocratic Shiite Muslim state under Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.  Iran now constituted a major challenge to U.S. hegemony in the region, and Iraq took on new significance as a counterpoint to Iran as well as a possible replacement client state.  Iraq also had oil.  Estimated oil reserves in Iraq in 1980 totaled 31.0 billion barrels, the fourth largest behind Saudi Arabia (163.6), Kuwait (65.4), and Iran (58.0).[292]  The fact that Saddam Hussein was a repressive autocratic was of no more consequence to Washington officials than the fact that they had supported the iron-fisted rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in Iran for 26 years.
For the next decade, U.S. policy in the Middle East was aimed at isolating and “containing” Iran.  In January 1980, President Jimmy Carter announced the Carter Doctrine, declaring that the United States would use force to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf region.  This warning was presented as a response to the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan in December 1979, but it was more relevant to the Iranian Revolution and the spread of Islamic (Shiite) fundamentalism.[293]
The Reagan administration’s complicity in Iraq’s use of WMD
During the Reagan years, “containment” involved aiding Iraq in its war against Iran.  Initiated by Iraq in September 1980, the war was precipitated by territorial issues and Saddam Hussein’s fears of a Shiite uprising in Iraq.  Iraq’s Baath Party was dominated by Sunni Muslims, but the country as a whole was predominately Shia Muslim, as was Iran.
In December 1983, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Hussein in Baghdad in order to convey President Ronald Reagan’s “willingness to do more” to assist Iraq.  The U.S. subsequently provided Iraq with military intelligence on Iranian troop movements and loan guarantees for Iraqi purchases of “dual use” equipment such as helicopters, transport aircraft, heavy trucks, and computers.[294]

US envoy Donald Rumsfeld greets Iraqi President Saddam in Baghdad, Dec. 20, 1983 (Iraqi television, rebroadcast by CNN, Wikimedia)

U.S. officials were aware of Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iranian troops but said nothing about it.  The Reagan administration, in fact, approved the sale of chemical and biological agents to Iraq.  The Washington Post reported that a “1994 investigation by the Senate Banking Committee turned up dozens of biological agents shipped to Iraq during the mid-‘80s under license from the Commerce Department, including various strains of anthrax, subsequently identified by the Pentagon as a key component of the Iraqi biological warfare program.  The Commerce Department also approved the export of insecticides to Iraq, despite widespread suspicions that they were being used for chemical warfare.”[295]

The Reagan administration furthermore blocked a UN Security Council resolution in March 1984 that would have condemned Iraq’s use of chemical weapons, substituting in its place a bland statement denouncing the use of chemical weapons by any and all parties.[296]
With the war going badly for Iraq, the U.S. began to provide direct military assistance.  “By 1987,” notes the diplomatic historian Peter Hahn, “the Reagan Administration even assumed limited military involvement in the war on behalf of Iraq.  When Iran attacked oil tankers carrying Iraqi oil to world markets, Reagan ordered the U.S. Navy to patrol the Gulf and protect those tankers.  Armed clashes occurred between U.S. and Iranian naval vessels, peaking in late 1987 and mid-1988.”[297]

A Kurdish woman weeps over the grave of a lost relative on the 33rd anniversary of the chemical attack on Halabja, (March 16, 2021, Shwan Mohammed, AFP)

When Kurds in the north rebelled against Iraq in the late 1980s, Hussein used chemical weapons on Kurdish villages, including a devastating attack on the city of Halabja in March 1988, which instantly killed 5,000 people.[298]  This time, the Reagan administration publicly condemned the attack as “abhorrent and unjustifiable,” but it still took no action against Iraq.  A half-year later, State Department spokesman Charles E. Redman told the press, “As a result of our evaluation of the situation, the United States government is convinced that Iraq has used chemical weapons in its military campaign against Kurdish guerrillas.”  Redman did not acknowledge Iraqi attacks against civilians, however.  He reported that during a one-hour meeting between Secretary of State George Shultz and Saadun Hammadi, Iraq’s foreign minister, “The Secretary stressed to Dr. Hammadi that we attach great importance to the further development of our relationship with Iraq, but that we do not intend to pursue this course if illegal Iraqi use of chemical weapons and other human rights abuses continue.”[299]  The U.S., in short, let the Iraqi government off with a warning.

More details U.S. support for Iraq’s use of WMD in the 1980s came out in a report published in Foreign Policy in August 2013, based on recent declassification of CIA documents and interviews with former intelligence officials.  “Top CIA officials,” the report noted, “including the Director of Central Intelligence William J. Casey, a close friend of President Ronald Reagan, were told about the location of Iraqi chemical weapons assembly plants; that Iraq was desperately trying to make enough mustard agent to keep up with frontline demand from its forces; that Iraq was about to buy equipment from Italy to help speed up production of chemical-packed artillery rounds and bombs; and that Iraq could also use nerve agents on Iranian troops and possibly civilians.”

As the overriding geopolitical concern of the Reagan administration was to ensure that Iraq was not defeated by Iran, Iraq’s use of WMD against Iran was facilitated rather than curbed.  According to the report:

The Iraqis used mustard gas and sarin prior to four major offensives in early 1988 that relied on U.S. satellite imagery, maps, and other intelligence.  These attacks helped to tilt the war in Iraq’s favor and bring Iran to the negotiating table, and they ensured that the Reagan administration’s long-standing policy of securing an Iraqi victory would succeed.  But they were also the last in a series of chemical strikes stretching back several years that the Reagan administration knew about and didn’t disclose. . . . The Reagan administration decided that it was better to let the attacks continue if they might turn the tide of the war. And even if they were discovered, the CIA wagered that international outrage and condemnation would be muted.[300]

The Persian Gulf War and its aftermath, 1991

President George H. W. Bush Sr. (1989-1993) all but ignored Saddam Hussein’s use of chemical in his “constructive engagement” policy toward Iraq.  On October 2, 1989, Bush signed National Security Directive 26 (NSC-26) which stated:  “Normal relations between the United States and Iraq would serve our longer-term interests and promote stability in both the Gulf and the Middle East.  The United States Government should propose economic and political incentives for Iraq to moderate its behavior.  At the same time, the Iraqi leadership must understand that any illegal use of chemical and/or biological weapons will lead to economic and political sanctions.”  By “stability,” the Bush administration meant that Iraq would serve as a pro-U.S. bulwark against Iranian influence in the region and provide “opportunities for U.S. firms to participate in the reconstruction of the Iraqi economy, particularly in the energy area.”[301]

A National Victory Day parade was held in Washington, DC, on June 8, 1991, to celebrate the US victory in the Persian Gulf War. President Bush Sr. greets Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf at the head of the parade (NARA).

Saddam Hussein remained a friend of the U.S. until he sent his troops into Kuwait in August 1990, in a dispute over oil drilling and financial loans.  Having turned on a U.S. ally, Hussein lost his protective shield and was henceforth depicted as another Adolf Hitler.  When Hussein refused to withdraw his troops from Kuwait, the U.S. organized a UN-backed coalition to force the issue, launching the Persian Gulf War in early 1991.[302]   Iraqi troops were expelled from Kuwait but Hussein remained in power, as there was no UN mandate for regime change and President Bush Sr. was cognizant of the practical difficulties of administering a country of some 20 million people divided by religion and ethnicity.[303]

Though Bush Sr. did not invade and occupy Iraq, he did encourage Kurds in the north and Shiites in the south to rise up and overthrow Saddam.  In a speech at the Raytheon defense plant in Massachusetts on February 15, 1991, he called on “the Iraqi military and the Iraqi people to take matters into their own hands and force Saddam Hussein, the dictator, to step aside.”[304]  On March 1, the day after the Persian Gulf War ended, Iraq exploded in rebellion.  Bush was criticized for not offering tangible support to rebelling groups, but his geopolitical strategy was more complex.  National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft described it in his joint memoir with Bush:  “The trick here was to damage his [Saddam’s] offensive capability without weakening Iraq to the point that a vacuum was created, and destroying the balance between Iraq and Iran, further destabilizing the region for years.”[305]  Overthrowing Saddam, in other words, would likely result in a Shiite-dominated government that would bond with Shiite Iran – a political victory for Iran.
Bush Sr. wanted the U.S. to control the outcome of any regime change in Iraq.   Hence, in May 1991, he signed a top-secret directive authorizing the CIA to create the conditions for Hussein’s removal.  The CIA hired the Rendon Group to conduct propaganda operations in Iraq and to assemble antigovernment Iraqi exiles under the extravagantly named “Iraqi National Congress,” led by Ahmed Chalabi.  Chalabi was the son of a prominent Iraqi Shiite family, had earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago, and was soon to be convicted for bank fraud and embezzlement by a military tribunal in Jordan and sentenced in absentia to 22 years in prison (which he never served).  Chalabi’s dealings in the U.S. were similarly pervaded by fraud.  A 2006 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that his Iraqi National Congress had “attempted to influence United States policy on Iraq by providing false information through defectors directed at convincing the United States that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and had links to terrorists.”[306]
Though U.S. relations with Iraq shifted, the overall U.S. goal in the Middle East remained the same, as stated in the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance report:  “In the Middle East and Southwest Asia (SWA), our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve Western access to the region’s oil.”[307]
Sanctions and bombing during the Clinton years
Iraq’s possession of chemical and biological agents became a major public issue during the presidency of Bill Clinton (1993-2001).  As part of the peace agreement ending the Persian Gulf War, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to eliminate, under international supervision, its biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles with ranges greater than 150 kilometers.  The council declared that the UN economic sanctions imposed on Iraq in August 1990 would remain in place until Baghdad fully complied.

Although the Hussein government was intransigent and often deceptive about its possession of WMD, UN inspectors nevertheless supervised the destruction of considerable amounts of materials over the next decade.  As Walter Pincus of the Washington Post wrote in March 2003:

Administration officials, in making the case against Iraq, repeatedly have failed to mention the considerable amount of documented weapons destruction that took place in Iraq between 1991 and 1998, when the previous U.N. Special Commission on Iraq had inspection teams in the field.  In that period, under U.N. supervision, Iraq destroyed 817 of 819 proscribed medium-range missiles, 14 launchers, 9 trailers and 56 fixed missile-launch sites.  It also destroyed 73 of 75 chemical or biological warheads and 163 warheads for conventional explosives.  Destruction of biological weapons — which were not discovered to be in Iraq’s possession until 1995 — was less advanced. The main facility where biological weapons were produced and developed, Al Hakam, was destroyed along with 60 pieces of equipment taken from three other facilities. In addition, 22 tons of growth media for biological weapons were destroyed.[308]

U.S. and British leaders gave little credence to this progress in WMD disarmament as they made their case for continued sanctions against Iraq.  Hussein’s removal, not WMD disarmament, was their overriding goal.  The sanctions against Iraq severely restricted Iraqi oil exports, which in turn created a humanitarian crisis within the country.  In 1997, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan announced that 31 percent of children under the age of five in Iraq suffered from malnutrition.  Three years later, UNICEF reported that 25 percent of children in south and central provinces of Iraq suffered from chronic malnutrition, which was often irreversible, and nine percent from acute malnutrition.[309]  In response, a number of countries sought to ease the sanctions against Iraq, but the U.S. and Great Britain resisted.  President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, in a joint press conference on March 27, 2003, blamed the humanitarian disaster solely on the Iraqi leader.  Blair declared, “Over the past five years, 400,000 Iraqi children under the age of five died of malnutrition and disease . . . because of the nature of the regime under which they are living.”[310]

Colin Powell, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlines the cruise missile strike planned for the Iraqi Intelligence Service in downtown Baghdad, June 26, 1993 (Politico)

The U.S. and Britain also kept the pressure on Iraq by enforcing no-fly zones over its southern and northern regions and by periodically bombing Iraq through the Clinton years.  On June 27, 1993, the U.S. launched twenty-three cruise missiles at Iraq’s intelligence headquarters in downtown Baghdad.  Seven missed their target and struck a residential neighborhood nearby in the middle of the night and killed six people, including a man found with his baby son in his arms and one of Iraq’s most celebrated painters, Laylah al-Attar, director general of the Saddam Center for Arts.  The pretext for the bombing was to punish Hussein for allegedly having plotted to assassinate President Bush during a visit to Kuwait.  Washington claimed to have proof that Iraqi military intelligence was behind the assassination attempt; however, FBI scientist Fred Whitehurst and other experts deemed the evidence inconclusive.[311]

In February 1998, Robert Kagan of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) wrote, “A successful intervention in Iraq would revolutionize the strategic situation in the Middle East in ways both tangible and intangible, and all to the benefit of American interests.”[312]  A subsequent lobbying campaign by PNAC, together with Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress, resulted in a non-binding Congressional resolution in October supporting U.S. efforts “to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime.”[313]  In December of that year, the U.S. and Britain launched a four-day bombing operation that targeted nearly 100 Iraqi sites.
A rhetorical offensive accompanied these developments.  In February 1998, President Bill Clinton warned, “In the next century, the community of nations may see more and more the very kind of threat Iraq poses now:  a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction, ready to use them or provide them to terrorists, drug traffickers, or organized criminals, who travel the world among us unnoticed.”[314]  Senator Joe Biden, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (and future U.S. president), wrote in a letter to The Washington Post in October that “a policy based on sanctions does not guarantee that Saddam Hussein’s weapons program will be curtailed.  Ultimately, as long as Saddam Hussein is at the helm, no inspectors can guarantee that they have rooted out the entirety of Saddam Hussein’s weapons program.  And I said [at a recent Senate hearing] the only way to remove Saddam is a massive military effort, led by the United States.”[315]
The George W. Bush presidency and lead-up to Iraq War II
The next set of U.S. warriors to pursue Saddam Hussein was less concerned with fulfilling UN mandates than with expanding U.S. hegemony, or Pax Americana.[316]  Dick Cheney, as vice-president in the Bush Jr. administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (appointed a second time), and Rumsfeld’s deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, along with other neo-cons made regime change in Iraq their number one foreign policy goal.
At a cabinet-level meeting of the national security principals on February 1, 2001, Rumsfeld interrupted a discussion on sanctions against Iran to focus on Iraq.  “Sanctions are fine,” he said.  “But what we really want to think about is going after Saddam. . . . Imagine what the region would look like without Saddam and with a regime that’s aligned with U.S. interests.  It would change everything in the region and beyond it.  It would demonstrate what U.S. policy is all about.”[317]  Indeed, remaking Iraq into an ally would provide the U.S. with greater control over oil prices and supplies, rid the Middle East of one of Israel’s enemies, and enable the U.S. to expand its military bases in the region (and remove bases in Saudi Arabia).  In short, Iraq had great strategic value.

The 9/11/2001 terrorist attack provided the neo-cons with an unexpected opportunity to pursue their goal of regime change in Iraq (see Section II).  The following day, September 12, Richard Clarke, chief counterterrorism adviser on the National Security Council, recorded in his memoir:

I walked into a series of discussions [in the White House] about Iraq.  At first I was incredulous that we were talking about something other than getting al Qaeda.  Then I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq.  Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq.[318]

On September 20, 2001, PNAC issued an open letter to President Bush stating that “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”[319]  The die was cast.  Whether or not Saddam Hussein had ties to al Qaeda, Bush would find a way to justify the overthrow of the Iraqi leader.  He would make the case that Iraq’s presumed possession of WMD combined with his allegedly “evil” nature made it incumbent upon the U.S. to oust him (see Section III).  Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill later reflected:

From the start, we were building the case against Hussein and looking at how we could take him out and change Iraq into a new country.  And if we did that, it would solve everything.  It was all about finding a way to do it.  That was the tone of it.  The President saying, “Fine.  Go find me a way to do this.”[320]

The administration moved steadily toward its goal over the next eighteen months.  On February 16, 2002, Bush authorized the CIA to aid opposition groups and initiate sabotage and disinformation operations in Iraq.  During the first two weeks of March, the Pentagon conducted a major war exercise, code-named Prominent Hammer, in preparation for an Iraqi invasion.[321]

As the momentum toward war increased, former national security adviser Brent Scowcroft offered a prescient, sober analysis of the situation.  “Think carefully,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal in August 2022.  “Our pre-eminent security priority — underscored repeatedly by the president — is the war on terrorism.  An attack on Iraq at this time would seriously jeopardize, if not destroy, the global counterterrorist campaign we have undertaken.” He predicted that a U.S. invasion would be “very expensive” and “bloody,” and “very likely would have to be followed by a large-scale, long-term military occupation.”

But the central point is that any campaign against Iraq, whatever the strategy, cost and risks, is certain to divert us for some indefinite period from our war on terrorism.  Worse, there is a virtual consensus in the world against an attack on Iraq at this time.  So long as that sentiment persists, it would require the U.S. to pursue a virtual go-it-alone strategy against Iraq, making any military operations correspondingly more difficult and expensive.  The most serious cost, however, would be to the war on terrorism.  Ignoring that clear sentiment would result in a serious degradation in international cooperation with us against terrorism.  And make no mistake, we simply cannot win that war without enthusiastic international cooperation, especially on intelligence.[322]

Bush administration officials paid no heed.  On September 12, President Bush spoke at the United Nations, warning that if Iraq did not comply with UN resolutions, the U.S. “would not stand by and do nothing while dangers gather.”  Two weeks later, Bush was asked by a reporter, “Mr. President, do you believe that Saddam Hussein is a bigger threat to the United States than al Qaeda?”  He answered, “They’re both risks, they’re both dangerous. . . . but the danger is, is that they work in concert.  The danger is, is that al Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world.  Both of them need to be dealt with.”[323]  Though Saddam Hussein had no connection to al Qaeda, Bush made it appear to be so.

On October 10, 2002, at the behest of the president, the House of Representatives passed an Authorization for Use of Military Force against Iraq by a vote of 296-133.  The Senate followed suit the next day, voting 77-23 in favor.  The act made reference to Iraq’s previous use of WMD without mentioning the fact that the U.S. had aided and abetted this use during the 1980s.  The act also accused Iraq of “supporting and harboring terrorist organizations,” including members of al Qaeda (which it did not), and of engaging in “brutal repression of its civilian population” (which it did).  It classically conflated U.S. national security with global hegemony, reminiscent of the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that launched the U.S.-Vietnam War, stating that the president could deploy U.S. armed forces “as he determines to be necessary and appropriate” to “defend the national security of the United States.”[324]

Iraqi President Saddam Hussein talks with Republican Guard officers in Baghdad on March 1, 2003 (Iraqi News Agency, AP)

On February 12, 2003, with preparations for war in Iraq were underway, Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat of West Virginia, spoke in opposition to the Bush administration’s policies on the Senate floor.  “The doctrine of preemptive war . . . appears to be in contradiction to international law and the UN charter,” he stated.  “And it is being tested at a time of worldwide terrorism, making many countries wonder if at some time they will be on our – or some other nation’s – hit list.”  He added that the “case this administration tries to make to justify its fixation with war is tainted by charges of false documents and circumstantial evidence.”[325]

In the final lead-up to war, France, Germany, Russia, and a half-dozen other countries on the UN Security Council refused to sign on to a proposal for military action against Iraq.  The U.S. and Britain went ahead anyway, calling upon a “coalition of the willing” to join them – in essence, usurping international law by acting as self-assigned world policeman.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq, 2003

The invasion of Iraq, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom, began on March 19, 2003, with a massive aerial bombardment, followed by an invasion by Coalition ground forces the next day – some 130,000 U.S. combat troops along with 45,000 British, 2,000 Australian, and 200 Polish soldiers.  U.S. and British air forces flew more than 41,000 sorties in the six-week war, knocking out Iraqi command and control centers, surface-to-air missile systems, and “dual-use” infrastructure such as electrical systems and communications installations.  Mechanized army units accompanied by tanks and helicopters made their way north from Kuwait, taking Basra on April 6, Baghdad on April 9, and Saddam’s hometown of Tikrīt on April 13.[326]  In the north, U.S. Special Forces parachuted into Kurdish areas.  With the aid of Kurdish peshmerga fighters, they seized Kirkuk on April 10 and Mosul on April 11.  On May 1, President Bush declared an end to major combat operations, although Saddam Hussein remained at large for another seven months.  When finally captured on December 13, Hussein was turned over to Iraqi authorities and put on trial for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.  He was found guilty by an Iraqi Special Tribunal and executed by hanging on December 30, 2006.
For many Americans, the meaning of Operation Iraqi Freedom was confirmed when they watched film footage of jubilant Iraqi citizens attempting to pull down a twenty-foot statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square on April 9, 2003.  The scene was partly staged.  A Marine colonel had the idea of toppling the statue and an Army psychological warfare team used loudspeakers to round up a crowd.  A few hundred Iraqis heeded the call.  One agile U.S. soldier climbed the statue to cover Saddam’s face with a U.S. flag.  This proved to be a good photo opportunity, but it sent the wrong message – the takeover of Iraq by Americans – and so the flag was removed.   Gunnery Sergeant Leon Lambert then gave an Iraqi named Kadom al-Jabouri a sledgehammer to knock down the statue.  Others joined in, but pulling the massive structure down ultimately required Lambert’s M-88 military tow truck.  Once down, Iraqis jumped and stomped on the decapitated head.  At a press conference on April 13, President Bush conveyed the message to the Iraqi people:  “You’re free!  And freedom is beautiful.”[327]

A US soldier watches as Hussein’s statue is pulled down in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003 (Reuters)

While most Iraqis – particularly Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south – were happy to be rid of Saddam Hussein, the invasion caused much death, destruction, and suffering.  According to one report, “The Associated Press canvassed sixty of Iraq’s 124 hospitals immediately after the end of major combat operations and calculated that at least 3,420 civilians died.  The Associated Press described the count as ‘fragmentary’ and said, ‘the complete toll – if it is ever tallied – is sure to be significantly higher.’”[328]

A Human Rights Watch team that conducted an investigation between late April and early June 2003 found that U.S.-led Coalition forces engaged in “practices that led to civilian casualties in the air war, ground war, and post-conflict period.”  One such practice was the “widespread use of cluster munitions, especially by U.S. and U.K. ground forces, [which] caused at least hundreds of civilian casualties. . . . Although cluster munition strikes are particularly dangerous in populated areas, U.S. and U.K. ground forces repeatedly used these weapons in attacks on Iraqi positions in residential neighborhoods.”

Iraqis run for cover as British tanks open fire on Iraqi positions in the outskirts of Basra, March 30, 2003 (Anja Niedringhaus, AP)

More civilian casualties resulted from air strikes.  “All of the fifty acknowledged attacks targeting Iraqi leadership failed,” noted the Human Rights Watch report.  “While they did not kill a single targeted individual, the strikes killed and injured dozens of civilians.  Iraqis who spoke to Human Rights Watch about the attacks repeatedly stated that they believed the intended targets were not even present at the time of the strikes.”  Strikes against electrical power stations and other “dual-use” infrastructure caused indirect harm due to the disruption of basic services.  The report criticized the U.S. and U.K. for not doing “an adequate job of investigating and analyzing why civilian casualties occur.  That job, left largely to organizations like Human Rights Watch, should be the responsibility of parties to the conflict.”[329]

Had the U.S. military command done such an investigation, however, President Bush would not have been able to tell the American people on September 7, 2003, that the war was “one of the swiftest and most humane military campaigns in history.”[330]   To be sure, it was swift, but it was not humane.  According to an in-depth analysis by national security expert Carl Conetta, the invasion cost the lives of approximately 13,000 Iraqis, of which 30 percent were civilian.[331]  For the attacking nations, the costs were 196 soldiers killed (139 U.S., 33 U.K.) and 551 wounded.
No WMD found

David Kay at a 2002 press conference (U.S. State Dept. photo by Barry Fitzgerald)

In the aftermath of the war, U.S. inspectors found no WMD in Iraq.  David Kay, who headed the U.S. search team (Iraq Survey Group), initially believed that Iraq had WMD, but after ten months of searching, found nothing of significance.  He resigned his position on January 23, 2004, telling the press, “I think there were stockpiles at the end of the first Gulf War and a combination of UN inspectors and unilateral Iraqi action got rid of them.”[332]

That was true, and Hans Blix, the head of the UN inspection team, believed it to be true before the U.S.-led invasion began.  Based on his team’s careful work, Blix refused to charge Iraq with being in violation of UN Resolution 1441, which required a full accounting of Iraqi WMD programs.  Blix’s interim report of January 27, 2003, cited progress on pending questions, and his final update before the war, on March 7, asserted that remaining issues could be resolved, although this would take a number of months.[333]  On June 5, he publicly stated that his inspection team “had found no evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction.”[334]
David Kay, after resigning, told the Senate Armed Service Committee on January 28, 2004, that “we were almost all wrong, and I certainly include myself here.”[335]  The following day, he met with President Bush, Vice President Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and White House Chief of Staff Andy Card.  Bush wanted to know how U.S. intelligence agencies had missed the destruction of Iraqi WMD.  Kay replied, “We missed it because the Iraqis actually behaved like they had weapons.”  Hussein apparently did not want to let the world know that his cache of WMD had been destroyed, as he relied on the fear of WMD to keep Shiite and Kurdish rebellions at bay.  “You know,” said Kay, “totalitarian regimes generally end up fearing their own people more than they fear external threats.  It’s just the history of totalitarian regimes.  We missed that.”[336]
The U.S. aided Saddam Hussein when he used WMD in the 1980s, then ousted him when he had no WMD in 2003.
In hindsight, it may be seen that what the U.S. did over the course of 25 years was to aid and abet Saddam Hussein’s use of WMD during the 1980s, then attack and overthrow Hussein after he had gotten rid of these weapons.

Occupational hazards

General Tommy Franks, the main architect of the invasion plan, told journalists in Qatar as the invasion got underway that this would be a “campaign unlike any other in history.”  It would be “characterized by shock, by surprise, by flexibility, by the employment of precise munitions on a scale never seen, and by the application of overwhelming force.”  What Franks failed to recognize, apart from the invasion being unnecessary and illegal, was that the greater challenge lay in establishing peace and stability after the invasion, and that the death, destruction, and chaos wrought by “the application of overwhelming force” would make this more difficult.[337]
As compared to its military invasion plans, the Bush administration expended relatively little energy in preparing for postwar Iraqi reconstruction.  President Bush gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute on February 26, 2003, repeated in a radio broadcast three days later, in which he predicted that the Iraqi occupation would follow along the same lines as the U.S. occupations of Germany and Japan after the Second World War:  “We will remain in Iraq as long as necessary, and not a day more.  America has made and kept this kind of commitment before – in the peace that followed World War II.  After defeating enemies, we did not leave behind occupying armies; we left constitutions and parliaments.  We did not leave behind permanent foes; we found new friends and allies.”[338]  Nineteen days after this speech, the CIA issued a report entitled The Postwar Occupations of Germany and Japan: Implications for Iraq, which warned that an invaded and occupied Iraq would in no way resemble Germany or Japan after World War II.[339]

Iraqis loot the oil ministry storage facility in Baghdad, April 9, 2003 (Baltimore Sun)

The first indication of the Bush administration’s deficient planning and off-kilter assumptions was a massive looting spree in Baghdad on April 9, 2003, the very day that Hussein’s statue was toppled.  According to journalist Peter Maass, who was there, the city was teeming with “swarms of people using trucks, taxis, horses, and wheelbarrows to cart away whatever they could from government buildings and banks, museums, and even hospitals.”[340]

At a press conference three days later, Rumsfeld minimized the problem, saying, “Freedom’s untidy . . . . And while no one condones looting, on the other hand one can understand the pent-up feelings that may result from decades of repression and people who’ve had members of their family killed by that regime, for them to be taking their feelings out on that regime.”[341]  President Bush similarly faulted the ousted dictator.  “You know, it’s amazing.  The statue comes down on Wednesday and the headlines start to read, ‘Oh, there’s disorder.’  Well, no kidding.  It is a situation that is chaotic because Saddam created the conditions of fear and hatred.  And it’s going to take a while to stabilize the country.”[342]
The looting problem was foreseeable, had administration officials being looking.  In December 1989, President George H. W. Bush Sr. launched a surprise invasion of Panama, after which there was wild looting in the cities.  General Maxwell Thurman, who led the invasion, reflected that he had spent “no more than five minutes reviewing or revising” post-conflict operations.  Lacking sufficient numbers of troops to maintain order, looting and rioting quickly consumed several sections of Panama City, causing over $1 billion in losses.[343]  Bush Jr. might have learned from his father’s mistake.
The administration’s lack of preparedness for managing postwar Iraq was evident in the administration’s late start in planning and a sudden, wrenching transfer of responsibility from a competent administrator with experience in Iraq, Lt. General Jay Garner, to a loyal conservative with neither, L. Paul Bremer.  Garner, meeting with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld on January 16, 2003, noted that the U.S. had started planning for postwar Europe years before the Second World War ended.  In the case of Iraq, however, he was being given “somewhere between five and 10 weeks” to pull together an operational plan.  “I know,” said Rumsfeld.  “We’ll get somewhere on this.  Just maximize the time available.”[344]

Jay Garner (R.D. Ward, DoD)

On April 11, 2003, Garner arrived in Baghdad with a small team of eight people to assess the damage to the electrical grid, sewage facilities, hospitals, government buildings, and other infrastructure.  His reconstruction plans embraced both rebuilding and reconciliation.  His plan for maintaining law and order, for example, involved reconstituting some 250,000 Iraqi soldiers as a constabulary force.  “We wanted to keep them in their unit structures, because they had already had a command-and-control system,” Garner told an interviewer.  “They had vehicles, what was left.  They knew how to take orders and they had the basic skill sets to do the things you need to do in early reconstruction of a country.  So they were a labor force, and they [would] provide a certain amount of security, like guard static locations – guard buildings, guard ammo dumps or displaced ammunition, that type of thing.”[345]

Top officials in Washington were hostile to Garner’s conciliatory approach.  They seemed to view Baathist party members and Iraqi soldiers as morally tainted by their association with the “evil” Saddam Hussein, and thus unworthy of participation in the new Iraq of their imagination.  On May 6, Rumsfeld informed Garner that he was being replaced by Bremer, a well-connected former diplomat who had once been an aide to Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.  Because Bremer had virtually no experience in the Middle East and could not speak Arabic, he underwent a two-week crash course before arriving in Baghdad as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA).  On the first day of his new job, Bremer suggested that the U.S. military shoot looters, a suggestion that U.S. military commanders rejected.[346]
Arbitrary edicts and wishful thinking

U.S. administrator in Iraq Paul Bremer (left) sits next to Ahmad Chalabi in Baghdad, July 13, 2003 (AFP)

Bremer made larger errors of judgment that were not countermanded, issuing two edicts that he had prepared before arriving.  One disbanded the Baath Party and prohibited its higher-level members from participating in positions of political or economic leadership.  The second dissolved the Iraqi army, leaving hundreds of thousands of armed men unemployed.  These edicts were approved by Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but not vetted by other national security principals – CIA director George Tenet and Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed surprise.  Garner, still in Baghdad, along with the CIA station chief in the city were shocked upon hearing of the edicts.  The two paid a visit to Bremer to convince him to soften the orders.  Bremer would not budge.  “Look, I have my orders, this is what I’m doing,” he said.  Garner and the CIA station chief then warned Bremer that, if carried out, the edicts would undermine the Iraqi economy by depriving it of talented administrators, and they would furthermore drive “30,000 to 50,000 Baathists underground” to take up arms against the U.S.[347]

These predictions proved correct.  According to public policy scholar James P. Pfiffner, Bremer’s de-Baathification policy, signed May 16, “effectively eliminated the leadership and top technical capacity for universities, hospitals, transportation, electricity and communications.  For instance, in the Health Ministry a third of the staff were forced out, and eight of the top twelve officers in the organization were excluded.  Although Bremer said that the order would affect only about 20,000 people, the total amounted to between 85,000 to 100,000 people.  This included ‘forty thousand schoolteachers, who had joined the Baath Party simply to keep their jobs.’”[348]
President Bush was largely oblivious to the practical necessities of reconstruction.[349]  He focused instead on convincing Americans and the world that the U.S. intervention in Iraq was a “war of liberation” rather than a war of aggression, as many believed.  On April 28, 2003, Bush spoke to an audience in Dearborn, Michigan, on the future of Iraq.  “America pledged to rid Iraq of an oppressive regime, and we kept our word,” he said to applause.  “America now pledges to help Iraqis build a prosperous and peaceful nation, and we will keep our word again,” he said to more applause.  In his 24-minute speech, Bush did not mention terrorism or WMDs, the pre-war reasons for the invasion, but he used the words “free” and “freedom” seventeen times, effectively making the liberation of Iraq from Hussein’s dictatorship the central justification for the war.
Bush went on to give examples of Iraqi citizens “now working closely with our troops to restore order to their cities, and improve the life of their nation.”  This included “clearing land mines,” finding “the hoodlums who ravished the National Museum of Antiquities in Baghdad,” restoring electrical power, making “drinking water clean and dependable,” providing immunizations and health care, improving schools, recruiting teachers, and generally making Iraq “an example of peace and prosperity and freedom to the entire Middle East.”[350]
Of course, the U.S. did not invade Iraq in order to improve the lives of the Iraqi people, but if this could be done, it would go a long way toward justifying the invasion in the minds of many.  Success would depend in part on whether the administration had the political will, the financial resources, and the talented personnel needed to carry out extensive reconstruction and social welfare programs, and in part on whether Iraqis would cooperate with Coalition authorities and each other.
On the first account, U.S. plans, funds, and capable personnel were woefully lacking at the outset and improved only marginally in subsequent years.  The Pentagon and State Department had relatively few people who spoke Arabic and were unprepared for the sizable undertaking of reconstruction, especially in conjunction with nation-building activities in Afghanistan.[351]  President Bush’s uplifting proposals, as such, were more akin to hollow election campaign promises than to programmatic initiatives.
On the second account, U.S.-Iraqi cooperation got off to a bad start with the brutal invasion that caused much harm and destruction.  What had Iraqis done to deserve this attack?  No Iraqis, after all, had been involved in the 9/11 attacks on the United States and the U.S.-led invasion was illegal under international law.  The U.S. might have offered to compensate the families of the 13,000 Iraqis killed in the invasion, but this was never considered.
The bad start got worse with Mr. Bremer’s first two edicts.  James Pfiffner concludes that these edicts contributed to CPA’s dysfunctional occupation in four ways:  “(1) by alienating hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who could not support themselves or their families; (2) by undermining the normal infrastructure necessary for social and economic activity; (3) by ensuring that there was not sufficient security to carry on normal life; and (4) by creating insurgents who were angry at the US, many of whom had weapons and were trained to use them.”[352]
Privatization boondoggle

The Bush administration’s inept management was exacerbated by poorly vetted privatization schemes.  According to Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in Economics and New York Times columnist (May 5, 2004):

Much has been written about the damage done by foreign policy ideologues who ignored the realities of Iraq, imagining that they could use the country to prove the truth of their military and political doctrines.  Less has been said about how dreams of making Iraq a showpiece for free trade, supply-side tax policy and privatization – dreams that were equally oblivious to the country’s realities – undermined the chances for a successful transition to democracy.  A number of people, including Jay Garner, the first U.S. administrator of Iraq, think that the Bush administration shunned early elections, which might have given legitimacy to a transitional government, so it could impose economic policies that no elected Iraqi government would have approved.  Indeed, over the past year the Coalition Provisional Authority has slashed tariffs, flattened taxes and thrown Iraqi industry wide open to foreign investors – reinforcing the sense of many Iraqis that the United States came as occupiers, not liberators.

Krugman noted that “economic planning has been subcontracted – after a highly questionable bidding procedure – to BearingPoint, a consulting firm with close ties to Jeb Bush” (the president’s brother).  The administration also “extended privatization to core military functions,” including “personal bodyguards to U.S. officials, as guards for U.S. government installations and – the latest revelation – as interrogators in Iraqi prisons.”[353]

Coalition Provisional Authority czar Paul Bremer promised to usher in an economic transition from the “socialist dictatorship” of Saddam Hussein to an unfettered free-market capitalist state.[354]  Bremer and his staff rewarded multinational corporations like Haliburton and Bechtel, which had close ties to the Bush administration, with major contracts to rebuild the Iraq’s infrastructure.  Massive corruption ensued.  A prime example was the $75 million Halliburton project to reconstruct a crude oil pipeline crossing the Tigris River at Al Fatah which had been destroyed in the 2003 invasion.  When Robert Sanders of the Army Corps of Engineers inspected the project in July 2004, he compared it to “some gargantuan heart-bypass operation gone nightmarishly bad.”  The company nonetheless continued to charge the government exorbitant sums for work never completed.”[355]
A New York Times report (June 30, 2004) on the progress of Iraqi reconstruction noted, “More than a year into an aid effort that American officials likened to the Marshall Plan, occupation authorities acknowledge that fewer than 140 of 2,300 promised construction projects are under way.”  More than a year after the invasion, “supplies of electricity and water are no better for most Iraqis, and in some cases are worse, than they were before the invasion in the spring of 2003.”[356]  The “agonizingly slow pace of Iraq’s promised economic renewal” also meant high levels of unemployment.[357]

Rahab Ali al-Musawi, 18, looks on while her three-month-old boy Ali Mohammed reacts to treatment for diarrhea in the General Teaching Hospital for Children in Baghdad, June 3, 2004 (Anja Niedringhaus, AP)

Also disconcerting for Iraqis was the decline in health and educational services due to inadequately funded government ministries.  Rather than fund the state health-care system, occupation officials promised to construct dozens of private clinics across the country.  Most of these never materialized, resulting in a decline in accessibility of basic medicines and equipment.  Doctors would prescribe medicines that pharmacies could not provide and IVs and needles had to be reused.  Doctor and nurse shortages became worse, especially as violence increased across Iraq.  The inability of occupation officials to provide clean water throughout the country along with the overflow of raw sewage into city streets resulted in outbreaks of cholera and other diseases for which hospitals were ill-equipped to treat.[358]  Schools damaged by fighting were never properly repaired and classrooms lacked basic textbooks and school supplies.  In 2005, according to an Iraqi government survey supported by UNICEF, one in six Iraqi children did not attend primary school.[359]

Insurgency and counterinsurgency

The insurrection had already begun when President Bush erroneously declared an end to major combat operations on May 1, 2003.  In Fallujah, a city of 200,000 people, mainly Sunni Muslims, forty miles from Baghdad, U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division arrived on April 23.  Five days later, residents gathered together to protest a curfew imposed by American authorities.  The situation escalated and U.S. soldiers fired into the crowd, killing 17 and wounding 70.  U.S. military authorities claimed that the troops were fired upon first, but no U.S. soldiers were injured and Human Rights Watch found no evidence of bullets fired in the soldiers’ direction.  On April 30, at another protest, U.S. soldiers again opened fire, killing three and wounding sixteen.  That night, grenades were thrown into a U.S. base in Fallujah, injuring seven soldiers.  Another insurgent attack on May 28 killed two U.S. soldiers and wounded nine.[360]
U.S. military and political leaders initially refused to recognize that an insurrection was brewing, apparently convinced that the U.S. military occupation was benevolent in nature, an adjunct of the (self-deluding) “liberation” theme.  On May 15, 2003, Major General Buford Blount told reporters that sporadic attacks on U.S. and Coalition forces were the work of “common criminals” and remnants of the Iraqi army who “don’t realize that the fight is over.”  One month later, Major General Raymond Odierno similarly described the opposition as “former regime members and common criminals,” but notably added that “they are very effective” in inflicting casualties on Coalition troops with mortar and rocket attacks, ambushes, and remotely detonated IEDs.  In Washington, Rumsfeld called them “dead-enders.”[361]
On July 2, President Bush was asked at a press conference whether the “posse of small nations” that the U.S. had organized to keep the peace was sufficient to meet the need.  The president defensively replied, “There are some who feel like . . . the conditions are such that they [insurgents] can attack us there.  My answer is bring ‘em on.  We’ve got the force necessary to deal with the security situation.”[362]  The U.S. did have substantial forces in Iraq, but the deteriorating security situation meant that troop levels would remain high.  Coalition forces totaled 170,000 in July 2003; the number was pared down to 139,000 in February 2004, then gradually rose to 180,000 in February 2005.  Bush’s “bring ‘em on” comment did not go over well with many U.S. soldiers and their families.  More U.S. soldiers died in the four months after Bush declared victory on May 1 (150 fatalities) than during the previous six weeks of war (139 fatalities).[363]

Gen. John Abizaid (DoD)

Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez

On July 25, 2003, newly appointed CENTCOM commander General John Abizaid upgraded the insurgency to “a classical guerrilla-type campaign against us.”  It’s a “low-intensity conflict,” he said, “but it’s war.”[364]  Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, in charge of day-to-day operations, revealed another element in play.  The presence of U.S. troops in Iraq was attracting Islamic jihadists from outside the country.  As Sanchez tried to explain to CNN on July 27, “This is what I would call a terrorist magnet, where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity.”  He added, “The key that we must not lose sight of is that we must win this battle here in Iraq.  Otherwise America will find itself taking on these terrorists at home.”[365]

The general was not in a position to question or challenge the premises of U.S. foreign policy in Iraq or elsewhere.  His job was to implement the policies of his commander-in-chief.  Indeed, the U.S. military was the place where the Bush administration’s muddle of lies and fearful projections took root.  Those doing the fighting wanted to believe that they were doing something good; that their actions in far-off lands were in defense of the American people and homeland; that their presence in Iraq made sense.  Failing to interrogate the false assumptions and rationales that led to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, Sanchez and company came to view Iraqi resisters as part of the “bad guys,” linking them to international terrorism and the “war on terror.”  Moreover, as Iraqi insurgents ambushed U.S. soldiers and planted improvised explosive devices (IEDs), they were also regarded as “terrorists.”
The rhetorical “war on terror” provided not only an explanation for why U.S. troops were in Iraq but also motivation.  Marine Lt. Gen. James T. Conway, for one, was up for the fight, declaring that “our methods [are] always to respond with even greater force.”[366]  The problem with this line of military thinking was that the insurgents were often invisible, mixing in with the general population; hence, the force applied did not necessarily strike the right targets or achieve the desired results.  U.S. forces, moreover, did not just respond with greater force; they also went on the offensive.[367]  As General Odierno reported in late October 2003, “our soldiers are involved in almost daily contact with terrorists, former regime members and common criminals.  To defeat these attacks and continue to improve the security and stability within our area, we are conducting search and attack missions, crisis patrols and a series of aggressive operations to disarm, defeat and destroy hostile forces . . . These efforts have been highly successful, producing a stabilizing effect throughout the region.”[368]
Except that the operations did not result in more stability and security in Iraq.  According to war correspondent Dexter Filkins in Baghdad, “The emergence of the Iraqi insurgency stunned senior American commanders, who had planned for a short, sharp war against a uniformed army, with a bout of peacekeeping afterward.  Now there was no peace to keep.  In response, American officers ordered their soldiers to bring Iraq back under control.  They urged their men to go after the enemy, and they authorized a range of aggressive tactics.”[369]
Indeed, the U.S. military seemed to make enemies wherever it went.  Foreign soldiers who could not speak Arabic and did not know or respect the customs of the people patrolled the streets, entered houses, damaged property, arrested young men without charges, and shot people with impunity.[370]   “The insurgency not only persisted, it intensified, thanks in part to the actions of U.S. forces,” writes Andrew Bacevich.  “The undisguised aim was to cow the population rather than to win hearts and minds.”[371]
This reality, however, was disguised for Americans back home who were inundated with the Bush narrative of liberation and encouraged to patriotically support the war.  A Time magazine/CNN poll taken September 3-4, 2003, indicated that 71 percent of Americans believed the U.S. was doing a good job in Iraq since the official end of the war on May 1.[372]
Bush also promoted the liberation narrative in his State of the Union address on January 20, 2004.  “And above all,” he said, “we will finish the historic work of democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, so those nations can light the way for others and help transform a troubled part of the world.”  If the U.S. was to succeed in this mission, Bush continued, more concerted efforts would be needed to vanquish “the enemies of freedom.”  Hence, he said, “Our forces are on the offensive, leading over 1,600 patrols a day and conducting an average of 180 raids a week.  We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil regime.”[373]

Still, the security situation in Iraq continued to decline.  A Time magazine article (December 8, 2003) written by Brian Bennett and Vivienne Walt, based in Baghdad, called attention to the conundrum of more aggressive patrolling resulting in less security:

U.S. troops face a difficult task in trying to root out the violent insurgents who want to drive them out of Iraq.  But in pursuing this deadly enemy, the Americans are frequently guilty of excesses that are turning ordinary Iraqis into foes.  Bush’s Thanksgiving visit [to Baghdad] meant little to Iraqis, who cite three areas of concern:  the killing of innocents, the “disappearance” of countrymen detained by U.S. forces, and the destruction of buildings, including family homes. . . . As U.S. forces employ more aggressive tactics to take on the resistance, these grievances are only getting worse, setting back the effort to win over local hearts and minds.  “Before the Americans came, we heard a lot about their respect for human rights,” says Khalid Mustafa Akbar, at a mourning tent for his three brothers who were shot dead while driving their pickup by a U.S. patrol outside Tikrit last week.  “But then we found it is only talk.”

U.S. officials claimed they kept no record of noncombatant fatalities.  They did acknowledge, however, that some 5,000 “suspected terrorists” were being held in custody as of early December (often without charges and without notifying families) and that a number of private houses had been demolished in Tikrit and elsewhere.[374]

In the city of Fallujah, following the violent incidents in the spring of 2003, U.S. forces doubled-down on the population and began confiscating motorcycles from local residents, claiming that they were being used for hit-and-run attacks.  Insurgent attacks and IED bombings nonetheless continued to increase, to the point that the U.S. military command pulled all U.S. troops out of the city in March 2004.  On March 31, insurgents ambushed and killed four American private security contractors, after which their charred bodies were dragged through the streets amid celebratory shouts, and two of the bodies were hung from a bridge over the Euphrates River.  Footage of the scene was broadcast by al-Jazeera and subsequently aired by news outlets across the world.

First Battle of Fallujah: U.S. Marines clear portions of the city, April 7, 2004 (Marine Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi)

Upon viewing the shocking images, Bush and company pressed General Sanchez to launch a retaliatory attack on the city.  Major General James Mattis and Lieutenant General James Conway argued against the order, citing the danger to civilians and the unlikelihood that they would apprehend the perpetrators, but they were overruled.  Operation Vigilant Resolve went forward on April 4.  Over the next six days, three Marine battalions established a cordon around the city, then began a slow, methodical advance into the city, fighting door-to-door.  Artillery and air strikes were called in to pulverize selected buildings where insurgents were thought to be hiding.  A mosque was destroyed, resulting a public relations disaster for the U.S.  In all, an estimated 220 Iraqi civilians were killed during the first two weeks of fighting.  The Coalition furthermore faced a mutiny from Iraqi forces attached to the 1st Marine Division who refused to advance into the city.

The Battle of Fallujah inspired uprisings in two other Sunni-dominated cities, ar-Ramadi and an-Najaf.  The new Iraqi Governing Council, formed on July 13, 2003, recognized the wildfire that had been created and pressured Bremer to call off the offensive in Fallujah.  An order was issued on April 9 suspending all Coalition offensive operations in the city.  Coalition forces were then withdrawn and replaced by a newly formed, all-Iraqi force known as the Fallujah Brigade led by a former Iraqi army general.  “The brigade ultimately failed, however, with many of its members joining the insurgency,” noted a U.S. Marines report.[375]

Second Battle of Fallujah:  A U.S. Marine takes away a handcuffed captured man in the center of the city, Nov. 12, 2004 (Anja Niedringhaus, AP Pulitzer Prize winning photo)

The First Battle of Fallujah marked a victory for the insurgents, albeit a temporary one.  The Marines returned in November 2004 to fight the Second Battle of Fallujah and establish control over the city.  U.S. military officials estimated that roughly 80 percent of the civilian population fled the city before the attack.  U.S. troop fatalities from hostile incidents peaked during those two months of battle – 126 in April 2004, and 125 in November 2004.[376]

Apart from battles, the most effective weapon employed by insurgents was the improvised explosive device (IED), a simple and deadly mechanism that was often planted on roads traveled by U.S. convoys.  From June 2003 through November 2004, there were 1,935 IED “effective incidents” in which 412 U.S. soldiers were killed and 4,148 soldiers were maimed or wounded.  This included 40 killed and 418 wounded in November alone.[377]
When Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited Camp Buehring in Kuwait on December 8, 2004, he was asked why U.S. soldiers had to scrounge though local landfills to find pieces of metal to undercoat their trucks and Humvees for protection against roadside bombs.  “Why don’t we have those resources readily available to us?” asked Specialist Thomas Wilson of the Tennessee National Guard, drawing cheers from many of the 2,300 troops assembled in the cavernous airplane hangar.  Taken aback, Rumsfeld answered, “Now settle down, settle down.  Hell, I’m an old man, it’s early in the morning and I’m gathering my thoughts here.”  His answer hardly relieved anxieties.  He stated that equipment shortages would likely continue for some time, adding, “You go to war with the army you have, not the army you might want or wish to have at a later time” (he may have meant “armor” instead of “army”).[378]  The high-tech Revolution in Military Affairs seems to have passed over this basic need of common soldiers.
Another hardship for U.S. soldiers was that many were serving longer than expected, as the administration had instituted a “stop-loss” program that prevented thousands of active-duty soldiers and reservists from leaving military service, adding months to their tours of duty.  As of March 2009, there were 13,200 people under stop-loss orders.  Over the course of the war, some 120,000 soldiers were affected by the program.  This was, as Senator John Kerry put it, a “back-door draft” in an all-volunteer army.[379]
Detainee abuses

US Marines arrest city council members Nasar Wa Sulaan, Taha Rasheed, and others during a raid in the Abu Ghraib district of Baghdad, Nov. 2, 2004 (Anja Niedringhaus, AP)

Among Iraqis, particularly in Sunni provinces, the U.S. practice of detaining Iraqi men on mere suspicion of being associated with the insurgency was a major source of antagonism.  As of November 2003, the U.S. held 8,300 Iraqis in detention.  Two years later, the number rose to 13,000, with an additional 12,000 detained by Iraqi authorities.[380]  According to a 2006 investigative report by Amnesty International, “Since the invasion of Iraq in March 2003 tens of thousands of people have been detained by foreign forces, mainly the US forces, without being charged or tried and without the right to challenge their detention before a judicial body.”[381]  Added to this injustice was the systematic abuse and humiliation of prisoners by U.S. military personnel, almost all of whom had no training in prison management.[382]

On April 28, 2004, the shocking story of prisoner abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison was aired on the CBS news program, “60 Minutes,” featuring stories and photos of detainees beaten, tortured, and sexually exploited.  This notorious prison complex, previously operated by Saddam Hussein, housed some 3,800 detainees, including Iraqis accused of common crimes and others suspected of aiding the insurgency against U.S. occupying forces.  Lacking training and a proper accountability system, a number of U.S. Army personnel regularly abused the prisoners – and took photos and videos of the abuse.[383]

Hooded man at Abu Ghraib, Nov. 4, 2003 (Wikipedia)

One photo, taken on November 4, 2003, that became the iconic symbol of abuse at Abu Ghraib (but was tame enough to share in public media) showed a detainee nicknamed Gilligan (Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh) standing on a box with a hood over his head and wires attached to his hands.  He was told that if he fell off the box he would be electrocuted.  A staff sergeant stands at right while another took the picture.  The photo was one of hundreds released by the U.S. government’s Criminal Investigation Command.

According to Dana Milbank of the Washington Post (May 1, 2004), “Arab countries reacted with rage and revulsion yesterday after images of U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners were broadcast around the world.  Bush administration and U.S. military officials scrambled to contain the furor and to assuage concerns among allies. The photos showed U.S. troops celebrating as prisoners were sexually humiliated and otherwise abused.”[384]

Iraqi women wait outside the prison in Abu Ghraib, near Baghdad, where their male family members are being held, May 2, 2004 (Anja Niedringhausm, AP)

U.S. officials claimed that the abuses at Abu Ghraib were isolated incidents and not indicative of U.S. policy.  This claim was disputed by the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch, all of which documented abuses at Abu Ghraib and beyond, indicating a wide pattern of torture and brutal treatment at U.S. overseas detention centers.  Eleven U.S. soldiers were convicted of crimes related to the mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, with variable sentences, but no senior U.S. military or administrative officials faced charges.  The Pentagon furthermore classified (kept secret) many of photos in the name of national security.  In 2017, a U.S. District Court judge ordered the Pentagon to release roughly 2,000 additional photos taken at Abu Ghraib and other sites in Iraq and Afghanistan.[385]

The unauthorized release of some 400,000 documents by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in October 2010 revealed many more cases of abuse and torture of detainees by Iraqi security forces working under U.S. commanders Col. James Steele and Col. James Coffman and others.  According to General Muntadher al-Samari, who worked with Steele and Coffman for a year, each detention center had its own interrogation committee made up of one intelligence officer and eight interrogators.  “This committee will use all means of torture to make the detainee confess like using electricity or hanging him upside down, pulling out their nails, and beating them on sensitive parts.”  Torture was routine, according to Samari. “I remember a 14-year-old who was tied to one of the library’s columns,” he told reporters in 2013, “with his legs above his head.  Tied up.  His whole body was blue because of the impact of the cables with which he had been beaten.”[386]

Sectarian conflict and terrorism

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 intensified the country’s sectarian divisions.  The Sunni community, which had been dominant during the Saddam Hussein era, became the dominated group in its aftermath.  Indeed, Iraqi army units carried Shiite flags, evidence of their sectarian allegiance.  U.S. intelligence agencies referred to this “Sunni-Shia fight” as the second Iraq War.[387]

Many Sunni Iraqis regarded the de-Baathification order as a step toward “de-Sunnification,” or the disempowerment of Sunnis in favor Shiites and the Kurds.[388]  When Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated cities rebelled in 2004, Prime Minister Iyad Allawi vowed to crush the insurgency and “annihilate those terrorist groups,” which appeared to include Sunni insurgents.[389]  Terrorist groups were in fact forming and arriving in Iraq.  According to terrorism scholars Jessica Stern and Megan McBride, “with the U.S. invasion in March 2003, terrorism within Iraq’s borders rose precipitously.”

The presence of U.S. troops in the country served as a powerful recruiting tool.  Numerous jihadi leaders around the globe described the U.S. occupation as a boon for their efforts.  An Al Qaeda strategist, the Syrian born Mustafa bin Abd al Qadir Setmariam Nasar, who wrote under the pen-name al Suri, claimed that the war in Iraq almost single-handedly rescued the jihadi movement.[390]

Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a Sunni terrorist group led by Jordanian militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, arrived about five months after the invasion.  The group targeted not only the Coalition armies and officials, but also Iraqi Shiites.  (Although AQI adopted the al Qaeda brand name, Osama bin Laden opposed AQI’s practice of targeting other Muslim groups.)  The group is suspected of bombing one of the holiest Shiite mosques, the al-Askari Shrine in the city of Samara in February 2006, which set off a wave of retaliatory violence that left over 100 dead.  Mutual attacks continued for the next two years, creating a virtual Sunni-Shiite civil war.

Some tribal leaders in the Sunni community initially welcomed AQI for the protection and assistance it afforded.  Others rejected AQI because of its attacks on fellow Muslims.  According to Major General Najim Abed Al-Jabouri and Sterling Jensen, Sunnis in Anbar province began a revolt against AQI in February 2005, some working in tandem with U.S. agents.  AQI, in turn, initiated a campaign of murder and intimidation against Sunni leaders who accepted U.S. assistance.  The latter attacks ultimately led to the Sunni community as a whole turning against AQI in what became known as the Sunni Awakening.[391]
American accounts of the Sunni Awakening have tended to conflate the Anbar Awakening, initiated by Iraqis, with a later “Sons of Iraq” program, initiated by the U.S. under General David Petraeus in mid-2007.  In the latter program, the U.S. paid Sunni tribesmen and former resistance fighters to maintain security checkpoints in areas where al Qaeda and other militant jihadist groups were known to be operating.  This employment plan was not unlike the original (rejected) plan of Jay Garner.  The Sons of Iraq program also coincided with a surge of 21,500 U.S. troops added in 2007, for a total of around 170,000, which U.S. officials erroneously credited with quelling the insurrection.
The change in U.S. attitudes toward the Sunnis made all the difference.  “For example,” note Al-Jabouri and Jensen, “General Petraeus, [while serving as] commander of the 101st Airborne Division, responsible for Ninevah Province, often met Sunni officers from the former Iraqi army and empathized with their anguish.  He appeared sympathetic to their problems and ordered that they receive a monthly salary of about $100 to work in factories and offices in his area of operation.”[392]  In hindsight, what was needed was not imperial U.S. edicts and an exertion of “greater force,” but rather, dialogue, inclusion, and de-escalation of violence.
The propensity toward violence by the occupying foreign forces was exemplified by a massacre on September 16, 2007.  Blackwater security guards, while accompanying a diplomatic convoy in Baghdad, opened fire on civilians in Nisour Square, killing 17 and wounding 20.  Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki declared afterward, “We will not tolerate the killing of Iraqis in cold blood,” adding that this was “the seventh of its kind” involving Blackwater, a private company under contract with the U.S. government.  Maliki underestimated the damage.  A study by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform described Blackwater’s use of force as “frequent and extensive.”  Between January 1, 2005 and September 12, 2007, “Blackwater employees were involved in 195 incidents of firearms discharges.  In 32 incidents, Blackwater personnel returned fire after an attack, while on 163 occasions, Blackwater fired first.”[393]  The four Blackwater security guards involved in the Nisour Square killings were tried and convicted in a U.S. federal court in 2014, one for murder and the others for manslaughter.  In December 2020, all four were pardoned by President Donald Trump.
Temporary U.S. withdrawal

President Bush and Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki of Iraq shake hands after their meeting, Sept. 25, 2007 (White House photo by Eric Draper)

On November 17, 2008, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari and U.S. ambassador Ryan Crocker signed two agreements establishing a timetable for U.S. withdrawal and addressing other issues.  The Security Agreement stipulated that all U.S. combat forces would be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, and all U.S. forces would be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011.  The Strategic Framework Agreement reinforced Iraqi sovereignty by revoking legal immunity for private contractors and U.S. military personnel outside U.S. facilities, requiring civilian detainees and prisoners of war to be handed over to Iraqi authorities after 24 hours, mandating that U.S. military missions be “fully coordinated” with Iraqis, and prohibiting the U.S. from using Iraq as a launching pad for attacks against other countries.[394]  The latter stipulation marked an ironic twist from the original U.S. mission to prevent Iraq (under Saddam Hussein) from becoming a launching pad for terrorist attacks.

President Barak Obama, upon taking charge in January 2009, followed the Bush exit plan.  As a state senator in Illinois in late 2002, he had told a reporter that he would vote against going to war in Iraq if he could (he was not a Congressman).  Now, as president, in a speech to U.S. Marines at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina on February 27, 2009, Obama declared that the war in Iraq needed to “end responsibly,” but he made no admission that the war was wrong-headed.  “Every nation and every group must know – whether you wish America good or ill – that the end of the war in Iraq will enable a new era of American leadership and engagement in the Middle East,” he said.  “And that era has just begun.”[395]  According to this reading, the war had served a useful purpose in furthering American influence in the Middle East.
Under Obama’s watch, U.S. troop levels in Iraq declined from over 140,000 in January 2009 to 39,000 in October 2011.  As the agreed-upon December 31 deadline for complete withdrawal approached, Obama sought to keep some 5,000 troops in the country and insisted they be shielded from prosecution and lawsuits.  Maliki and the Iraqi Parliament rejected the latter demand.  As such, the Obama administration withdrew almost all U.S. troops by the end of December 2011, leaving a few hundred to protect the huge U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.  Some 16,000 federal employees and contractors also remained in Iraq.  They helped administer over $1 billion in security assistance in 2012 and broker arms deals between U.S. defense contractors and the Maliki government worth nearly $11 billion.[396]
The Maliki government was partly responsible for the Sunni-Shiite civil war.  Maliki served as Prime Minister of Iraq from 2006 to 2014.  As a university student in the 1970s, he joined the Shiite Islamist Dawa party, then spent 24 years in exile in Syria after fleeing a death sentence.  During that time, Maliki cultivated close ties with Hezbollah and the Iranian government, supporting Iran’s efforts to topple Saddam.  Upon return to his native Iraq in April 2003, Maliki became deputy leader of the Supreme National De-Baathification Commission whose purpose was to purge former Baath party officials from government.[397]   In 2010, Maliki’s State of Law Party claimed victory in a parliamentary election in which more than 500 candidates had been banned from running because of their links to the Baath Party.[398]
In early 2013, protests erupted in Fallujah and other Sunni-dominated cities with the aim of bringing down “Shia Saddam,” as al-Maliki had become known.  The protests escalated into gun battles between protesters and government forces.  In the town of Hawija in April, at least 42 people were killed, including 39 civilians, and more than 100 were wounded.[399]  U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry began trying to push Maliki out of power in favor of Haidar Al-Abadi who was also committed to privatizing Iraq’s economy, a key original goal of the 2003 U.S. invasion.  Brad Sherman (D-CA), a ranking member of the House Committee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, stated that “Maliki is not a good guy just because we installed him.  His approach to governing is as responsible as any other factor for the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”[400]
The fight against ISIS
A new challenge arose in Iraq after most U.S. troops departed.  The Islamic State, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and Daesh, was a Sunni-led jihadist group that had been on the periphery for the last decade.  It emerged as a powerful force around 2013, aided by former Baathist military officers tortured at U.S.-run facilities such as Camp Bucca, and remnants of al Qaeda-in-Iraq.  Jessica Matthews, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, characterized ISIS as a “mélange of Sunni militant groups” that had forged a broad insurgency against the Al-Maliki government.  It gained support from the Military Council of the tribes of Iraq, which comprised some 80 tribes, and the Naqshbandi Order, founded by Saddam’s former Vice-President Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri and comprised of Sunni Baathists once loyal to Saddam.[401]

In June 2014, ISIS took control of the cities of Mosul and Tikrit, and ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi announced the formation of a caliphate stretching across eastern Syria and western Iraq.  Although ISIS was in essence an insurgency seeking control of territory and administering that territory once controlled, its savage methods reinforced the view in Washington that it was a terrorist group.  ISIS fighters were fanatical and brutal against their enemies, killing, raping, kidnapping, and threatening religious and ethnic minorities, including Yazidis, Shiite Muslims, and Christians.  They destroyed Shiite mosques and Christian churches, including the 1600-year-old Mar Bernham monastery built by the Assyrian King Senchareb.[402]

The Iraqi government turned to both the U.S. and Iran for help.  The two geopolitical adversaries found themselves unofficially cooperating to destroy ISIS.  The U.S. sent its formidable air force while Iran organized Shiite militia units to fight on the ground.[403]  ISIS defeated the first coalition attempt to liberate Mosul in May 2015.  A new coalition offensive began in October 2016 that included massive U.S. bombing raids on the metropolitan area, home to some 1.5 million people.  President Obama also ordered thousands of U.S. troops back to Iraq in June 2014 without seeking authorization from Congress.  He claimed not to need Congressional authorization because ISIS was the same as al-Qaeda against whom the U.S. had already declared war, though in fact the two were not one and the same.  By December 2017, the Iraqi government, with the help of its rival allies, had retaken all cities and recovered 95 percent of the territory formerly held by ISIS.

Residents carry the bodies of several people killed in bombed out Mosul, March 24, 2017 (Felipe Dana, AP)

Civilian casualties of the U.S. air war were considerable.  Navigating through the rubble of the once-thriving city of Mosul, CNN senior international correspondent Awra Damon, commented, “It’s hard to imagine that any rules were followed or how anyone survived.”  She noted that a “month-long investigation by the Associated Press found that 9,000 to 11,000 civilians were killed in Mosul, a third of them from Coalition airstrikes.”  Investigative journalists Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal traveled to various areas heavily bombed by the U.S. and its Iraqi allies.  They determined that one in five of the 27,500 Coalition air strikes over Iraq had resulted in at least one civilian death, and suggested that this latest surge of airstrikes “may be the least transparent war in recent American history.”[404]

Amnesty International reported that U.S. airstrikes killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul inside their own homes or in places of refuge.  In one of the deadliest strikes on March 17, 2017, “up to 150 people were reported killed in the Jadida neighborhood of West Mosul.”  According to Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International who carried out field investigations in Mosul:

Evidence gathered on the ground in East Mosul points to an alarming pattern of US-led coalition airstrikes which have destroyed whole houses with entire families inside.  The high civilian toll suggests that coalition forces leading the offensive in Mosul have failed to take adequate precautions to prevent civilian deaths, in flagrant violation of international humanitarian law.  The fact that Iraqi authorities repeatedly advised civilians to remain at home instead of fleeing the area, indicates that coalition forces should have known that these strikes were likely to result in a significant number of civilian casualties.  Disproportionate attacks and indiscriminate attacks violate international humanitarian law and can constitute war crimes.[405]

A man overcome with grief after finding a loved one dead amid the rubble of a destroyed home following a U.S. airstrike in Mosul (Marcus Yam, Los Angeles Times)

The Irish Times described a “panorama of destruction in the neighborhood of Jadida so vast one resident compared the destruction to Hiroshima, Japan.  There was a charred arm, wrapped in a piece of red fabric poking from the rubble, rescue workers in red jumpsuits who came wore face masks to avoid the stench, some with rifles slung over their shoulders, searching the wreckage for bodies.”[406]  These comments exemplify the heavy human costs of the U.S. air assaults.  To be sure, ISIS was to blame for much of the killing in the region, but this does not exonerate the U.S. for its wanton destruction of cities and resulting civilian casualties.  The humanitarian crisis continued after ISIS collapsed in 2019.  Three years later, some 55,000 people affiliated with ISIS, 93 percent women and children, were being held at the Al Hol detention camp in northern Syria, guarded by the U.S.-backed, Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.  The latter also held about 10,000 men suspected of being ISIS fighters in two dozen prisons in the area.[407]

Costs of war and public opinion

“No one knows with certainty how many people have been killed and wounded in Iraq since the 2003 United States invasion,” write Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz, directors of the Costs of War Project at Brown University.  “However, we know that between 184,382 and 207,156 civilians have died from direct war related violence caused by the U.S., its allies, the Iraqi military and police, and opposition forces from the time of the invasion through October 2019.  The violent deaths of Iraqi civilians have occurred through aerial bombing, shelling, gunshots, suicide attacks, and fires started by bombing.  Many civilians have also been injured.”  Not included in these figures are Iraqi civilians who died “as an indirect result of the war, due to damage to the systems that provide food, health care and clean drinking water, and as a result, illness, infectious diseases, and malnutrition that could otherwise have been avoided or treated.”[408]

Other fatalities from seventeen years of war include 48,000 to 52,000 Iraqi military and police, 35,000 to 40,000 opposition fighters, 8,175 U.S. military personnel and contractors, 323 Allied troops, 277 journalists and media workers, and 63 humanitarian workers – all told, 276,000 to 308,000 people.  While the Shia-Sunni sectarian war can be blamed for many fatalities, this conflict was in large part a product of the “failed state” created by the U.S. invasion.  As U.S. ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad lamented in 2006, the toppling of Hussein regime opened a “Pandora’s box” of volatile ethnic and sectarian tensions, with Sunni and Shiite extremist groups committing acts of terrorism against their fellow Muslims.[409]

Retired Lt. General Greg Newbold, former Director of Operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff (2000-2002), was more specific in identifying U.S. failures, featured in a Time Magazine article in April 2006:

What we are living with now is the consequences of successive policy failures.  Some of the missteps include: the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department.  My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions – or bury the results.

Contrarily, Donald Rumsfeld expressed no regrets for the U.S. invasion.  In his 2011 memoir, “Known and Unknown,” he insisted, “Ridding the region of Saddam’s brutal regime has created a more stable and secure world.”[410]

Brookings Institution casualty chart, Iraq War, 2003-2013

The American public initially shared Rumsfeld’s optimism but soon came to a more somber view of U.S. involvement in Iraq.  Within a year, it was widely recognized that there were no WMD in Iraq, although many Americans still believed there was a connection between Hussein and al Qaeda.  Second, the public grew more pessimistic as invasion turned into a prolonged occupation and counterinsurgency war.  Third, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in April 2004 led many Americans to question whether the U.S. was indeed the “good guy” in the Iraq mission.  Fourth, the rising number of fatalities and injuries suffered by U.S. troops – with 331 killed in the three-month period from April through June 2007 – prompted critical questions as to the purpose of the war and when it would end.  Fifth, for some Americans at least, there was growing concern over Iraqi casualties and suffering.

By the end of Bush’s term, even Scott McClellan, the president’s loyal press secretary, was disheartened by the war, writing in his 2008 memoir, “History appears poised to confirm what most Americans today have decided – that the decision to invade Iraq was a serious strategic blunder. . . . Waging an unnecessary war is a grave mistake.”[411]
Asked by Gallup pollsters, “In view of the developments since we first sent our troops to Iraq, do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?” those who said, “Yes, this was a mistake,” increased from a low of 23% in late March 2003 to 42% in January 2004, to 50% in January 2005, to 58% in January 2007, and reached a high of 62% in July 2007.  In August 2019, 50% said that the war was a mistake, 45% said it was not a mistake, and 5% had no opinion.[412]
U.S. standing in the Middle East, while never high, remained abysmally low nine years after the U.S. invaded Iraq.  In the spring of 2012, the Pew Research Center queried citizens in six friendly countries:  “Please tell me if you have a very favorable, somewhat favorable, somewhat unfavorable or very unfavorable opinion of the United States.”  The responses were as follows (combining very and somewhat in each case):
  • Turkey: 15% favorable vs. 72% unfavorable
  • Egypt: 19% favorable vs. 79% unfavorable
  • Jordan: 12% favorable vs. 86% unfavorable
  • Lebanon: 45% favorable vs. 49% unfavorable
  • Tunisia: 45% favorable vs. 45% unfavorable
  • Pakistan: 12% favorable vs. 80% unfavorable
In all six countries, the great majority of those polled stated that democracy was preferable to a non-democratic government, yet this did not mean they thought the U.S. was the emissary of democratic reform.  Pew poll takers asked, “In general, do you think the U.S. government favors or opposes democracy in the Middle East?”  The results were as follows (the U.S. favors democracy versus the U.S. opposes democracy):
  • Turkey: 12% vs. 58%
  • Egypt: 37%  vs. 52%
  • Jordan: 14%  vs. 67%
  • Lebanon: 42%  vs. 47%
  • Tunisia: 26%  vs. 57%
  • Pakistan: 15% vs. 37%
The vast majority of Americans, of course, believe that the U.S. favors democracy abroad.  Many people outside the U.S., however, pay attention to U.S. actions rather than to the glittering pronouncements of U.S. leaders; and in practice, the U.S. has often backed authoritarian governments in the Mideast, including at one time, the government of Saddam Hussein in Iraq.[413]
Former Marine Joanna Sweatt, who was part of the original U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, remarked 19 years later, “I would like people to really focus on the loss of our humanity that these wars have allowed to continue.  I’m very frustrated with Washington.  It’s not their sacrifice.  It’s the people’s sacrifice in all the regions that are affected.”  On the 20th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq (March 2023), General Jay Garner reflected on the naivete of Secretary Rumsfeld’s original plan.  “His thinking was that we would liberate Iraq and then just walk away,” Garner told the New York Times.  “We overthrew Saddam and handed the country over to Iran.  The whole thing’s been a disaster.  You had to be blind not to at least suspect that this would happen.”[414]

*          *          *          *          *

VI.  Counterterrorism:  “The world is a battlefield”

When President George W. Bush announced his “war on terror” on September 20, 2001, he made no mention of the United Nations, international law, or international cooperation, except to issue an ultimatum to other nations, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”  The Bush administration had already established its “lone wolf,” unilateralist foreign policy orientation during its first eight months in office.  This includes:
  • dismissing a UN resolution passed a year earlier on the Prevention of an Outer Space Arms Race by declaring its intent to deploy weapons in space;
  • rejecting a UN draft proposal to enforce a 29-year-old treaty against germ warfare;
  • refusing to participate in an environmental summit in Bonn in which 178 nations agreed to rules for cutting the emissions of greenhouse gases that cause global warming;
  • demanding, virtually alone at a UN conference, that an agreement to limit illegal trafficking in small arms be watered down; and
  • repudiating participation in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), its purpose being to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes.[415]

The International Criminal Court, headquartered in The Hague, Netherlands.

Regarding the latter, the administration not only rejected participation in the ICC – a potential ally in the quest to bring terrorists to justice – but also vilified the new, permanent international court.  The court was officially established on July 1, 2002, after 60 countries ratified the Rome Statute.  At the behest of the Bush administration, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act on August 2, 2002.  The act prohibits any U.S. government official from cooperating with the ICC, bans U.S. military assistance to ICC signatories except for certain allies and clients, and authorizes the president to use “all means necessary and appropriate” to free U.S. government employees and certain other categories of U.S. citizens from ICC detainment, should this ever occur.[416]  In essence, this law was a militant statement against supranational authority and a “rules-based international order.”[417]

This was the context in which the Bush administration approached the global problem of terrorism.  Administration officials had no intention of being bound by international humanitarian law and human rights principles in their quest to capture or kill suspected terrorists and “militants.”  Vice President Dick Cheney gave a hint at what was to come in an interview with journalist Tim Russert at Camp David on September 16, 2001, five days after the 9/11 attacks.  After declaring that the U.S. had “the world’s finest military” and would use it against nations that harbored terrorists, he said:

VP Dick Cheney in his West Wing office, March 19, 2003 (White House photo by David Bohrer)

We also have to work, though, sort of the dark side, if you will.  We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world.  A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies, if we’re going to be successful.  That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective. . . . It is a mean, nasty, dangerous dirty business out there, and we have to operate in that arena.  I’m convinced we can do it; we can do it successfully.  But we need to make certain that we have not tied the hands, if you will, of our intelligence communities in terms of accomplishing their mission.[418]

The following day, September 17, 2001, President Bush secretly authorized a CIA Detention Program, granting the CIA new open-ended authority to capture and detain, without charges, anyone suspected of posing a “continuing, serious threat” to the United States.  The directive led to the creation of a number of CIA “black sites,” or undisclosed detention centers in other countries – Afghanistan, Lithuania, Romania, Poland, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Thailand – where captives were held incommunicado in deeply degrading conditions and subjected to torture.[419]

To keep the program under wraps, the White House dissuaded Congressional committees from requiring the CIA to answer questions in open testimony about the conditions under which detainees were held, citing national security concerns.[420]  According to a 2022 report by Human Rights Watch researchers Letta Tayler and Elisa Epstein:

With the participation of at least 54 governments, the CIA secretly and extrajudicially transferred [or kidnapped] at least 119 foreign Muslims from one foreign country to another for incommunicado detention and harsh interrogation at various CIA black sites.  At least 39 of the men were subjected to “waterboarding,” “walling,” “rectal feeding” – a form of rape – and other forms of torture.  The U.S. military also held thousands of foreign Muslim security detainees and prisoners-of-war – including some women and boys – at its detention centers abroad including Abu Ghraib in Iraq, Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, and its naval base at Guantánamo, and also subjected many to physical and psychological abuse.[421]

Another means of dealing with suspected terrorists and “militants” was to assassinate them via armed drones, a new technology.  The use of drone weaponry allowed the U.S. to “hit any target anytime in the world, any weather, day or night,” in the words of General David Deptula, dean of the Air Force Association’s Billy Mitchell School of Airpower Studies.[422]   Suspects were killed without benefit of trial, judge, or jury; indeed, many did not even know they were “suspects.”

Assassinations became standard practice during the Bush administration and accelerated under the Obama administration.  Two agencies, the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), were given authority to initiate drone strikes.  One officer familiar with JSOC operations described the mindset at the agency to investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill:  “The world is a battlefield and we are at war.  Therefore, the military can go wherever they please and do whatever it is that they want to do, in order to achieve the national security objectives of whichever administration happens to be in power.”[423]

Imprisonment and torture at Guantánamo

At the Guantánamo naval base and prison in Cuba, the U.S. detained 779 Muslim men and boys from forty-eight countries between 2002 and 2008, including five from the United Kingdom.[424]  President Bush described them as “the worst of the worst,” but this was hardly the case.  Only 18 of the detainees were ever charged with a crime, and only five were convicted by a military tribunal.[425]

Detainees upon arrival at Camp X-Ray, Guantánamo, January 2002 (Photo by Shane T. McCoy, U.S. Navy)

The Bush administration denied those detained the right to a fair trial under U.S. law (habeas corpus Constitutional rights) and protections against torture and ill-treatment under international law.  Administration officials claimed that Guantánamo lay outside U.S. jurisdiction, as the base was permanently leased rather than owned by the U.S.  This was patently false as every aspect of the base operated under U.S. law.  The prisoners were called “detainees” rather than “prisoners” in order to avoid international requirements related to the treatment of prisoners-of-war; and unlike prisoners-of-war, the detainees could be held indefinitely as the “war on terror” had no end.

A significant number of the detainees held at Guantánamo had effectively been sold to the U.S. for bounties.  U.S. airplanes dropped flyers and leaflets across Afghanistan and Pakistan, written in Pashto and Dari, announcing large payments for aiding in the capture of Taliban and al Qaeda fighters.  “It was an extremely lucrative business, and many people took advantage of the opportunity,” writes law professor Peter Honigsberg.  “Tribes living in the Pakistani and Afghani regions sold members of enemy tribes to the United States.  Other Afghanis and Pakistanis seized Arab expatriates living in Afghanis and sold them.  The ransoms ranged from $5,000 to $20,000 or more.”[426]
Among those forcibly taken to Guantánamo were twelve young Kuwaitis on a humanitarian mission in Afghanistan.  The locals turned in these Arabs for a hefty gain.  The father of one of the young Kuwaiti men had served as a colonel in the Kuwaiti Air Force during the Persian Gulf War.  He rallied the other families together to hire lawyers.  The families spent some two million dollars in legal fees overall to challenge their sons’ indefinite detention.  It took between three and fourteen years before all were released.  Not one of them was officially charged with a crime.[427]

In another case, reported the New York Times:

In May 2003, Afghan forces captured Prisoner 1051, an Afghan named Sharbat, near the scene of a roadside bomb explosion, the documents show.  He denied any involvement, saying he was a shepherd.  Guantánamo debriefers and analysts agreed, citing his consistent story, his knowledge of herding animals and his ignorance of ‘simple military and political concepts,’ according to his assessment.  Yet a military tribunal declared him an “enemy combatant” anyway, and he was not sent home until 2006.[428]

The Bush administration justified its kidnapping and incarceration program by asserting that many of the detainees were high-level al Qaeda operatives who would provide critical information when interrogated.  “However,” according to Honigsberg, “over time it became apparent that not one of the initial three hundred captives, known as enemy combatants, was anything more than a low- to mid-level participant.  A study published in 2006 that relied exclusively on government records and documents concluded that 55 percent of the detainees had not committed any hostile acts against the United States or its allies.  Only 8 percent were characterized as al Qaeda fighters.”[429]  In other words, 92 percent of the detainees knew nothing about al Qaeda, and among the alleged al Qaeda fighters, only a handful, if any, might have had knowledge of planning and operations.

UK citizens (L-R) Asif Iqbal, Shafiq Rasul, and Ruhel Ahmed were released from Guantánamo in August 2004. Rasul and Iqbal were petitioners in the Supreme Court case, Rasul v. Bush (photo by Lala Ráscic)

In June 2004, the Supreme Court ruled in Rasul v. Bush that the detainees at Guantánamo had the right to consult with lawyers and petition federal courts to review the legality of their detentions.  Still, the Bush administration continued to impede meaningful legal hearings, arguing that any trial in which evidence was presented would compromise CIA, military, and FBI investigations and sources of information.[430]  In lieu of court trials, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which gave statutory authorization to existing Combatant Status Review Tribunals.  Detainees were brought before these military tribunals but not allowed to see the classified evidence against them.  In virtually all cases, their status as “enemy combatants” was confirmed.

This end-run around habeas corpus rights was challenged in court once again, and the Supreme Court ruled in June 2008 in favor of the plaintiffs.  In Boumediene v. Bush, the court asserted the Constitutional right of the detainees to challenge their detentions in a court of law, firmly rejecting the administration’s practice of treating Guantánamo as a “law-free zone.”[431]
The international community also weighed in on these rogue counterterrorist operations.  In December 2006, the UN General Assembly adopted the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.  Sixty-eight states ratified the treaty, which entered into force in 2010, but the U.S. was not one of them.[432]
Ill-treatment and torture of detainees
In addition to being denied the right to a fair trial, the prisoners at Guantánamo were denied protections against abuse under international law, specifically the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977, and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which the U.S. ratified in 1994.  The latter convention requires each participating state to take “measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.  No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”[433]
The Bush administration sought to create such “exceptional circumstances” for detainees at Guantánamo.  On February 7, 2002, Bush issued a memorandum to agency heads declaring that “common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.”[434]  Attorney generals John Ashcroft (2001-2005) and Alberto Gonzales (2005-2007) attempted to buttress this position by labeling detainees “enemy combatants,” a term that had no legal meaning.  Under the Geneva Conventions, all detainees are either “lawful combatants” or “unlawful combatants” – there are no other options – and both are protected against ill-treatment and torture.  For over two years, the administration did not permit a detainee to meet a lawyer.[435]

According to a 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report on torture, “On July 24, 2002, the attorney general verbally approved the use of 10 interrogation techniques, which included: the attention grasp, walling, the facial hold, the facial slap (insult slap), cramped confinement, wall standing, stress positions, sleep deprivation, use of diapers, and use of insects.”  Other so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” were also used, according to the report:

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to ‘rectal rehydration’ or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity.  The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.”  The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one detainee that he would only leave in a coffin-shaped box. . . . CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families – to include threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”[436]

Abu Zubaydah’s drawings, provided by his lawyer Mark Denbeaux (CNN)

Among those tortured was Abu Zubaydah, a Saudi national who was suspected of being an Al Qaeda member and arrested in Pakistan on March 28, 2002.  The CIA thought they had captured al Qaeda’s Number 3 man.  He was hauled off to “black sites” and horribly tortured before being sent to Guantánamo in September 2006 for more “enhanced interrogation techniques.”  Interrogators eventually discovered that he had never been a member of al Qaeda or fought American forces.  He was still imprisoned when ProPublica published in May 2018 a series of Zubaydah’s drawings of the torture techniques to which he had been subjected over the years.  CIA interrogators said they wanted Zubaydah to “remain in isolation and incommunicado for the remainder of his life,” according to the 2014 Senate Intelligence Committee report, no doubt to protect themselves from criminal charges.  In December 2019, Zubaydah’s lawyer Mark Denbeaux released a report entitled “How America Tortures” that included Zubaydah’s drawings, which in turn were republished in the New York Times.  Though never charged with a crime, Zubaydah remained at Guantánamo in a state of indefinite detention.[437]

In public, Bush administration officials maintained the pretense of abiding by all national and international laws designed to ensure humane treatment of prisoners.  On June 26, 2003, Bush marked the UN International Day in Support of Victims of Torture by issuing a statement that was blatantly contradicted by U.S. practices.  “Torture anywhere is an affront to human dignity everywhere,” he said.  “The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading this fight by example.  I call on all governments to join with the United States and the community of law-abiding nations in prohibiting, investigating, and prosecuting all acts of torture.”[438]

Zubaydah’s drawings of water torture techniques

In May 2005, Amnesty International issued a 164-page report chastising the administration for fostering a “culture of impunity” at Guantánamo:  “Over a year after the Abu Ghraib torture scandal broke, and as evidence of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment by US forces in the ‘war on terror’ continues to mount, not one US agent has been charged with ‘war crimes’ or ‘torture’ under US law.”[439]

The Bush administration responded by sending a contingent of ten military notables in its employ, led by retired Air Force general Donald W. Shepperd, to inspect Guantánamo on June 24, 2005.  After a few hours of cursory inspection, Shepperd declared that allegations of abuse were wrong and that all detainees were being treated humanely.  “The impressions that you’re getting from the media and from the various pronouncements being made by people who have not been here in my opinion are totally false,” he said.[440]
Eight years later, a Congressional investigation backed up Amnesty International’s allegations of abuse.  In a 577-page report issued in April 2013, a bipartisan Congressional panel concluded that the U.S. had “violated its international legal obligations by engineering ‘enforced disappearances’ and secret detentions,” and by conducting “brutal interrogations” that violated the international Convention against Torture.[441]

This drawing by Abu Zubaydah shows a CIA-approved torture technique called “cramped confinement” (Mark Denbeaux’s report)

The following year, a detailed and lengthy Senate Intelligence Committee report concluded that “CIA personnel, aided by two outside contractors, decided to initiate a program of indefinite secret detention and the use of brutal interrogation techniques in violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.  This Committee Study documents the abuses and countless mistakes made between late 2001 and early 2009.”[442]  The committee report spelled out the administration’s unnecessary, counterproductive, and egregious practices:

  • “The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees. . . . While being subjected to the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques and afterwards, multiple CIA detainees fabricated information, resulting in faulty intelligence.” (This was an important acknowledgement that torture did not enhance national security, but rather, misled counterterrorist agencies.)
  • “The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.” (The CIA lied about the reputed benefits of its torture techniques in order to continue them.)
  • “The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others. . . . The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policymakers and others.” (The CIA did not reveal the extent of its detainee abuses.)
  • The CIA “repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the Department of Justice” and impeded effective oversight of its activities by Congress, the White House, and the Office of Inspector General. (U.S. accountability procedures were ignored.)
  • “The CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program damaged the United States’ standing in the world, and resulted in other significant monetary and non-monetary costs.”[443]
A Senate Intelligence Committee report in 2014 spelled out the administration’s unnecessary and egregious abuses of detainees.
The CIA’s detention and torture operations not only damaged America’s reputation; they also undermined the international cooperation needed for global counterterrorism efforts to succeed.  In predominantly Muslim countries – America’s most important allies in counterterrorist intelligence operations – the ill-treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo inflamed anti-U.S. sentiment and stoked jihadist recruitment efforts.  In countries everywhere, the tainted U.S. programs – extrajudicial renditions (kidnappings), indefinite detentions (holding prisoners without trial), and inhumane treatment of detainees – elicited revulsion rather than a spirit of cooperation with the U.S.
In February 2003, the CIA kidnapped an Egyptian cleric named Abu Omar in Milan, Italy, and flew him to Egypt for interrogation.  Italian security agencies were miffed.  “We do feel quite betrayed that this operation was carried out in our city,” a senior Italian investigator said.  “We supplied them information about Abu Omar, and then they used that information against us, undermining an entire operation against his terrorist network.”  Two years later, an Italian judge signed an arrest warrant for 13 U.S. CIA officers and operatives.  They were charged with kidnapping, a crime that carried a maximum penalty of 10 years and 8 months in prison.  The Bush administration did not cooperate with the investigation.  “The American system is of little use to us,” said a senior Italian counterterrorism investigator.  “It’s a one-way street.  We give them what we have, but we are given no useful information that can help us prosecute people.”[444]
The case of Majid Khan

Majid Khan (attorney courtesy photo to Carol Rosenberg)

Among the detainees tortured was Majid Khan, a Pakistani citizen and legal U.S. resident who graduated from a suburban Baltimore high school in 1999.  While on a trip to Pakistan to find a marriage partner in February 2002, he was recruited by al Qaeda. “I was stupid, so incredibly stupid,” he later reflected.  “But they promised to relieve my pain and purify my sins.  They promised to redeem me, and I believed them.”  On March 5, 2003, the 23-year-old Khan was apprehended by the Pakistani police and turned over to the CIA.  Khan told his captors everything he knew about al Qaeda – he had been a courier – but the CIA thought he knew more and decided to use “enhanced interrogation techniques” on him.  He was flown to a secret CIA detention center where he was kept in dungeon-like conditions and tortured – his arms chained in ways to make sleep impossible, his body submerged in icy cold water, and water poured into his nose and mouth to make him feel like he was drowning (waterboarding).  His whereabouts were kept secret from his family for three and a half years.

On September 6, 2006, President Bush announced that fourteen high-value detainees, including Khan, were at Guantánamo.  Khan was never tried in a court of law, but on April 15, 2007, he was given a chance to appeal his status as an “enemy combatant” before a Combatant Status Review Tribunal.  A prosecutor read the “facts” of his case, then Khan was escorted out of the room while the review committee heard classified information.  The committee ruled against Khan’s release.  Khan came to the conclusion that the information being withheld from him was not about his involvement in al Qaeda, which he had readily divulged, but about the abuse he had received at the hands of his captors, which U.S. officials wanted to keep secret.  As he later wrote in a letter:

U.S.A. government made a big mistake by torturing a permanent resident of U.S.A.  They had no option but to make me Top Secret detainee to do coverup on their mistake.  Not only that I was resident of U.S.A. but I officially Spoke English and if I had gone to media to show the world what they did to me then [that would put] lots of people in Washington in bad spot, possibly for long time in prison.  That is the very reason they made me Enemy Combatant, taking away all my rights, that is the very reason they made me Top Secret.  So the public won’t know what I got to Say about the crime that Bush Administration committed in the name of Good American people or in the name of So Called “War on Terror.”[445]

Khan’s accusations of torture were verified by the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture, released December 9, 2014, which revealed that Khan had been subjected to “rectal feeding,” a form of rape, among other forms of abuse.[446]

During another military hearing in the fall of 2021, Khan described his brutal and humiliating treatment at the hands of his captors.  Seven of the eight jurors who heard his testimony subsequently wrote a letter to military authorities declaring, “This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests.  Instead, it is a stain on the moral fiber of America; the treatment of Mr. Khan in the hands of U.S. personnel should be a source of shame for the U.S. government.”[447]  On March 1, 2022, a military jury finally approved Khan for release, but he remained at Guantánamo until a country could be found to take him.
Other cases
Over the course of two decades, the prison population at Guantánamo dwindled to 37 detainees as of May 2022.  During the last years of the Bush administration, 500 were transferred to other countries accompanied by various agreements regarding monitoring, rehabilitation, and reintegration; another 197 were transferred during the Obama years, and one was transferred to a prison in another country under the Trump administration.  Nine detainees died at Guantánamo.[448]  Of the 37 remaining detainees in May 2022, twenty had been approved for transfer, including Khan, twelve had been charged with crimes – ten were awaiting trial and two had been convicted – and five had neither been charged with crimes nor recommended for release, remaining in a state of indefinite detention.

Hassan bin Attach (Wikipedia)

One of the detainees cleared for transfer, in April 2022, was Hassan bin Attash, a citizen of Yemen.  He was picked up by Pakistani intelligence on September 11, 2002.  Only 16 years old at the time, he was accused of working with senior level al-Qaeda operatives but never charged with a crime.  He endured two years of torture at various “black sites” in other countries before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2004.  He is the younger brother of another Guantánamo detainee, Walid bin Attash, who was formally charged with selecting and helping to train several hijackers of the 9/11 attacks.  Walid was also tortured in the secret U.S. prison network before being transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006.  The brothers were never allowed to see or talk to each other.  Hassan became fluent in English during his long imprisonment and stated that he wants to become an Arabic-English translator after release.[449]

Mohammed al-Qahtani was cleared for transfer in February 2022 after being detained for over 20 years.  He was suspected of being a potential “20th hijacker” in the 9/11 attacks but was never put on trial.  The Saudi native was captured along the Pakistani frontier in December 2001 and endured “brutal interrogation by the U.S. military inside a wooden hut at Camp X-Ray in late 2002 and early 2003,” according to the New York Times:

Hour-by-hour logs leaked to Time magazine showed military interrogators placed Mr. Qahtani in solitary confinement, stripped him naked, forcibly shaved him, and subjected him to prolonged sleep deprivation, dehydration, exposure to cold, and various psychological and sexual humiliations like making him bark like a dog, dance with a man and wear women’s underwear on his head.  They extracted a confession, which he later recanted.  Mr. Qahtani’s treatment was so degrading and abusive that the Bush administration official overseeing military commissions, Susan J. Crawford, concluded in 2008 that he could not be prosecuted.[450]

All in all, the abusive U.S. counterterrorist program violated U.S. and international laws, and undermined America’s self-declared leadership in the global “war on terror.”  According to legal expert Peter Jan Honigsberg:

It did not have to be this way.  We did not have to abandon our grand legal system, a system that has contributed to making the United States the most esteemed nation in the world.  We could have applied the rule of law to the people we have held since 9/11 and still protected ourselves and our nation from terrorists.  We could have charged accused terrorists with specific federal crimes or with war crimes and provided them a fair and meaningful hearing on the accusations.  It would not have been hard to do the right thing. [451]

Killing by remote control

MQ-1_Predator unmanned aircraft, fitted with missiles

The use of Remotely Piloted Vehicles, or drones, became a standard feature of America’s “war on terror,” used for both surveillance and assassinations.  Drone crews at the Creech Air Force Base in Indian Springs, Nevada, consisted of a sensor operator who guided the drone’s surveillance camera, an intelligence analyst who interpreted and documented video footage, and a pilot who directed the drone.  The crew was directed by a coordinator – from the CIA or JSOC, or possibly an authorized ground commander – who the crew called “the customer,” as in “the customer is always right.”  In actuality, the directing agencies often got it wrong.  “A survey published in 2020 found that 40 percent of drone crew members reported witnessing between one and five civilian killings,” noted the New York Times.  “Seven percent had witnessed six or more.”[452]

Much of the American public and most members of Congress supported the use of armed drones because they kept U.S. personnel out of harm’s way.  The killing of innocents was also a concern, but successive U.S. administrations made every effort to hide civilian casualties by not following up on drone crew reports, by keeping all information on drone strikes classified, and by lying outright to the American public.
Critics of the drone program raised a number of concerns related to:  (a) government secrecy and lack of accountability; (b) civilians killed and injured, houses and property destroyed, and communities terrorized by constant surveillance; (c) the blowback effect of creating more jihadists bent on revenge; (d) the illegality of drone attacks in nations with which the U.S. is not at war; and (e) the likelihood that other nations will follow the U.S. lead and undertake their own drone assassinations programs, creating international anarchy.

Pakistanis burn a mock drone aircraft during a rally against drone attacks in Peshawar on May 13, 2011 (Christian Science Monitor)

As high-level al Qaeda members were difficult to find, the Bush administration’s drone program focused on assassinating Taliban leaders; and as the Taliban leadership moved into the Waziristan region of northwestern Pakistan, also known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), U.S. drone strikes followed.  The first drone strike in Pakistan targeted the house of local Pashtun tribal leader Sher Zaman Ashrafkhel.  Five people were killed, including Sher Zaman and his two sons, aged 16 and 10, and a young Taliban leader named Nek Mohammed.[453]

A detailed study by researchers at Stanford University and New York University entitled Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan (2012) estimated that the U.S. conducted 344 drone strikes in this FATA region, 52 under President George W. Bush (from June 17, 2004 to January 2, 2009) and 292 under President Barack Obama (from January 23, 2009 to September 2, 2012).[454]

As the war in Afghanistan dragged on and frustrations mounted in Washington, the Bush administration loosened the rules of engagement for drone strikes, allowing for more civilian deaths.  In December 2007, according to counterinsurgency experts David Kilcullen and Andrew Exum, President Bush “authorized a broad expansion of drone strikes against a wide array of targets within Pakistan:  Qaeda operatives, Pakistan-based members of the Afghan Taliban insurgency and, in some cases, other militants bent on destabilizing Pakistan.”  Writing in the New York Times in May 2009, the authors argued that the costs of these drone attacks outweigh their presumed benefits:

First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. . . . Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders.  But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians.  This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent, hardly “precision.” . . . Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place, areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate.  Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion. . . .

Imagine, for example, that burglars move into a neighborhood.  If the police were to start blowing up people’s houses from the air, would this convince homeowners to rise up against the burglars?  Wouldn’t it be more likely to turn the whole population against the police?  And if their neighbors wanted to turn the burglars in, how would they do that, exactly?  Yet this is the same basic logic underlying the drone war.[455]

Their advice went unheeded.  The Obama administration ordered 57 drone strikes in Pakistan in 2009, and 121 in 2010, according to the Costs of War Project at Brown University.  According to national security expert Karen J. Greenberg, President Obama’s increasing use of drones was prompted in large part by difficulties associated with capturing, detaining, and prosecuting prisoners – and Obama had promised to close down the Guantánamo prison.  “Between the presidential inauguration in January 2009 and the spring of 2011,” she notes, “the Obama administration had launched more than two hundred drone strikes, resulting in well over one thousand deaths, and had taken into custody only one suspected terrorist abroad.”[456]

Voice of America (VOA) map of Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan

The researchers from the Stanford International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic (Stanford Clinic) and the Global Justice Clinic at New York University (NYU Clinic) spent nine months in the FATA region of Pakistan in 2011-2012, conducting more than 130 interviews with victims, witnesses, and experts.  They also reviewed thousands of pages of documentation and media reporting in order to produce a comprehensive account of U.S. drone strikes in the region.  Their September 2012 study, like the 2014 Senate report on torture, revealed major deficiencies in U.S. policy:

  • “The US government’s failure to ensure basic transparency and accountability in its targeted killing policies, to provide necessary details about its targeted killing program, or adequately to set out the legal factors involved in decisions to strike hinders necessary democratic debate about a key aspect of US foreign and national security policy.”
  • “In public statements, the US states that there have been ‘no’ or “single digit’ civilian casualties. . . . The best currently available public aggregate data on drone strikes are provided by The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ), an independent journalist organization. TBIJ reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562-3,325 people in Pakistan [alone], of whom 474-881 were civilians, including 176 children.  TBIJ reports that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228-1,362 individuals.”
  • U.S. drone strikes caused “considerable and under-accounted harm to the daily lives of ordinary civilians, beyond death and physical injury.  Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.  Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities.  Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves.  The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims.  Some community member shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies . . . Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school.”
  • “US targeted killings and drone strike practices undermine respect for the rule of law and international legal protections and . . . may facilitate recourse to lethal force around the globe by establishing dangerous precedents for other governments. . . . and as more countries develop lethal drone technologies, these risks increase.” (Any nation can apply the rationale of “self-defense” to justify offensive, “preemptive” attacks against those it deems a security threat.)
  • “The strikes have certainly killed alleged combatants and disrupted armed actor networks. However, serious concerns about the efficacy and counter-productive nature of drone strikes have been raised.  The number of ‘high-level’ targets killed as a percentage of total casualties is extremely low – estimated at just 2%.  Furthermore, evidence suggests that the US strikes have facilitated recruitment to violent non-state armed groups, and motivated further violent attacks. . . . Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani relations.  One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.” [457]

Pakistani funeral for people reportedly killed by a drone attack in Miranshah, North Waziristan, June 16, 2011 (Hashbunullah, AP, Christian Science Monitor)

On March 17, 2011, a U.S. drone fired two missiles into a large gathering near a bus depot in the town of Datta Khel, North Waziristan.  The explosions killed 42 people and injured 14.  The Obama administration publicly insisted that all those killed were insurgents.  This was not the case, however, according to the testimony of nine witnesses, survivors and family members.  The dead included 35 tribal and village leaders who had gathered for a jirga, a decision-making and dispute-resolution meeting.  There were four Taliban members present, as they were involved in one of the disputes to be settled.  According to a Pakistani military commander, Brigadier General Abdullah Dogar, the village leaders had alerted the local military post of the planned jirga ten days beforehand.[458]

Rather than acknowledge its errors and compensate the families, the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, went on the rhetorical offensive.  John Brennan, President Obama’s Chief Adviser on Counterterrorism and the U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, held a news conference on June 29, 2011, in which he declared:

One of the things President Obama has insisted on is that we’re exceptionally precise and surgical in terms of addressing the terrorist threat.  And by that I mean, if there are terrorists who are within an area where there are women and children or others, you know, we do not take such action that might put those innocent men, women and children in danger.  In fact I can say that the types of operations that the U.S. has been involved in, in the counter-terrorism realm, that nearly for the past year there hasn’t been a single collateral death because of the exceptional proficiency, precision of the capabilities that we’ve been able to develop.[459]

In another speech on April 30, 2012, Brennan described U.S. drone use as “legal and ethical,” and if targeted properly, “a wise choice” as well.[460]

This was not the view in Pakistan.  A poll conducted this spring of 2013 by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center on Public Opinion found that over two-thirds of Pakistanis opposed U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory.  In May, Peshawar High Court Chief Justice Dost Muhammad Khan ruled that “U.S. drone strikes on Pakistani territory are illegal, inhumane and a violation of the United Nations charter on human rights.”[461]  In December of that year, the National Assembly of Pakistan unanimously approved a resolution against US drone strikes in Pakistan, calling them a violation of the charter of the United Nations, international laws and humanitarian norms.  Lt. Gen. Abdul Qadir Baloch, the Federal Minister for States and Frontier Regions, stated that, as a result of drone strikes, terrorism was increasing rather than declining, and that the peace process was being undermined by the assassination of opposition leaders.[462]
The Obama administration also began targeting Yemen where al-Qaeda-in-the-Arabian-Peninsula had formed in 2009.  Turns out I’m really good at killing people,” President Obama quipped to his aides on September 30, 2011.  “Didn’t know that was going to be a strong suit of mine.”  Obama had just received news that a U.S. Predator drone strike in Yemen had killed Anwar al-Awlaki and Samir Khan, both of whom were American citizens and involved in al Qaeda.[463]

Abdulrahman al-Awlaki (Wikipedia)

Two weeks later, another U.S. armed drone killed al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, also a U.S. citizen, who had traveled to Yemen to visit his grandfather.  Also killed was Abdulrahman’s teenage cousin and five other civilians.  They had been eating dinner at an outdoor restaurant.  Abdulrahman’s grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, later visited the site and stood over his grandson’s grave asking why he was killed.  “Nearly two years later,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed, “I still have no answers.  The United States government has refused to explain why Abdulrahman was killed.”  The grandfather continued:

Abdulrahman was born in Denver. He lived in America until he was 7, then came to live with me in Yemen. He was a typical teenager — he watched “The Simpsons,” listened to Snoop Dogg, read “Harry Potter” and had a Facebook page with many friends. He had a mop of curly hair, glasses like me and a wide, goofy smile.

In 2010, the Obama administration put Abdulrahman’s father, my son Anwar, on C.I.A. and Pentagon “kill lists” of suspected terrorists targeted for death. A drone took his life on Sept. 30, 2011.  The government repeatedly made accusations of terrorism against Anwar – who was also an American citizen – but never charged him with a crime.  No court ever reviewed the government’s claims nor was any evidence of criminal wrongdoing ever presented to a court.  He did not deserve to be deprived of his constitutional rights as an American citizen and killed.

A country that believes it does not even need to answer for killing its own is not the America I once knew.  From 1966 to 1977, I fulfilled a childhood dream and studied in the United States as a Fulbright scholar, earning my doctorate and then working as a researcher and assistant professor at universities in New Mexico, Nebraska and Minnesota.  I have fond memories of those years. . . .

After returning to Yemen, I used my American education and skills to help my country, serving as Yemen’s minister of agriculture and fisheries and establishing one of the country’s leading institutions of higher learning, Ibb University.  Abdulrahman used to tell me he wanted to follow in my footsteps and go back to America to study.  I can’t bear to think of those conversations now.[464]

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) filed a lawsuit in 2012 challenging the government’s killing of U.S. citizens.  In Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta (sometimes called Al-Awlaki v. Panetta) the ACLU and CCR charged that the assassinations violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee against the deprivation of life without due process of law.  No other nation had assumed this “right” to assassinate people outside of armed conflicts.  A federal district court heard oral arguments in July 2013 and dismissed the case in April 2014.  The families received no compensation or apologies.[465]

Under President Obama, the targeted killing program expanded to include “signature strikes” in which the government targeted individuals based on “patterns” of behavior, without knowing individual identities.  The New York Times reported in May 2012 that the government “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants, according to several administration officials, unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.”  The U.S., as such, acted as judge, jury, and executioner, targeting any military-age male in “an areas of known terrorist activity.”  This offensive policy both terrorized and enraged people in areas under attack.  It also enraged Muslims elsewhere, serving as a recruiting tool for jihadist groups.  As the Times reported, “Drones have replaced Guantánamo as the recruiting tool of choice for militants.”[466]

Raqqa, Syria, endured withering coalition airstrikes (Ivor Prickett, New York Times)

The U.S. attack on the Islamic State in Syria proceeded with little regard for civilian casualties.  That is the conclusion of an in-depth investigation by New York Times journalists in 2021.  According to Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti:

A single top secret American strike cell launched tens of thousands of bombs and missiles against the Islamic State in Syria, but in the process of hammering a vicious enemy, the shadowy force sidestepped safeguards and repeatedly killed civilians, according to multiple current and former military and intelligence officials.  The unit was called Talon Anvil, and it worked in three shifts around the clock between 2014 and 2019, pinpointing targets for the United States’ formidable air power to hit: convoys, car bombs, command centers and squads of enemy fighters.

But people who worked with the strike cell say in the rush to destroy enemies, it circumvented rules imposed to protect noncombatants, and alarmed its partners in the military and the C.I.A. by killing people who had no role in the conflict: farmers trying to harvest, children in the street, families fleeing fighting, and villagers sheltering in buildings.[467]

U.S. airstrikes on the town of Al-Baghuz Fawqani in Syria in March 2019 killed dozens of people, including women and children.  Air Force personnel who witnessed the strike via drone surveillance alerted the Defense Department inspector general’s office, but a subsequent investigation found no evidence of wrongdoing beyond reporting procedures.  The inspector general’s report noted that 56 people had been killed in the strike and that 52 were “enemy fighters.”  All adult males at the site, whether armed or not, were classified as fighters.  Eugene Tate, a former evaluator for the Defense Department, was critical of the whitewash, saying, “But if the same mistakes were being made over and over again for years, shouldn’t someone have done something about it.  It doesn’t sit well with me, and I’m not sure it should sit well with anyone else.”[468]

International challenges to U.S. drone attacks

Ben Emmerson, UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights (Martial Trezzini, AP)

In January 2013, the UN began an investigation of U.S. drone attacks.  In announcing it, Ben Emmerson, the special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, explained, “The exponential rise in the use of drone technology in a variety of military and non-military contexts represents a real challenge to the framework of established international law.”[469]  President Obama responded by issuing a new Presidential Policy Guidance directive in May 2013 that set a new theoretical standard of “near certainty” that civilians would not be harmed in drone strikes.  At the same time, he appointed John Brennan as CIA director, in charge of most drone strikes, and ordered his Justice Department to resist all efforts to expose the administration’s secret legal reasoning behind drone strikes.

The Obama administration’s assurances were hardly convincing.  In October 2013, Emmerson cited 33 cases in which drone strikes, mostly by the U.S., killed civilians and potentially violated international law.  Emmerson also called on the U.S. government to lift the veil of secrecy surrounding the strikes.[470]
In another sign of international discontent with the U.S., the European Parliament passed a resolution in February 2014 stating that drone strikes “outside a declared war by a state on the territory of another state, without the consent of the latter or of the UN Security Council,” constitute “a violation of international law.”  In short, the U.S. assassination model of counterterrorism was rejected.
The Obama administration paused its drone strikes for the first six months of 2014, then resumed, claiming that the U.S. standard was zero civilian casualties.  Yet, as journalist Scott Shane noted in the New York Times (April 23, 2015), “Every independent investigation of the strikes has found far more civilian casualties than administration officials admit.  Gradually, it has become clear that when operators in Nevada fire missiles into remote tribal territories on the other side of the world, they often do not know who they are killing, but are making an imperfect best guess.”[471]
The Trump administration (2017-2021) scaled back Obama’s already insufficient safeguards on drone attacks, revoked an Obama-era rule requiring annual public reports on drone strikes and casualties, and adopted a new drone guidance policy without publicly disclosing its contents.   Luke Hartig, a former Obama administration counterterrorism official, commented, “I think the story of targeted strikes and drone warfare outside areas of active hostilities across the Obama administration and the Trump administration is more of continuity than change. . . . The big question to me is around civilian casualties.  There are some indications that civilian casualties are up, but there are limitations in the outside non-governmental reporting on those and the administration has not been particularly transparent on breaking down their civilian casualty estimates outside areas of active hostilities.”[472]
In historical perspective, the U.S. armed drone program represents the latest phase of American techno-war, which has evolved from the firebombing of German and Japanese cities in World War II, the bombing of irrigation dams and napalm strikes during the Korean War, and the use of B-52s, chemical defoliants, and cluster bombs in Indochina.  Military leaders have long dreamed of fighting wars by machines and saving their own soldier’s lives.  Drone technology has moved the world a step closer toward this dystopian vision, making killing by remote control easy and the decision to engage in armed attacks easier as well.[473]
Moral injury
Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, warned in 2010 that, “because [drone] operators are based thousands of miles away from the battlefield, and undertake operations entirely through computer screens and remote audiofeed, there is a risk of developing a ‘Playstation’ mentality to killing.”[474]

Drone operators (

That was certainly the case with the U.S. drone program as a whole, but drone operators were not necessarily immune to the human consequences of their actions.  Neal Scheuneman, for one, a drone sensor operator who retired as a master sergeant from the Air Force in 2019, related his anguish over drone strikes in a New York Times exposé titled “The Unseen Scars of the Remote Control Kill” (April 17, 2022):

A fighter jet might see a target for 20 minutes.  We had to watch a target for days, weeks and even months.  We saw him play with his kids.  We saw him interact with his family.  We watched his whole life unfold.  You are remote but also very much connected.  Then one day, when all parameters are met, you kill him.  Then you watch the death.  You see the remorse and the burial.  People often think that this job is going to be like a video game, and I have to warn them, there is no reset button.

Moral injury arises from engaging in actions that transgress one’s deeply held beliefs or being subjected to experiences that “overwhelm one’s sense of goodness and humanity.”[475]

In another case, Air Force Captain Kevin Larson, a drone pilot who flew the heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper and launched 188 strikes between 2013 and 2018, became increasingly disturbed and emotionally exhausted over time.  He had witnessed attacks on ordinary villagers and strikes on women and children, based on flimsy intelligence.  When he refused to fire any more missiles, he was transferred to another job.  Unable to talk about his classified work and unable to access military counseling services because he was not a combat soldiers (this policy has since changed), Larson retired.  Soon, he was divorced, began to take illegal drugs, and got in trouble with the law.  Tragically, he committed suicide, thinking he was about to be sent to prison on a drug charge.

In late 2019, Bennett Miller, an intelligence analyst, watched as a drone missile hit its target, an Afghan man said to be a high-level Taliban financier.  “For a week, the crew watched the man feed his animals, eat with family in his courtyard and walk to a nearby village,” noted the Times.  Then the kill order came “and the pilot fired a missile as the man walked down the path from his house.”

Watching the video feed afterward, Mr. Miller saw the family gather the pieces of the man and bury them.  A week later, the Taliban financier’s name appeared again on the target list.  “We got the wrong guy.  I had just killed someone’s dad,” Mr. Miller said.  “I had watched his kids pick up the body parts.  Then I had gone home and hugged my own kids.”  The same pattern occurred twice more, he said, yet the squadron leadership did nothing to address what was see as the customer’s mistakes.  Two years later, Mr. Miller was near tears when he described the strikes in an interview at his home.  “What we had done was murder, and no one seemed to notice,” he said.  “We just were told to move on.”

Former drone pilot James Klein (Hannah Yoon, New York Times)

James Klein, a former Air Force captain who flew drone Reapers at Creech Air Force Base from 2014 to 2018, noted an incident in which his crew was ordered to attack an Islamic State fighter who was pushing another man in a wheelchair on a busy city street.  The strike killed the targeted man along with three people nearby.  “There was no reason to take that shot,” Klein recounted.  “I talked to the pilot after, and she was in tears.  She did not fly again for a long time and ended up leaving for good.”  Others left as well, creating a high turnover rate in the 2,300-person drone program.[476]

Another person who felt the pangs of conscience – and took action – was Private Bradley Manning, later to transition to Chelsea Elizabeth Manning.  Assigned in 2009 to a U.S. Army unit in Iraq as an intelligence analyst, Manning had access to an immense trove of classified files, including video-recordings and “incident reports” of actions in Afghanistan and Iraq, assessment files of detainees held at Guantánamo, and cables from U.S. diplomats stationed around the world.  Manning was particularly anguished by one video-recording made on July 12, 2007.  The recording showed a trigger-happy U.S. helicopter crew shooting down a dozen non-threatening men on a street in Baghdad, then killing rescuers who rushed in to help a wounded man.  Among the dead were two Reuters news employees, Saeed Chmagh, age 40, and Namir Noor-Eldeen, age 22.  Two children in the rescue van were injured in the second assault.  After seeing the children taken out of the van, one of the helicopter crew members said, “Well, it’s their fault for bringing their kids to a battle.”
Recognizing this and other “incidents” as war crimes, Manning copied and sent the video-recording and many other files to WikiLeaks, a whistleblowing digital platform founded by Julian Assange, which made many files public.  The released classified documents embarrassed Washington policymakers, diplomats, and military leaders.  At a military hearing, Manning testified that she released the files because she wanted to show the American public the “true costs of war” and to “spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”  Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison, later commuted to seven years by President Obama before leaving office.[477]

*          *          *          *          *

VII.  Homefront

The 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the United States catalyzed a surge in patriotism.  Most immediately, Americans honored the police, fire, and medical crews who gave their lives in trying to save others as the Twin Towers in Manhattan collapsed into rubble.  On December 18, 2001, Congress passed a resolution designating September 11th as Patriot Day, a National Day of Service and Remembrance in which U.S. flags would annually be flown at half-staff and a moment of silence observed at exactly 8:46 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, when the first plane struck the Twin Towers.

Homeland Security Advisory System

The post-9/11 spirit of national unity translated into greater trust of the nation’s leaders.  Though the Bush administration had been rather inept in preventing the tragedy, the president saw his job approval rating rise by 35 percentage points in the space of three weeks after 9/11.  President Bush rode the wave, galvanizing Americans with his call to arms, vowing to take down the terrorists and their state supporters.  A survey poll in mid-September 2011 indicated that 77% of Americans favored U.S. military action, believing that the U.S. would “retaliate against whoever is responsible for the terrorist attacks.” In another poll in October 2001, 60 percent of American adults expressed trust in the federal government, a level not reached during the previous three decades.[478]  This trust carried over to the November 2002 mid-term elections, enabling Republicans to pick up eight seats in the House and two in the Senate, bucking the historical trend in which the president’s party loses seats in mid-term elections.[479]

In the first twelve months after 9/11, roughly one quarter million Americans joined the armed forces or reserves.[480]  David Evans, who served in the Marine Corps from 2002 to 2010, explained his motivation.  “The attacks by Al Qaeda were the Pearl Harbor of my generation,” wrote Evans.  “The country experienced a similar sense of shock, followed by feelings of righteous anger and a desire to retaliate.”[481]  In the ensuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, roughly two million U.S. service members were deployed.
Over the course of two decades in America’s wars abroad, 14,510 U.S. military personnel, contractors, and Defense Department civilians were killed, and hundreds of thousands were wounded.  The total of American fatalities constituted less than three percent of all war-related deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, roughly 518,000, according to the Costs of War Project.  The American public as a whole seemed little concerned with this enormous toll as compared to U.S. casualties, though U.S. tax dollars underwrote much of the carnage.[482]


Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America photo

A Pew Research Center report, published in early July 2019, found that 64 percent – or almost two-thirds – of veterans said that the war in Iraq “was not worth fighting,” and 58 percent said the same about the war in Afghanistan.  Although U.S. soldiers were generally welcomed as “heroes” when they returned from their tours of duty, many had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life.  Suicides among active-duty personnel and veterans reached alarming proportions.  As of June 2021, 30,177 had taken their own lives.  According to the Costs of War Project, “the U.S. military suicide rate, historically low, has climbed significantly since 2004:  four times as many service members have died by suicide than in combat in the post-9/11 wars, signaling a widespread mental health crisis.”  Among the contributing factors were traumatic brain injuries, often due to blast exposure, affecting as many as 20 percent of post-9/11 service personnel.[483]

According to a Bureau of Labor report in April 2022, there were 4,682,000 Gulf War era II veterans (2001-2022), of which 18 percent were women.  Among these veterans, 44 percent (2,039,000) had a service-related disability, more than half being a major disability (1,135,000), defined by the Veterans Administration as 60 percent disability or more.  Within the ranks, sexual coercion and assaults by fellow soldiers, common in both U.S. military academies and active units, were persistent sources of trauma.  According to a 2011 study, Military Sexual Trauma (MST) affected over 23 percent of women in the military.  “Research has revealed 71 percent of all women veterans seeking treatment for PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] had experienced MST.”[484]  Evidence of trauma could also be seen in alcohol and drug abuse.  The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) reported in 2019 that one out of ten veterans who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were diagnosed with alcohol or drug abuse problems, a slightly higher proportion than the general population.[485]

Practical problems also beset military and veteran families.  A survey conducted by the Military Family Advisory Network between October and December 2021 found that one-fifth of active service families and nearly two-fifths of veteran families surveyed reported less than $500 of emergency savings or no emergency savings fund.  The survey report noted that “nearly a quarter of enlisted families are experiencing food insecurity and that more than 60 percent of respondents pay more than they can comfortably afford for housing.”  A U.S. Department of Veterans study in January 2020 documented that 37,252 veterans experienced homelessness, roughly the same as the year before.[486]

Notwithstanding paeans by political leaders to “the finest fighting force in the history of the world,” a combination of disillusionment with the purposes of America’s wars, death and disabilities resulting from war, sexual abuse within the military, and limited financial and medical benefits have made the military option less attractive to young people.  In June 2022, the Army started offering a $35,000 bonus for new recruits.  Heba Abdelaal, a former military legislative assistant to a Colorado senator, was skeptical that this would solve the Army’s recruitment crisis.  “You can authorize all of the bonuses that you want,” she said.  “Military members and their families are no strangers to sacrifice.  But even additional money may not result in the quality-of-life changes necessary to sustain an all-volunteer military force.”[487]  In 2004, a group of veterans joined together to form the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) with the intention of providing peer support and helping meet the needs of veterans in the areas of mental health, financial assistance, housing, employment, education, and working with the Veterans Administration.
For U.S. citizens generally, the money spent on war, military operations, and weaponry – the so-called “Revolution in Military Affairs” – meant less money for health, education, housing, environmental protection, alternative energy production, and other needed programs.  The total amount spent on overseas military operations from fiscal year (FY) 2001 through FY 2022 was $3.174 trillion, not including $465 billion for veterans’ medical and disability programs, and estimated future costs of $2.2 trillion for veterans’ care and another $1.087 trillion for proportional interest on borrowing.[488]  The only winners in the “war on terror” were the businesses that supplied the Pentagon with military hardware.  Lockheed Martin, the largest military contractor in the world, reaped $2 billion in profit in 2017.  Other top U.S. contractors were Boeing, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics.[489]

Anti-Muslim prejudice and government surveillance

On the shadow side of wartime unity, a significant portion of U.S. citizens exhibited prejudice toward Muslims, including Muslim American citizens.  President Bush, in his speech to the nation on September 20, 2001, attempted to clarify that his newly announced “war on terror” was not directed at Muslims.  “The enemy of America is not our many Muslim friends; it is not our many Arab friends,” said Bush.  “Our enemy is a radical network of terrorists and every government that supports them.”  Al Qaeda, Bush explained, was part of “a fringe movement that perverts the peaceful teachings of Islam.”[490]  Still, the vagueness of the “war on terror” phrase coupled with Bush’s only three examples of terrorist groups – all Islamic jihadist – led many Americans to fill in the blanks and identify the enemy as followers of Islam.  The FBI reported 481 hate crimes against Muslim Americans in 2001, as compared to 28 cases in 2000.[491]  Muslims constitute about 1.1 percent of the U.S. population and almost a quarter of the world’s population.
Stoking the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice were Christian evangelist leaders Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham.  On November 19, 2001, Graham called Islam “a very evil and wicked religion” when dedicating a chapel in Wilkesboro, North Carolina.  His statement circulated through the national media, which also noted his past attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity.  The National Association of Evangelicals only mildly rebuked Graham, saying, “There has to be a way to do good works without raising alarms.”  On February 21, 2002, Robertson declared that Islam “is not a peaceful religion that wants to coexist.  They want to coexist until they can control, dominate, and then, if need be, destroy.”  He added that U.S. immigration policies were “so skewed to the Middle East and away from Europe that we have introduced these people into our midst and undoubtedly there are terrorist cells all over them.”[492]

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (left) looks on as an audience member flashes a sign that reads “Islamophobia is not the answer” at a rally in Oklahoma City, Feb. 26 2016 (Vox)

Also fueling anti-Muslim prejudice were white nationalist groups and Republican legislators in conservative states.  Between 2010 and 2017, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, Republicans introduced 201 “anti-Sharia law” bills in state legislatures, and passed fourteen.  The legislation was meaningless except for its anti-Muslim symbolism.  The model legislation, published by the American Public Policy Alliance, prohibits a foreign law from overriding a state or federal law in U.S. courts, which is already the case under the U.S. Constitution.[493]

Widespread anti-Muslim prejudice was indicated in a survey poll of U.S. public opinion conducted by Cornell University in late 2004.  They survey found that 44 percent of Americans “favored at least some restrictions on the civil liberties of Muslim Americans,” and that 27 percent “supported requiring all Muslim Americans to register where they lived with the federal government.”  Those prejudiced against Muslims seemed to ignore the fact that 31 people of the Muslim faith were among those killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks (not including the terrorists), and to dismiss the numerous statements issued by Islamic scholars and community leaders condemning the attacks.[494]
In New York City, the police department (NYPD) established a secret surveillance program that mapped, monitored, and analyzed American Muslim daily life throughout the city.  NYPD agents documented how many times a day Muslim students prayed during a university whitewater rafting trip, which Egyptian businesses shut their doors for daily prayers, and which restaurants played Al-Jazeera newscasts, among other activities.  The surveillance created “a pervasive climate of fear and suspicion, encroaching upon every aspect of individual and community life,” according to research by law professor Nermeen Arastu and civil rights attorney Diala Shamas.  “Every one of our interviewees noted that they were negatively affected by surveillance in some way – whether it was by reducing their political or religious expression, altering the way they exercised those rights.”  Trust was strained but not severed.  Muslim community leaders appealed to the NYPD to alter its intimidating tactics.  By 2003, the NYPD had established a “Streetwise” sensitivity training program to educate officers about Arab and Muslim residents in the city.[495]
Federal surveillance

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, Congress hurriedly passed the Patriot Act as a counterterrorist measure.  The act increased the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to conduct surveillance, collect personal and business information, and obtain search warrants more easily.  The House passed the act, 357-66; and the Senate, 98-1.  The only “nay” vote in the Senate came from Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, who later explained:

The Patriot Act, to me, represented unchecked executive power.  Congress was giving authorities to law enforcement that they had long requested, even before 9/11, and was agreeing to do so with minimal oversight built into the system.  Suddenly, law enforcement had access to broad swaths of information via roving wiretapping authorities and expanded search warrants.  The law also expanded the definition of terrorism, enabling law enforcement to use its new authorities in more instances, including in drug enforcement and to surveil political activists.[496]

Apart from the Patriot Act, President Bush issued a secret presidential order in early 2002 that allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to eavesdrop on Americans without the usual court-approved warrants required for domestic spying.  When the New York Times discovered the program in late 2004, White House officials asked the newspaper to keep it secret.  In December 2005, however, the Times broke the story after further research and interviews had shown that several administration officials and members of Congress from both major parties believed that the “special collection program” was illegal.[497]

Demonstrators hold up their signs during the “Stop Watching Us: A Rally Against Mass Surveillance” march near the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 26, 2013 (Jonathan Ernst, Reuters)

Congress nonetheless aided government surveillance by passing amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) in 2007 and 2008 that protected private companies from lawsuits if they cooperated voluntarily with U.S. intelligence data collection.  Federal spy programs, which included names such as MonsterMind, X-Keyscore, Boundless Information, and PRISM, were revealed to the public on June 6, 2013, via documents released by Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor.  As the Washington Post reported, “The National Security Agency and the FBI are tapping directly into the central servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies, extracting audio and video chats, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs that enable analysts to track foreign targets.”  The companies include “Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, [and] Apple.”  Other articles revealed that the U.S. government was spying on leaders of other countries, including Germany’s Angela Merkel.[498]

All told, Snowden released more than 7,000 top-secret documents relating to what he believed to be illegal government spying on citizens.  The government charged Snowden with the crime of theft of government property.  The revelations nonetheless impelled Congress in 2015 to ban the bulk collection of telecommunications metadata.[499]  According to an FBI internal report issued in May 2015, FBI officials had been “unable to identify any major case developments that resulted from use of records obtained through use of Section 215 orders.”  As security expert Karen Greenberg notes, the information gained “had been useful to corroborate facts and discover new leads, but not to develop existing leads or prevent attacks.”[500]

International and domestic terrorism

International terrorism remained a problem for all nations before and after 9/11/2001.  Major attacks occurred in Bali, Indonesia, in 2002, Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, Paris in 2015, and elsewhere.  Those nations attacked invariably responded though intelligence and police operations, not by invading other countries.
In the U.S. following 9/11, the major terrorist attacks came from Americans.  According to the FBI’s “Terrorism 2002/2005” report, “Twenty three of the 24 recorded terrorist incidents were perpetrated by domestic terrorists. . . . The sole international terrorist incident in the United States recorded for this period involved the attack by Hesham Hedayet, who fatally shot two people at the El Al ticket counter at Los Angeles International Airport.”  The FBI also recorded 14 terrorist preventions during these years, only three of which had international connections involving “material support to foreign terrorist organizations.”  The report noted, “Eight of the 14 recorded terrorist preventions stemmed from right-wing extremism, and included disruptions to plotting by individuals involved with the militia, white supremacist, constitutionalist and tax protestor, and anti-abortion movements.”[501]
The casualties of right-wing extremism mounted over the years, fed by conspiratorial social media platforms and easy access to high-powered guns.  The assaults included an attack on an African American Episcopal Church in Charleston that left ten dead in 2015; a mass shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub that killed 50 people in 2016; the killing of 11 Jewish worshippers at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018; an assault at a Walmart in a Hispanic neighborhood in El Paso that killed 23 in 2019; and the murder of eleven at a supermarket in Black neighborhood in Buffalo in 2022.  Approximately one-third of 8,052 reported hate crimes in the U.S. were aimed at African Americans in the year 2020.[502]
In some cases, the killer’s motives could not be ascertained.   Adam Lanza, age 20, shot and killed 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut, in 2014; Stephen Paddock, age 64, opened fire on a Las Vegas concert in 2019, killing 60 and wounding 411; and 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, after shooting his grandmother in the face, severely wounding her, entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed nineteen children and two teachers, and wounded another seventeen in May 2022.[503]  Although these senseless acts of violence were not officially classified as “terrorist,” as they lacked a political, racial, ideological, or religious motive, they were perhaps the worst form of terrorism, arising out of nowhere, killing children, and terrorizing communities.  Many citizens advocated stricter gun control measures, but Republican lawmakers resisted.
In one case, the motive appeared to be related to the war in Afghanistan.  Nidal Hasan, a U.S. Army major and psychiatrist, fatally shot 13 people and wounded 32 others at Fort Hood, Texas, on November 5, 2009.  Scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan, Hasan was deeply anguished about serving in units that killed fellow Muslims.[504]  He was in touch with Yemeni-American radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, but an in-depth study of Hasan’s motivations by Katharine Poppe of George Washington University concluded that communication between the two was not the cause of his radicalization.  During his period of residency at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Hasan gave a presentation entitled “Why the War on Terror is a War on Islam” and claimed there could be legitimate reasons for suicide bombings.”[505]

In June 2019, FBI assistant directors Michael McGarrity and Calvin Shivers issued a statement titled “Confronting White Supremacy,” noting that “there have been more domestic terrorism subjects disrupted by arrest and more deaths caused by domestic terrorists than international terrorists in recent years.”[506]  A White House report on domestic terrorism in June 2021 put the matter in perspective:

Domestic terrorism is not a new threat in the United States.  It has, over centuries, taken many American lives and spilled much American blood – especially in communities deliberately and viciously targeted on the basis of hatred and bigotry.  After the Civil War, for example, the Ku Klux Klan waged a campaign of terror to intimidate Black voters and their white supporters and deprive them of political power, killing and injuring untold numbers of Americans.  The Klan and other white supremacists continued to terrorize Black Americans and other minorities in the decades that followed. . . .

Today’s domestic terrorists espouse a range of violent ideological motivations, including racial or ethnic bigotry and hatred as well as anti-government or anti-authority sentiment. . . . We have seen certain communities among our diverse nation – including racial, ethnic, and religious minorities; immigrants; LGBTQI+ individuals; women and girls, as well as law enforcement officers, public servants, and government officials – who have been deliberately and most often targeted by domestic terrorists.[507]

Right-wing insurrection at the nation’s Capitol, Jan. 6, 2022. A police officer was beaten, a rioter was shot, and three others died during the rampage. (Photo by Jose Luis Magana, AP)

The right-wing’s culture war in the U.S. has pushed beyond the boundaries of debate.  The infamous lethal assault on the Capitol on January 6, 2021, was fueled at the top by President Trump’s insistence that the 2020 election results must be overturned, and at the bottom by a host of right-wing groups that had become increasingly assertive in challenging social justice causes such as the Black Lives Matter movement.   In the aftermath of the January 6th attack, FBI director Christopher Wray told Congress that the insurrection was not an isolated event, and that “the problem of domestic terrorism has been metastasizing across the country for a number of years.”[508]  Indeed, members of the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Patriotic Front, and other militant groups were encouraged by rightist media commentators and mainstream Republican Party leaders who propagated the idea that political liberalism and multiculturalism were un-American and even treasonous.  Wrapped in American flags, the militants purported to represent the true American way, their efforts to undermine democratic elections notwithstanding.  According to Time magazine:

To hear some of their members tell it, the groups’ goal is not just to confront local opponents but also to undermine the U.S. government, which they see as having been “coopted by a cabal of elites actively trying to strip American citizens of their rights,” in the words of the indictment against one of the Oath Keepers involved on Jan. 6.  “This all ends when we refuse to obey tyrants,” the Seattle Proud Boys chapter posted on Telegram last December, one of more than a dozen local groups that have grown in membership since Jan. 6, 2021.[509]

Peace protests and politics

British peace movement’s sardonic poster of PM Tony Blair who backed the US invasion (Imperial War Museums, London)

The Bush administration’s rush to war in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001 sparked scattered protests around the United States and in other countries.  On September 29, 2001, some 20,000 people demonstrated in Washington, DC, another 10,000 in San Francisco, and smaller numbers in New York City, Los Angeles, and elsewhere.  The demonstrations were organized by ANSWER – Act Now to Stop War and End Racism – a leftist, anti-imperialist group.  Outside the U.S., on October 14, some 200,000 demonstrators took part in a peace march in central Italy, while 70,000 marched in Calcutta, India.   Smaller protests of 5,000 to 25,000 people took place that fall in Barcelona, London, Glasgow, Berlin, Gothenburg (Sweden), and Sydney and Melbourne (Australia).  Demonstrators in London on November 18 waved placards that read “Stop the War” and “Not in My Name.”  Some members of Parliament voiced criticism of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s support for the war in Afghanistan.[510]

There was little opposition in the U.S. Congress to the war in Afghanistan, but the Bush administration’s preparations for the next war in Iraq aroused concerns among some members.  In December 2001, Rep. Jim McDermott, Democrat of Washington, and six other House Democrats signed a letter to President Bush, stating, “We are concerned by those in your Administration and among our own ranks in the Congress who appear to be making the case for broad expansion of this military campaign beyond Afghanistan.  Without presenting clear and compelling evidence that other nations were involved in the September 11 attacks, it is inappropriate to expand the conflict.”[511]  The Bush administration responded to such challenges by increasing the volume and intensity of propaganda for war along with calling for a 13.7 percent increase in the military budget.
Peace organizations began to mobilize.  A coalition of groups formed a Mobilization to Stop the War and held a major demonstration on April 20, 2002, attracting 75,000 people in Washington, DC, and another 20,000 in San Francisco.  Among those attending the Washington rally were families who had lost members in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  They created an organization in February 2002, the September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, urging that revenge violence not be carried out in their name.  Derril Bodley, who had lost his 20-year-old daughter on the flight that crashed in Pennsylvania on September 11, and who later traveled to Afghanistan to witness the “barbarous bombing campaign there,” pleaded, “Don’t kill more innocent people in the name of my daughter.”[512]
On October 25, 2002, representatives from more than 70 peace and justice organizations met in Washington to form a permanent coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ).  The coalition’s first task was to organize a major demonstration on February 15, 2003, in coordination with worldwide demonstrations, focused on preventing war against Iraq.  ANSWER, meanwhile, organized a major demonstration in Washington, DC on January 18, 2003, attended by tens of thousands on a blustery winter day.  The rally was peaceful all around.  Speakers included former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who asked the crowd, “Has George Bush committed impeachable offensives?”  The crowd roared back, “Yes!”[513]
Two other national coalitions formed to spark opposition to the incipient war in Iraq.   Moderate progressive organizations such as MoveOn, the Fourth Freedom Forum, WAND (Women Action for New Direction), and Working Assets initiated “Win Without War” for the purpose of creating an effective public relations campaign to reach mainstream audiences and facilitate public pressure on members of Congress.  Forty organizations eventually joined this coalition, including the National Council of Churches, United Methodist Church, Sierra Club, NOW (National Organization of Women), and NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).  According to David Cortright, a leader of the group, “Win Without War sought to portray itself as mainstream and patriotic. . . . The title implied support for constructive alternatives to war, such as vigorous UN weapons inspections and continued containment.”
Long-time peace organizations such as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, Pax Christi, Peace Action, and War Resisters League initiated the “Not in Our Name” campaign, modeled on the Central America Pledge of Resistance in the 1980s.  Its purpose was to deter U.S. aggression by creating a credible threat of massive civil disobedience.  As it was, on the day after the outbreak of war, Thursday, March 21, 2003, some 20,000 people protested in San Francisco and 1,400 were arrested for various disruptions.  In Chicago, police arrested 550.  In Washington DC, protesters attempted to block the Key Bridge across the Potomac River.  In Seattle, demonstrators briefly blocked Interstate 5 in the center of the city.
The surge of antiwar sentiment in the half-year preceding the war led to the creation of other new organizations.  In October 2002, a group of corporate executives formed the Business Leaders for Sensible Priorities.  The group placed a full-page ad in the New York Times declaring “They’re selling war. We’re not buying.”  Another business group, True Majority, sponsored by ice cream entrepreneur Ben Cohen, produced a series of television ads that paired foreign policy experts with popular Hollywood personalities.
In November 2002, women peace activists organized Code Pink: Women for Peace. The group sponsored a vigil in front of the What house that lasted from November 17, 2002, to March 8, 2003, International Women’s Day.  The group also disrupted official meetings, engaged in counter-recruitment actions by highlighting sexual assault cases in the military, and sponsored readings of the 2,400-year-old antiwar comedy, Lysistrata, in communities around the nation.[514]
In November 2002, two military families formed the Military Families Speak Out (MFSO), its mission being “to speak out against unjust military interventions” and advocate for “diplomacy over war.”  The group gradually built its membership, reaching 3,200 military families by February 2007.
Another group that formed in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq was Historians Against the War (HAW).  Meeting at the American Historical Association convention in Chicago, January 2-5, 2003, activist historians circulated a petition calling for “a halt to the march towards war against Iraq.”  The petition was signed by 667 historians at the conference, and by more than 2,100 by mid-March.[515]
Poets became involved in the budding antiwar movement through the unusual circumstance of a White House literary event titled “Poetry and the American Voice,” scheduled for February 12, 2003.  First Lady Laura Bush invited a select number of poets, including Sam Hamill, who planned to read antiwar poems.  As Hamill later wrote, “Once the White House got wind of our plans, the symposium was promptly ‘postponed.’  Mrs. Bush’s spokeswoman said, ‘While Mrs. Bush respects the right of all Americans to express their opinions, she, too, has opinions and believes it would be inappropriate to turn a literary event into a political forum.’”  In lieu of a White House event, Hamill and friends organized some 200 poetry readings against the war held throughout the country on February 12.  He also sent word to poets to send him antiwar poems.  By March 5, Hamill had received 13,000 poems from nearly 11,000 poets.  He later published a selection in a volume, Poets Against the War, and initiated a new organization by that same name.  In Britain, meanwhile, a small army of poets presented the Prim Minister Tony Blair with 10,000 peace poems on March 5.[516]
Dozens of musicians joined together to speak out against the impending U.S.-led war against Iraq.  Under the aegis of Musicians United to Win Without War, they paid for an advertisement in the New York Times on February 26, 2003, headlined “War On Iraq Is Wrong And We Know It.”  Forty-two artists signed the statement, including rappers Jay-Z and Nas, singer/songwriters Natalie Merchant and Sheryl Crow, roots rock acts Wilco and Dave Matthews, and veteran artists George Clinton, R.E.M., and Lou Reed.  “Don’t let Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld drown out the voices of reason,” the ad insisted.  “Disarm Iraq with tough inspections.”  Founded by former Talking Heads leader David Byrne and rap impresario Russell Simmons, Musician United to Win Without War was described on the organization’s website as “a loose coalition of contemporary musicians who feel that in the rush to war by the Bush administration the voices of reason and debate have been trampled and ignored.”
Local government officials also sought to head off war against Iraq.  Under the banner of the “Cities for Peace,” at least 36 city councils passed resolutions against the preemptive war.  Chicago Alderman Joe Moore rebutted arguments that local governments should stay out of foreign affairs by asking, “Where is that money going to come from?”  He noted, “Bush has said that he will not raise taxes so that money can only come from domestic programs like education, health care, affordable, housing, public safety.  It will be cities like Chicago that are the most adversely affected by this unnecessary war on Iraq.”  Officials from more than 90 local governments urged President Bush to find a peaceful solution, saying war would take money from schools, the homeless and police, according to CBS News.[517]

Religious leaders and denominations were important players in the budding peace movement.  In January 2003, some 3,500 religious leaders gathered at the Washington National Cathedral and held a dramatic candlelight procession from the cathedral to the White House.  Catholic bishops issued a statement in November 2002 expressing concern that the resort to war “would not meet the strict conditions in Catholic teaching for overriding the strong presumption against the use of force,” that the use of force “might provoke the very kind of attacks that it is intended to prevent,” that war “could impose terrible new burdens on an already long-suffering civilian population” in Iraq, and that such a war “could lead to wider conflict and instability in the region.”  Similar statements urging peaceful resolution were issued by Protestant churches, including the American Baptist Churches USA, United Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal Church, Lutheran World Federation, and United Methodist Church; by some Jewish groups such as the Tikkun Community and Shalom Center in Philadelphia; and by the Muslim American Society and Council on American-Islamic Relations.[518]

On February 15, 2003, an estimated 6 to 11 million people protested against war around the world.  As reported by CNN:

Berlin antiwar protest in front of Brandenburg Gate, Feb. 15, 2003 (Sean Gallup, Mondoweiss)

New York City rally against war in Iraq, Feb. 15, 2003 (Elvert Barnes)

Huge crowds of anti-war demonstrators jammed into midtown New York on Saturday as protesters in dozens of U.S. cities joined large crowds worldwide in voicing opposition to war with Iraq.  Demonstrators converged near the United Nations to protest the possible war in just one of the more than 600 anti-war rallies around the globe. . . . Besides protests in large cities such as Chicago, Illinois; and Los Angeles, California; rallies were held across the United States in smaller towns such as Gainesville, Georgia; Macomb, Illinois; and Juneau, Alaska, according to the anti-war group United for Peace and Justice. . . .  The main demonstration [in New York City] stretched 20 blocks down First Avenue, and overflowed onto Second and Third avenues as more people tried to reach the rally.  Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu and actors Susan Sarandon and Danny Glover were among the speakers at the New York demonstration.  Bundled in a heavy coat and scarf against the freezing cold, Tutu told the cheering crowd, “We are members of one family, God’s family, the human family.”

Some 3 million people filled St. John Lateran Square in Rome in protest against war, Feb. 15, 2003 (Plinio Lepri, AP)

Peace rally in Hyde Park, London, Feb. 15, 2003 (Imperial War Museums)

Police in London, England, said turnout Saturday was 750,000, the largest demonstration ever in the British capital. . . . In Germany, 500,000 protested, and 300,000 gathered in 60 towns and cities across France. . . .  Protests were peaceful, but violence broke out at a rally in Athens, Greece, when dozens of hooded demonstrators among a large crowd threw rocks and gasoline bombs at police, who responded by firing tear gas. . . . Tens of thousands demonstrated in Melbourne, Australia, on Friday — the biggest peace march the city has seen since the Vietnam War — and on Saturday, tens of thousands of anti-war campaigners flocked to other cities in Australia and New Zealand.[519]

The outpouring of peace demonstrations reinforced the determination of Germany, France, and other UN Security Council members to not approve the war.  French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin declared that “the United Nations must remain an instrument of peace, and not a tool for war.”[520]

Rep. Dennis Kucinich

Two days after the global demonstrations, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Democrat of Ohio, told an audience in Los Angeles:

We [Congress] did not authorize an eye for an eye.  Nor did we ask that the blood of innocent people, who perished on September 11, be avenged with the blood of innocent villagers in Afghanistan.  We did not authorize the Administration to wage war anytime, anywhere, anyhow it pleases.  We did not authorize war without end.  We did not authorize a permanent war economy.  Yet we are upon the threshold of a permanent war economy.

After publication of his speech on the internet, Kucinich received more than 10,000 emails.  “I’ve read through a lot of them now,” he told The Nation.  “The people understand something most of Congress does not:  There is nothing unpatriotic about challenging this Administration’s policies. . . . There’s nothing unpatriotic about asserting human values and defending democratic principles.  A lot of Americans are telling me this is the highest form of patriotism.”[521]

In late February, as the clocked ticked down, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Democrat of South Dakota, questioned the necessity of a war in Iraq and publicly advised the administration to focus instead on Osama bin Laden and the terrorists.  His comments drew an immediate, angry response from Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi:  “How dare Senator Daschle criticize President Bush while we are fighting our war on terrorism, especially when we have troops in the field.  He should not be trying to divide our country while we are united.”  Lott was attempting to do what proponents of war have often done in the past:  intimidate the opposition and shut off debate by demanding that all citizens “rally ‘round the flag” in times of war.  Daschle, however, was not intimidated by Lott’s outburst.  In an interview on Meet the Press on March 3, he said, “The time has come for us to ask a lot more questions. . . . That is the role of Congress.  We’re a co-equal branch of government, and I don’t think we ought to rubber-stamp any president as we get into these very difficult decisions.”[522]
The nation, in any case, was not united behind Bush’s war plans.  According to a survey on March 14-15, 2003, nearly six in ten expressed their conditional support for an invasion of Iraq if the Security Council approved a war resolution – which it did not.  Should the Bush administration not seek a final UN Security Council vote, only 47% said they would support war.[523]  This was not a ringing public endorsement of Bush’s war plans, especially after fifteen months of saber-rattling administration propaganda.
In the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration and the Pentagon did everything in their power to paint a rosy picture of the “liberation” of Iraq and Afghanistan.  This played well enough into the November 2004 elections for Bush to be re-elected – with 50.7% of the vote – and for Republicans to gain four seats in the House and four in the Senate.  By November 2006, however, the political winds had shifted.  In Congressional elections that year, Democrats gained 31 seats in the House and five in the Senate.  In November 2008, Democrats again won big, gaining the presidency, 21 more seats in the House, and eight more in the Senate, giving Democrats control of both chambers.  According to the historian Victoria Carty writes, “The 2008 U.S. presidential election further demonstrated how anti-war sentiment and a critical questioning of U.S. foreign policy was growing in the United States, as nominee Barack Obama defeated Hillary Clinton in the primaries, and John McCain in the final election in part due to his critique of both his challengers’ policy on Iraq.”[524]
President Obama proved to be a rather enigmatic target for the peace movement, as compared to the global crusaders of the Bush administration.  While on the campaign trail in 2008, Obama promised to withdraw all U.S. combat forces from Iraq within 16 months, in keeping with the Bush exit plan, while pledging to pursue the war in Afghanistan more avidly, giving rise to the idea of a “bad war” and a “good war,” respectively.  About two-thirds of the American public indicated support for the Afghanistan troop surge in a poll taken in February 2009.[525]

President Obama salutes a team carrying a casket with the remains of Army Sgt. Dale R. Griffin who died in Afghanistan, at the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, Oct. 29, 2009 (Susan Walsh, AP)

During his first term, Obama more or less fulfilled his pre-election promises, withdrawing most troops from Iraq while increasing the number in Afghanistan from 30,000 to 110,000.  The surge resulted in an increase in casualties all around with no improvement in the strategic outlook.  In his second term, Obama reversed course and downsized U.S. forces in Afghanistan to previous levels, while slightly increasing the number of troops in Iraq to about 5,000 in 2016, mainly to fight ISIS.[526]  Overall, Obama proved to be rather hawkish in foreign affairs, despite having received the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2009 “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”  He authorized more drone assassinations than his predecessor, bombed Libya (creating a new failed state), and invested in the largest nuclear arms buildup since the Cold War.[527]

Peace movement activists continued to educate, lobby, and demonstrate throughout these years, albeit in modest numbers.  UFPJ organized a protest at the Republican National Convention in New York City in August 2004.  Small civil disobedience actions were conducted in front of the White House during the Obama years.[528]  Most peace groups pressed for an immediate withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan and Iraq, but the situation was complicated.  The U.S. had overthrown two governments and most Americans assumed that the U.S. was responsible for establishing and supporting new governments.  For this reason, members of Congress, including those who had initially opposed the war in Iraq (31 percent in the House and 23 percent in the Senate), were reticent to call for the withdrawal of U.S. troops.  As the wars dragged on in both countries, there seemed to be a dearth of creative thinking on Capitol Hill as to how to the U.S. might extricate itself from the quagmires it had created; for example, by reconciling with insurgents rather than treating them as “terrorists” and utilizing positive incentives rather than military force – carrots instead of sticks – which would be cheaper in the end.

IVAW WInter Soldier hearings, March 2008 (FAIR)

Peace activists, including veterans, drew attention to the increasing number of war casualties.  In July 2004, Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) was founded at the annual convention of Veterans for Peace.  The veterans called for immediate withdrawal of all Coalition forces in Iraq, reparation payments to the Iraqi people, and more support services for U.S. military personnel and veterans.  In March 2008, IVAW held Winter Soldier hearings – modeled on the 1971 hearings of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War – which included testimony from U.S. soldiers and Iraqi and Afghani civilians on the brutal effects of war.  That same month, IVAW held vigils across the nation marking the death of the 4,000th U.S. soldier in Iraq.  By May, IVAW had 38 local chapters.[529]

Antiwar veterans and their allies gathered in Chicago in May 2012, at the site of the largest NATO summit in the organization’s history. The Memorial Day theme was “Honor the Dead, Heal the Wounded, Stop the Wars.” Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars along with women from Afghans for Peace led a peace march of thousands to the summit gates. Iraq Veterans Against the War then held a ceremony where more than 40 veterans spoke before hurling their war medals toward the gates of the NATO summit (see the video recorded by Democracy Now! here):

My name is Iris Feliciano.  I served in the Marine Corps.  And in January of 2002, I deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.  And I want to tell the folks behind us, in these enclosed walls, where they build more policies based on lies and fear, that we no longer stand for them.  We no longer stand for their lies, their failed policies and these unjust wars.  Bring our troops home and end the war now.  They can have these back.

My name is Greg Miller.  I’m a veteran of the United States Army infantry with service in Iraq 2009.  The military hands out cheap tokens like this to soldiers, servicemembers, in an attempt to fill the void where their conscience used to be once they indoctrinate it out of you.  But that didn’t work on me, so I’m here to return my Global War on Terrorism Medal and my National Defense Medal, because they’re both lies.

My name is Maggie Martin.  I was a sergeant in the Army . I did two tours in Iraq.  No amount of medals, ribbons or flags can cover the amount of human suffering caused by these wars.  We don’t want this garbage.  We want our human rights.  We want our right to heal.

On April 4, 2004, Army Specialist Casey Sheehan was killed while on a mission in Sadr City.  His mother, Cindy Sheehan, was devastated.  She and a few other military families who had lost loved ones met with President Bush at Fort Lewis, near Tacoma, Washington, in June of 2004.  Sheehan noted in a later interview that the president seemed “sincere about wanting freedom for the Iraqis” and that he “feels pain for our loss,” but she could not reconcile his empathetic statements with the fact that there was no good reason for the war.[530]

“Peace Mom” Cindy Sheehan in front of the White House, Nov. 7, 2006 (Ben Schumin)

In her grief, Sheehan decided to take action.  At the invitation of the American Friends Service Committee, she spoke at the opening of an exhibit in Washington titled “Eyes Wide Open: The Human Cost of War,” which coincided with President Bush´s second inauguration in January 2005.  That same month, she began an organization called Gold Star Families for Peace, appealing to families with members killed in Iraq or Afghanistan.  In August, Sheehan requested another personal meeting with Bush and began a campout near the president’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.  The camp, known as “Camp Casey,” attracted hundreds of others and caught the media’s attention, making her well-known.  The second meeting with Bush never occurred.

On October 26, 2005, Sheehan participated in a “sit-in” at the White House, the first of many civil disobedience actions.  She ran for Congress in 2008 against Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, and garnered 16 percent of the vote.  In 2009, she began a weekly radio show.  Sheehan was awarded the US Peace Prize by the U.S. Peace Memorial Foundation in 2009 for her “extraordinary and innovative antiwar activism.”[531]  It was more deserved than Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize.
By the time President Donald Trump entered the White House in January 2017, the American public was weary of foreign crusades.  With little public criticism, the Trump administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban to withdraw all U.S. troops, leaving the Afghan government to fend for itself.  Yet Trump was hardly a peacenik.  In speaking with his advisers, he suggested at different times that the U.S. could take military action against Venezuela, strike Iran (apart from assassinating Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in a drone attack), and blockade Cuba.  He was prepared to invoke the Insurrection Act and use the U.S. military to subdue Black Lives Matter protesters in the streets.
Wary of the president’s designs, Defense Secretary Mark T. Espers and General Mark A. Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed on a list of four “noes” in relation to their commander-in-chief.  Two focused on domestic matters:  “no politicization of the military and no misuse of the military.”  These were important for preventing the military from being used by Trump to overturn the 2020 election results; which is to say, for preserving democracy.  The other two dealt with foreign policy:  “no strategic retreats” and “no unnecessary wars.”  Espers and Milley wanted to keep the unstable president from abandoning existing U.S. commitments, on the one hand, and from initiating new military commitments, on the other, thus maintaining the status quo.[532]
The end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan in August 2021 did not fundamentally alter the military status quo.  The U.S. continued to maintain extensive bases, forces, and operations abroad.  In July 2022, the House of Representatives voted to add $37 billion to President Biden’s military spending request for fiscal year 2023, for a total of $850 billion.  An amendment introduced by Rep. Barbara Lee to reduce the Pentagon budget by $100 billion was soundly defeated by a bipartisan vote of 350-78.[533]  The U.S. military and foreign policy establishment appeared averse to any deep reflection on past failures and intent on meeting new challenges to the U.S.-led world order.

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VIII.  Lessons and legacies

It was September 14, 2001, three days after the shocking terrorist attacks on the United States.  In a speech at the National Cathedral in Washington that morning, President Bush promised “to rid the world of evil.”  That afternoon in Congress, Rep. Barbara Lee advised her colleagues not to rush to war.  “I understand,” said Lee, “that we don’t want to send our young men and women into harm’s way if we can avoid that.”[534]
Should the enemy not be clearly defined in authorizing the use of force?  Should Congress not debate whether war is an appropriate and effective strategy for countering terrorism?  Should the members not discuss how to work together with other nations and the UN in combatting global terrorism?  Did anyone remember that on August 5, 1964, three days after a North Vietnamese gunboat reportedly attacked a U.S. Navy destroyer, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, essentially giving President Lyndon Johnson a blank check to take the nation to war in Vietnam?
Except for Lee’s dissenting vote, Congress approved the Authorization for the Use of Military Force.  The Bush administration rushed off to war in Afghanistan, dismissing diplomatic alternatives and ignoring long-term consequences.  The president used the spectacle of war to display his “resolve” to the American public.  Administration officials erroneously conflated the Taliban with al Qaeda, treating both as “terrorists.”  This equation expanded the designated enemy from a few hundred Arab jihadists to hundreds of thousands of seasoned Afghan fighters.  The result was a no-win, 20-year quagmire.
The needless war in Afghanistan paved the way for another needless war in oil-rich Iraq.  To justify a regime-changing invasion, administration officials falsely claimed that Iraq was connected to al Qaeda and possessed weapons of mass destruction that threatened the United States.  They imagined invading U.S. forces as liberators and dismissed the United Nations as irrelevant when it did not approve the invasion.
In both wars, the U.S. employed heavy-handed “pacification” tactics, ignoring lessons of the Vietnam War.  These tactics included bombing, drone strikes, night raids, and arbitrary imprisonment, all of which assured a never-ending supply of vengeful insurgents.  The costs were considerable:  more than 500,000 war-related deaths in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, and over 14,000 U.S. fatalities between 2001 and 2021, according to the Costs of War Project.  The U.S. spent roughly $3 trillion on its overseas operations and bases during these years, money that could have been spent on programs addressing human needs and environmental sustainability.[535]
In the wider “war on terror,” the U.S. employed brutish and illegal methods to capture or kill suspected terrorists, including extrajudicial rendition, indefinite detention, torture, and assassination.  Such methods violated international humanitarian laws, defied human rights principles, undermined international cooperation in counterterrorism operations, and sullied America’s reputation.  Rather than uphold the “rules-based international order,” the U.S. acted as a rogue nation, a law unto itself, setting a dangerous precedent for other powerful nations.
When Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, the Biden administration rightly opposed this criminal aggression, urging all nations to take a strong stand against Russia.  Yet, as foreign policy analyst Trita Parsi points out, many national leaders demurred.  Although officials “from across Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America . . . largely sympathize with the plight of the Ukrainian people and view Russia as the aggressor,” he writes, demands by U.S. leaders “to uphold a ‘rules-based order’ have begotten an allergic reaction. . . . From their vantage point, no other country or bloc has undermined international law, norms or the rules-based order more than the U.S. and the West.”[536]
Russian President Vladimir Putin, in justifying his war of aggression in Ukraine, borrowed from the Bush administration’s propaganda tool kit.  On February 21, three days before the invasion, Putin put forth a hypothetical case in which Ukraine might use weapons of mass destruction against Russia.  “If Ukraine acquires weapons of mass destruction, the situation in the world and in Europe will drastically change, especially for us, for Russia,” he said.  “We cannot but react to this real danger, all the more so since, let me repeat, Ukraine’s Western patrons may help it acquire these weapons to create yet another threat to our country.”[537]
More than react, Russia took preemptive action, just as the Bush administration had done in Iraq.  Speaking at the annual WWII Victory Day celebration on May 9, Putin insisted, “The danger [in Ukraine] was rising by the day.  Russia has given a preemptive response to aggression.  It was forced, timely and the only correct decision.”[538]  Putin invoked the Great Patriotic War (WWII) to frame the Russian invasion of Ukraine as a just war.  Kremlin propagandists labeled Ukrainian defenders “neo-Nazis” and “Nazi criminals.”[539]  Vladimir Solovyov, a television host, furthermore derided Ukrainian resisters as “terrorists” and asserted that Russia “must bring these terrorists to their senses in the cruelest way.”[540]

“Meanwhile,” writes Andrew Bacevich:

naked Russian aggression in Ukraine has also offered an excuse for Washington to treat as old news or no news the embarrassing debacle of the US withdrawal from Kabul in August 2021.  The Pentagon thereby effectively shrugs off a humiliating episode that capped 20 years of misguided and mismanaged military efforts in Afghanistan.  Among the proponents of American militarism, few things are more important than forgetting – no, obliterating – those two decades of dismal failure and disappointment.  In essence, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has enabled Washington to do just that.  As if by magic, Putin has changed the subject.

As happened after the Vietnam War, cautionary lessons from the U.S. “war on terror” may be trampled asunder so as not to inhibit future U.S. power projection.  “Just as the foreign-policy establishment once absolved itself of responsibility for Vietnam and labored to ignore its lessons,” continues Bacevich, “so, too, the current generation of that establishment is palpably eager to move on.  Its members welcome the prospect of a ‘New Cold War’ that would enable the United States to relive the ostensible glory days of the last one, which included, of course, not only the Vietnam War but also Korea, a nuclear arms race, and a pattern of CIA ‘dirty tricks’ among other abominations.”[541]  In all this, what is forgotten is how much suffering, harm, and destruction has been caused by U.S. wars.

Sustaining U.S. military predominance has also meant skewing the application of international law.  At a “D-Day” commemoration event on June 6, 2022, General Mark Milley explained that one fundamental rule of the “global rules-based order” is that “countries cannot attack other countries with their military forces in acts of aggression unless it’s an act of pure self-defense.  But that’s not what is happening here in Ukraine.  What’s happened here is an open, unambiguous act of aggression.”[542]  President Joe Biden warned Chinese leaders not to follow the brutish Russian example and attempt to take Taiwan by force.  “The idea that it can be taken by force, just taken by force, is just not appropriate,” Biden said.[543]
Of course, Biden and Milley are right that aggression is inappropriate and contrary to the “rules-based international order,” but the principle of non-aggression should apply to all nations, including the United States; which is to say, all nations should abide by international law.  Should the U.S. make this commitment, foreswearing aggression, it would do much to bolster collective security through the United Nations.  Instead, the U.S. foreign policy establishment appears intent on patching up and rebuilding Pax Americana.  As Bacevich writes, “Peel back the cliched phrases that senior officials in the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon routinely utter in the Biden years – ‘American global leadership’ and ‘the rules-based international order’ are favorites – and you encounter their unspoken purpose:  to perpetuate unchallengeable American global primacy until the end of time.”[544]
If there is a lesson for the public, it is to be skeptical, ask questions, and learn about U.S. foreign policies, especially when issues of war are involved.  The Bush administration orchestrated a major propaganda campaign to convince the American people that its policies were appropriate responses to credible threats.  This did not go unchallenged.  Credit should be given to foreign correspondents, photojournalists, and human rights workers who traveled to war-torn lands to see and hear first-hand the effects of U.S. policies, sharing their stories with the public; to media outlets and Congressional panels that pressed the government for truthful information, calling out lies and abuses; to writers and scholars who attempted to pierce through official propaganda in the interest of truth-telling; to peace advocates and activists who demonstrated their opposition to war and promoted alternative policies and visions; and to citizens who lobbied members of Congress and urged political leaders to pursue diplomacy over war.
Rethinking war and empire
Our collective progress lies in transcending war, empire, and ecological devastation.  The path forward may not be smooth or consistent, but there has been progress.
In the wake of two world wars that devastated the European continent within a span of thirty years, key European leaders sought to reduce militarism and excessive nationalism – two prominent causes of these wars – by forming the European Economic Community (1957) followed by the European Union (1993), opening borders and building toward a common European identity.  As cooperation and interchange have increased, the possibility of war between these nations has grown dimmer.  U.S. leaders unfortunately took a different path, building up U.S. military might and seeking to replace the old imperial European world order with Pax Americana.  Contrarily, U.S. occupational authorities in Japan wrote into the new Japanese constitution an article which limits Japan’s military to a self-defense role and renounces war as a means of solving international disputes.
European leaders were less sanguine about letting their colonies go after World War II, but national liberation movements ultimately prevailed and the entire European imperial system collapsed in the thirty-year period following the Second World War (1945-1975).  In the end, few citizens of these imperial nations rued the loss of empire.  Quite likely, few U.S. citizens will miss U.S. global hegemony when it ends, given its financial and human costs.
The United Nations was established in 1945 “to end the scourge of war.”  The UN Charter outlaws aggression against other states, promotes nonviolent conflict resolution, and has established a tentative collective security system in which member nations can deter would-be aggressors through collective diplomatic, economic, and military actions.  Although the UN has yet to live up to the hopes of its founders, it remains the best available alternative to great power rivalries, arms races, and military interventions.  We live, after all, in the Nuclear Age.  All-out war poses the threat of all-out destruction; and preparations for war divert resources and talents from meeting needs and solving pressing problems.
The U.S. was a major player in the formation of the UN in 1945, but soon moved away from the international body as U.S. ambitions and actions diverged from UN mandates.  Nonetheless, with or without U.S. support, an international moral architecture has slowly developed over the years in the form of treaties, conventions, agencies, and programs dedicated to peaceful settlement of disputes, demilitarization, meeting human needs, defending human rights, protecting the environment and other species, and creating sustainable societies.[545]
The American people as a whole do not benefit from U.S. global hegemony, apart from a vicarious sense of global status.
The American people as a whole do not benefit from U.S. global hegemony, apart from a vicarious sense of global status.  The U.S. once profited economically from the hegemonic “free trade” system it imposed on other countries.  The corporate capitalist system, however, has fundamentally changed.  Major corporations have become transnational, owing loyalty to no nation, and production has been outsourced to low-wage countries, leaving many American workers and communities adrift.  U.S. politicians of both major parties nonetheless continue to extol the “free market” despite diminishing returns for their constituents.
The response to changing international security requirements has been equally dismaying.  The political establishment seems to regard America’s superpower status as sacrosanct, viewing any diminution of U.S. power and global influence as a threat to “national security” (conflating global hegemony with national security and defense).  Congress has continued to fund extensive military bases and force deployments, more sophisticated new weaponry, expansion of weapons into outer space (violating the Outer Space Treaty of 1967), and a low-intensity “war on terror” in Africa and the Middle East.  The option of working through the United Nations has remained an afterthought.
Empire is rooted in a way of thinking in which superior military force and economic dominance are deemed desirable and necessary in a competitive international system.  International political theorists posit that this system is immutable in its fundamental construction; hence societies should expect to forever fight over who will be the king of the hill.  Indeed, the pursuit of power objectives is deemed “realistic” and thus necessary, while the pursuit of peaceful diplomacy and international cooperation is said to be “idealistic” and therefore impractical, in the main.  It is a self-enclosed system that manufactures its own threats, as the efforts of one nation to enhance its security are viewed by rival nations as threats to their own security.  Arms limitation agreements have sometimes interceded in this vicious cycle, but the cycle resumes when new foreign threats appear or technological innovations upend the basis of arms agreements (weapons in space are an example).[546]  The way out of this threat-competition is to create a friendly international neighborhood, cultivating bonds, fostering mutual support, and alleviating insecurities.  A friendly neighborhood is ultimately the most secure neighborhood.
There is cause for optimism in the long view.  In many societies, great strides have been made in overcoming racial and religious prejudices, two potent justifications for empire building.  For hundreds of years, leading Western nations promoted their imperial policies under the aegis of uplifting “lesser races” along with propagating the “Christian Religion to such People, as yet live in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God,” as stated in the Virginia Charter of 1606.  Added to this, the paradigm shift toward gender equality has challenged unhealthy stereotypes of both manhood and womanhood.  Wars were once regarded as challenges to “national manhood” and as testing grounds for individual men to prove their masculinity and gain honor and distinction.
As an antidote to the dehumanization of war, building empathy across national borders and cultures has been encouraged in varying degrees by education, science, music and the arts, human rights movements, travel, trade, charities, immigration (a mixed bag), social media, and certain political arrangements such as the European Union.  Although economic exploitation remains all too prevalent, it is at least possible to envision, with the right application of technology, humanitarianism, and political will, economies that meet all basic human needs in an ecological manner.  We collectively have the capacity to end scarcity.
Empires have existed for a few thousand years, but not eternally.  They have developed under certain conditions of wealth accumulation and power concentration, and they can be extinguished, like the institution of slavery, in due time.  If gradual enlightenment has not been enough to shake the foundations of empire building, the prospect of environmental disaster, via climate change, bids that humanity pay closer attention to life-affirming alternatives.  We collectively have grown to about 8 billion people.  We are no longer simply adapting to the world; we are co-creators, shaping the world in which we live.  The changes needed are many but can be boiled down to a few overarching themes:
  • creating economies that are ecological, sustainable, and meet basic human needs;
  • building societies in which people cooperate, learn social skills and concepts (recognizing our interdependence), work for the common good, and tolerate differences;
  • establishing political systems that are democratic and accountable to the people, focused on solving real problems, attentive to justice, and committed to the peaceful settlement of disputes, domestically and internationally.
If one can reduce these themes to a single philosophical change, it would be a paradigm shift from domination to cooperation – finding ways to live harmoniously with nature and each other.

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Photo caption sources abbreviations:

  • AFP – Agence France-Presse
  • AP – Associated Press
  • BBC – British Broadcasting Corporation (news corporation)
  • CNN – Cable News Network
  • DoD – U.S. Department of Defense
  • DT – Deutsche Welle (German news corporation)
  • NARA – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration
  • VOA – Voice of America


[1] Craig Whitlock, “At War with the Truth,” The Washington Post, December 9, 2019.  See also, Craig Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers: A Secret History of the War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021).

[2] Chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix said that UN weapons inspectors “had found no evidence of the continuation or resumption of programs of weapons of mass destruction.” United Nations Security Council press release, “UN Inspectors Found No Evidence of Prohibited Weapons Programmes as of 18 March Withdrawal, Hans Blix Tells Security Council,” 5 June 2003,

[3] Paul Blumenthal, “The Largest Protest Ever was 15 Year Ago.  The Iraq War Isn’t Over.  What Happened?” Huffington Post, February 15, 2018,; and “The Anti-War Movement,” CBS News, January 17, 2003,

[4] Amrit Singh and Jessica Scholes, “Denmark, the CIA, and the Killing of Anwar al-Awlaki,” Open Society Justice Initiative, April 30, 2014,

[5] Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz, “Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths in Major War Zones,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, September 1, 2021,; “Afghan Civilians” (April 2021), Costs of War Project,; and “Iraqi Civilians” (June 2021), Costs of War Project,

[6] The term “imperial presidency” was popularized by Arthur Schlesinger in The Imperial Presidency (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1973).  See also, Tom Head, “History of the Imperial Presidency,” ThoughtCo., April 3, 2019,  The framing of history to reinforce beliefs in the noble character of the U.S. and its presumed beneficial role in the world is often labeled “exceptionalism,” indicating that the U.S. stands far above other nations in moral character.  This egocentric-nationalistic concept has been analyzed by many scholars, including Andrew Bacevich in The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008).

[7] “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” September 2002,

[8] U.S. actions overseas are invariably shaped by larger strategic goals.  On U.S. hegemony, see Noam Chomsky, in Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Dominance (New York: Henry Holt, 2003).  The idea of “hegemony” is distinguished from “empire” in that hegemony does not necessitate direct political control over other lands and peoples but still indicates dominance over others.  Similar to the “civilizing missions” of the former British and French empires, U.S. hegemony has been obfuscated by “elevated ideals” and “altruism” along with “intentional ignorance” by the American public (43).

[9] “United States Counterterrorism Operations, 2018-2020,” Costs of War Project,; and George Petras, Karina Zaiets, and Veronica Bravo, “U.S. Counterterrorism operations touched 85 countries in the last 3 years alone,” USA Today, October 5, 2021,

[10] William Hartung, “We’re #1: The U.S. Government is the World’s Largest Arms Dealer,” Forbes, March 18, 2022,; and “World military expenditure passes $2 trillion for first time,” Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), April 25, 2022,

[11] The five-point paradigm in this essay is original, but the basic idea of a trajectory of operational goals was articulated by the editors of The Nation in “Present at the Dissolution” (August 18/25, 2003).  See also, Jonathan Schell, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2003), 324-33.  Schell points out that the Bush administration, by defining the enemy vaguely as “terrorism” rather than al Qaeda, made military action rather than police action the mainstay of “counterterrorism” operations.

[12] Richard Jackson, an international politics scholar, has pioneered the examination of discursive frames related to the “war on terror” in Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, politics and counter-terrorism (Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2005), and “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism: Writing Wars on Terrorism from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush Jr.,” Studies in Language and Capitalism, Issue 1, 2006: 163-193.

[13] Investigative journalists and human rights organizations have done much to pull back the curtain on the brutal nature of U.S. counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations.  See Azmat Khan, Lila Hassan, Sarah Almukhtar, and Rachel Shorey, “The Civilian Casualty Files, New York Times, December 18, 2021,; and Human Rights Watch, “Terrorism / Counterterrorism,”  See also, Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2014); Jeremy Scahill, Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield (New York: The Nation Books, 2013); and Nick Turse and Tom Englehardt, Terminator Planet: The First History of Drone Warfare, 2001-2050 (Chicago: Dispatch Books, 2012).

[14] The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, Official Government Edition (Washington, D.C.:  U.S. Government Printing Office, 2004), 224-25, 246.

[15] J. Samuel Walker, The Day That Shook America: A Concise History of 9/11 (Topeka: University of Kansas Press, 2021); and Hannah Hartig and Carroll Doherty, “Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11,” Pew Research, September 2, 2021,

[16] Osama bin Laden, “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” February 23, 1998,  The fatwa also denounced the U.S. economic blockade against Iraq and the U.S. alliance with Israel.  It was signed by, in addition to bin Laden (Shaykh Usamah Bin-Muhammad Bin-Ladin), Ayman al-Zawahiri of the Jihad Group in Egypt, Abu-Yasir Rifa’i Ahmad Taha of the Egyptian Islamic Group, Shaykh Mir Hamzah of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, and Fazlur Rahman of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh.  Regarding U.S. military bases in Saudi Arabia, in August 1990, U.S. officials promised Saudi leaders that the bases would be temporary, but this proved not to be the case.  The bases were not dismantled until 2003, when major U.S. air operations were moved the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.  The U.S. still maintained a training mission at the Eskan Village, a Saudi-owned complex outside Riyadh.  See Richard A. Clarke, “Mission to Jeddah,” August 7, 2015,

[17] Barton Gellman and Dana Priest, “U.S. Strikes Terrorist-Linked Sites in Afghanistan, Factory in Sudan,” Washington Post, August 21, 1998,  The Afghan paramilitary camps were also supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services intelligence (ISI).  Five ISI officers were reportedly killed in the U.S. cruise missile attacks.  The missiles crossed Pakistan’s air space without permission, prompting an official protest in Islamabad; and there were anti-American demonstrations in Pakistani streets as well.  The attack on Sudan, which killed one person and injured ten, was condemned by the Arab League as a violation of Sudan’s national sovereignty.  Sudan demanded an apology and requested a UN Security Council investigation into the attack, but the Clinton administration blocked this option.  The administration offered no proof of chemical weapons production.   Raymond Bonner, “Pakistan Condemns U.S. Attack on Afghanistan,” New York Times, August 22, 1998,; and “Sudan demands U.S. apology for missile attack,” CNN, August 23, 1998,

[18] There were, in fact, many leads on which the FBI did not follow through.  Karen J. Greenberg, in Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (New York: Crown Publishers, 2016), notes that “the Phoenix FBI office had been reporting on suspected ‘Al Qaeda operatives’ who had sought training at flight schools,” particularly Zacarias Moussaoui, but the FBI unit chief had judged “that there was not ‘sufficient evidence of Moussaoui’s connection to a foreign power.’”  FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who knew of this situation, was taken aback when FBI Robert Mueller announced to the nation in May 2002 that the FBI had no advance warning of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  President Bush and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice made statements to the effect that no one could have imagined the 9/11 terrorist attacks, thus exonerating themselves and the FBI and CIA.

[19] Bob Woodward, Bush at War (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002), 96.  Woodward was not present at the meetings of the principals but reconstructed the conversations based on interviews with more than one hundred sources and four hours of exclusive interviews with President George W. Bush.

[20] Woodward, Bush at War, 111, 113.

[21] “President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001.  The president’s quotes in this section are from this speech.  The speech was reportedly written by Michael J. Gerson, an idealistic conservative who later published a book titled Heroic Conservatism: Why Republicans Need to Embrace America’s Ideas (And Why They Deserve to Fail If They Don’t) (HarperOne, 2007).

[22] “Secretary’s Corner,” Homeland Security, August 2, 2021,

[23] James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” New York Times, December 16, 2005.  The secret order was signed in 2002.

[24] David Hastings Dunn, “Bush, 11 September and the Conflicting Strategies of the ‘War on Terrorism,’” Irish Studies in International Affairs 16 (2005), 17.

[25] Jake Sherman and Agathe Sarfati, “Reflecting on the UN’s Role in Counterterrorism Twenty Years After 9/11, International Peace Institute Global Observatory, June 1, 2021,

[26] Generally speaking, terrorism is a tactic of violence and intimidation used against civilians outside of war, designed to advance political causes.  This tactic may be employed by individuals, secretive cells, political groups, insurrectionary forces, or nations (including governments against their own people).  On September 23, 2001, President Bush signed Executive Order 13224 which defined terrorism as “an activity that (i) involves a violent act or an act dangerous to human life, property, or infrastructure; and (ii) appears to be intended – (A) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (B) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (C) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, kidnapping, or hostage-taking.”  “Executive Order 13224 (Sept. 23, 2001),” U.S. State Department,  There is nevertheless significant ambiguity in the term “terrorist.”  States typically apply it to delegitimize guerrilla movements and insurrections they oppose, while endorsing other violent groups they support (e.g., “freedom fighters”).  The word “terrorism” comes from the Latin terrere, “to frighten.”  It came into use during the French Revolution when Maximilien Robespierre created the “regime of terror” (1793-1794), executing rivals by the guillotine.  During the 19th century, terrorism became more associated with clandestine groups and individuals, especially anti-state anarchists.  Though state terrorism has continued – e.g., governments and related death squads who murder dissidents and opponents – the word terrorism is more often used today to describe the violence of non-state groups such as al Qaeda, while state terrorism is often referred to as repression.  See Lukasz Kamienski, “Defining Terrorism: Issues and Problems,” in Frank C. Shanty, ed., Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror (ABC-CLIO, August 2012), 7.

[27] “Foreign Terrorist Organizations, U.S. State Department Bureau of Counterterrorism,; and “State Sponsors of Terrorism (U.S. list),”  Given that 15 of the suicidal hijackers on 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia, some questioned whether the Saudi state lent support to the terrorists.  The FBI conducted an investigation of Saudi Arabia’s role in aiding the 9/11 hijackers, but the full report was classified and the 130-page overview released was heavily redacted.  The overview noted that two of the hijackers were assisted by a network affiliated with the Saudi government, including its Los Angeles consulate.  In June 2022 family members of those killed in the 9/11 attack sent a petition with 1,800 signatures to U.S. officials asking the State Department to designate Saudi Arabia as a state sponsor of terrorism.  The family members wrote, “After nearly 21 years, we are as determined as ever to hold the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia accountable for its role in the mass murder of our loved ones.”  Julian E. Barnes and Edward Wong, “Democratic Lawmakers Urge Biden to Ensure Saudi Ties Serve the U.S.,” New York Times, June 8, 2022.

[28] Bush repeated this line on November 6; see “’You are either with us or against us,’” CNN, November 6, 2001.  The first to use this line, however, was Senator Hilary Clinton of New York who told Dan Rather on the CBS Evening News on September 13, 2001: “Every nation has to either be with us, or against us. Those who harbor terrorists, or who finance them, are going to pay a price.”  See Eamon M. Cunningham, Understanding Rhetoric: A Guide to Critical Reading and Argumentation (Boca Raton, FL: Brown/Walker Press, 2018), 263.

[29] Elaine Sciolino and Steven Lee Meyers, “U.S. Plans to Act Largely Alone,” New York Times, October 7, 2001.

[30] The day after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush described them as “acts of war.”  A few days later, he referred to the wreckage in New York City as “the signs of the first battle of the war.”  Al Qaeda, too, described its jihad against the U.S. as a “war” in its 1998 fatwa, “Declaration of War against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places.”  Both uses of “war” elided the legal definition of war under international law, which limits “war” to conflicts between states.  Matthew Evangelista, “Coping with 9/11: Alternatives to the War Paradigm,” pp. 2-3, Costs of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, 2011,

[31] Woodward, Bush at War, 43, 133.

[32] Woodward, Bush at War, 48; and Scott Horton, Fool’s Errand: Time to End the War in Afghanistan (Chicago: The Libertarian Institute, 2017), 60.  Woodward notes that “Rumsfeld worried that a coalition built around the goal of taking out as Qaeda would fall apart once they succeeded in the mission, making it more difficult to continue the war on terrorism elsewhere.”  Horton concurs, writing, “In other words, if the U.S.A. won by defeating the enemy, the war would be over.  So, to avoid that problem, they would have to be far more ambiguous about just who was to be included as enemy targets in the war.”

[33] Regarding wider wars, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, in an interview on NBC’s Meet the Press on September 30, 2001, was asked by Tim Russert, “After we are done with al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, hopefully successfully, will we then turn our attention to other states that have harbored terrorists like Iraq?”  Rumsfeld replied:  “Well, I think that we’re already turning our attention to other states.  Our focus – I mean, if al Qaeda is one of the terrorist networks that exist in the world – and the president has said that this is a broad-based effort, not simply al Qaeda – and if al Qaeda’s in 50 or 60 countries, which we know, then clearly this is not a single-country problem, nor are we thinking about a single country.”  “Text: Rumsfeld on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press,’” Washington Post, September 30, 2001.  General Wesley K. Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander, wrote in his book, Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, and the American Empire (New York; Public Affairs, 2004):   “As I went back through the Pentagon in November 2001, one of the senior military staff officers had time for a chat.  Yes we were still on tract for going against Iraq, he said.  But there was more.  This was being discussed as part of a five-year campaign, he said, and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan. . . . He said it with reproach – with disbelief, almost – at the breadth of the vision.  I moved the conversation away, for this was not something I wanted to hear.  And it was not something I wanted to see moving forward, either. . . . I left the Pentagon that afternoon deeply concerned” (page 130).

[34] “President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001.

[35] “Asia pledges cooperation in hunt for attackers,” CNN World, September 13, 2001,; and “Taliban diplomat condemns attack,” CNN World, September 12, 2001,

[36] The 9/11 Commission Report, 333.

[37] Michael A. Lev, “Taliban maintains refusal to turn over bin Laden,” Chicago Tribune, October 3, 2001,

[38] “Bush rejects Taliban offer to hand Bin Laden over,” The Guardian, October 14, 1001,; “Bush won’t bargain for bin Laden,” Baltimore Sun, October 15, 2001,; and Evangelista, “Coping with 9/11: Alternatives to the War Paradigm,” 8.

[39] Documents released by the U.S. State Department in response to Freedom of Information Act requests show that Taliban representatives met 30 times with Clinton administration officials, and three times with George W. Bush administration officials.  Though diplomatic efforts failed to pressure the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden to the U.S., according to a National Security Archive report, “The Taliban claimed that 80% of their officials and a majority of Afghans oppose Osama bin Laden’s presence, yet also claimed that the Taliban would be overthrown were they to extradite bin Laden, due to his popularity in Afghanistan and around the Muslim world.”  “The Taliban File Part IV,” August 18, 2005, The National Security Archive, George Washington University,  See also, Kabir Mohabbat and Leah McInnis, Delivering Osama: The Story of America’s Secret Envoy (S. M. Kabir Mohabbat and L. McInnis, 2004, 2011, 2020).  Mohabbat, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Kabul, Afghanistan in 1956 – and a supporter of the Bush administration – acted as an unofficial U.S. envoy in meeting with Taliban leaders on a number of occasions and attempting to work a deal for the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden.  His book documents meetings between Taliban and U.S. representatives on November 2, 2000, March 21, 2001, and September 16, 2001, as well as his own meetings with Taliban leaders as an unofficial U.S. liaison.  The Nov. 2, 2000, meeting took place in Frankfurt, Germany.  Mohabbat, who served as an interpreter, reported that those in attendance included, on the Taliban side, Mullah Abdul Jalil, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mullah Abdul Razaq, the Minister of Commerce, Mullah Ahmed Jan, Governor of Zabol Province, and others (p. 218); and on the U.S. side, “Alan Eastern, Jeff Lindstead, Frank (the Assistant Director of Anti-Terrorism, State Department), Big Gary (Director of the CIA for Middle Eastern Affairs in Washington and well over six foot and 200 pounds), and Gary’s deputy, also named Gary (who we came to call Small Gary simply because he was shorter and skinnier than Big Gary” (p. 220).

[40] David B. Ottaway and Joe Stephens, “Diplomats Met With Taliban on Bin Laden,” Washington Post, October 29, 2001; and Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2019), 506.

[41] Woodward, Bush at War, 316.

[42] Gallup, “Presidential Approval Ratings — George W. Bush,”

[43] Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2014), 222.  See also, “The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014: A conversation with Carlotta Gall,” Woodrow Wilson Center video, April 11, 2014,

[44] “Afghan Civilians,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute, Brown University,

[45] See Peter Bergen, The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021).

[46] Alissa J. Rubin, “U.S. Passed on Taliban Surrender, and 20 Years of War Followed,” New York Times, August 23, 2021,

[47] Rubin, “U.S. Passed on Taliban Surrender.”

[48] “Text: Pentagon Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld,” Washington Post, November 19, 2001,

[49] Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), 74.

[50] Rubin, “U.S. Passed on Taliban Surrender.”

[51] Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2015), 192-93.

[52] For background on the Taliban and the Afghan way of war, see Ahmed Rashid, Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2000); and Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living.

[53] Mujahideen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, interviewed in “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” (Netflix film series), Season 1, Episode 4, “The Good War.”  On the other side of the coin, in terms of switching sides, military commander Abdul Rashid Dostum defended the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s, then became an ally of the U.S. two decades later.

[54] Alex Strick Van Linschoten and Felix Kuehn, An Enemy We Created: The Myth of the Taliban-Al Qaeda Merger in Afghanistan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010).

[55] Fareed Zakarea, “A Turnaround Strategy,” Newsweek, February 9, 2009, 37.  See also, John Mueller, The Stupidity of War: American Foreign Policy and the Case for Complacency (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021).  Mueller, a political scientist associated with the conservative Cato Institute, writes that the better approach to counterterrorism “would have been to go after the al-Qaeda perpetrators directly rather than to wage war against Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban group, which had nothing to do with the terrorist attack.  Helping in the effort might have been Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, the chief (and almost only) supporters of the Taliban.  In result, al-Qaeda might have been routed and a frustrating and disastrous 20-year war might well have been avoided” (pp. 16-17).

[56] Andrew Bacevich, “One Very Long War From Vietnam to Afghanistan,” Common Dreams, January 24, 2022,  The organizing principle of the Cold War included framing the pursuit of U.S. global power, influence, and hegemony as a function of “national security” or even “national defense.”  Hence, U.S. leaders expressed fears of “losing” China, Vietnam, Cuba, and other nations, as if all belonged in the U.S. orbit.  President George W. Bush connected the “war on terror” to the cold war against communism in a graduation speech at West Point on June 1, 2002, emphasizing moral continuity.  “Because the war on terror will require resolve and patience, it will also require firm moral purpose.  In this way our struggle is similar to the Cold War.  “President Bush Delivers Graduation Speech at West Point,” June 1, 2002, White House archives,

[57] “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998,” Public Law 105-338 – Oct. 31, 1998,  The Project for the American Century (PNAC) was a neo-conservative think tank with ties to the American Enterprise Institute.  Founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan in the spring of 1997, PNAC envisioned unchallenged U.S. hegemony in the world, especially in the oil-rich Middle East.  The group was forthright in advocating U.S global domination, building on publisher Henry Luce’s advocacy of American hegemony, termed “the American Century,” in February 1941.  Kagan wrote in April 1996 that the U.S. should actively use its military strength and other means “to maintain a world which both supports and rests upon American hegemony.”  Robert Kagan, “American Power – A Guide for the Perplexed,” Commentary 101 (April 1996); quoted in Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 85.

[58] Woodward, Bush at War, 83-84; and Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies: Inside America’s War on Terror (New York: Free Press, 2004), 30-31.

[59] Elisabeth Bumiller and Jane Periez, “After the Attacks: The Overview; Bush and Top Aides Proclaim Policy of ‘Ending’ States That Back Terror; Local Airports Shut After an Arrest,” New York Times, September 14, 2001, A1.

[60] Woodward, Bush at War, 83-84, 137.

[61] Ali Soufan, interviewed in “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” (Netflix film series), Season 1, Episode 4, “The Good War.”

[62] President George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002,

[63] The “axis of evil” frame also allowed for an expansion of designated enemies.  Conservative editor and Project for the American Century member Norman Podhoretz, wrote in his journal, Commentary, in September 2002:  “The regimes that richly deserve to be overthrown and replaced are not confined to the three-singled out members of the ‘axis of evil.’  At a minimum, the axis should extend to Syria and Lebanon and Libya, as well as ‘friends’ of America like the Saudi royal family and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, along with the Palestinian Authority, whether headed by [Yasser] Arafat or one of his henchmen.”  Norman Podhoretz, “In Praise of the Bush Doctrine,” Commentary, September 2002,

[64] Anthony H. Cordesman, Weapons of Mass Destruction in the Middle East: Regional Trends, National Forces, Warfighting Capabilities, Delivery Options, and Weapons Effects (Washington, DC: Center for Strategic and international Studies, 2002), 17-19, 22, 27-31, 37-40, 53-59, 90-94, 98-103; also cited in Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 518.

[65] The alternative to military force is diplomacy, and the major diplomatic accord designed to limit and prevent the spread of nuclear weapons is the Non-Proliferation Treaty, signed in 1968.  According to the U.S. State Department website:  “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, more commonly known as the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), has made the world safer and more prosperous for over fifty years.  The NPT, with its three pillars of nonproliferation, disarmament, and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, is the cornerstone of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime.  The Treaty first entered into force in 1970 and was extended indefinitely in 1995.  Today, the NPT has become nearly universal, with 191 States Parties.  Over the years, the NPT has helped prevent additional states from acquiring nuclear weapons, provided the confidence necessary to facilitate cooperation on the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, and fostered a security environment that has enabled dramatic reductions in nuclear stockpiles and that is essential for future progress on nuclear disarmament.  The United States is committed to upholding and strengthening the NPT while restoring U.S. leadership on arms control and nonproliferation.   Effective arms control enhances stability, transparency, and predictability while reducing the possibility of costly, dangerous arms races.  Working closely with our partners and allies around the world, the United States will address 21st century challenges while preserving and strengthening the Treaty for future generations. . . . The Treaty allows for the Parties to gather every five years for the NPT Review Conference (RevCon) to review its operation.”  U.S. Department of State, “Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,”

[66] The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, September 2002,  Section V states:  “The United States will not use force in all cases to preempt emerging threats, nor should nations use preemption as a pretext for aggression. Yet in an age where the enemies of civilization openly and actively seek the world’s most destructive technologies, the United States cannot remain idle while dangers gather. We will always proceed deliberately, weighing the consequences of our actions.”

[67] Patrick Hayden, “The War on Terror and the Just Use of Military Force,” in Tom Lansford, Robert P. Watson, and Jack Covarrubias, America’s War on Terror (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2009), 66.

[68] See Daryl G. Kimball, “Separating Fact from Bush Administration Fiction About Iraq’s Suspected WMD (Again),” Arms Control Association, February 9, 2011,

[69] “Interview With Condoleezza Rice; Pataki Talks About 9-11; Graham, Shelby Discuss War on Terrorism,” CNN Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, aired September 8, 2002.  President Bush followed Rice’s “mushroom cloud” warning with one of his own a month later, saying, “we cannot wait for the final proof – the smoking gun – that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”  David E. Sanger, “Threats and Responses: The President’s Speech,” New York Times, October 8, 2002.

[70] Tim Weiner, Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 486; cited in Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 515.

[71] David Zarefsky, “Making the Case for War: Colin Powell at the United Nations,” Rhetoric and Public Affairs 10, no. 2 (2007): 284–85.

[72] Bonnie Azab Powell, “U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix faults Bush administration for lack of “critical thinking” in Iraq” (CNN reporter Christiane Amanpour interviews former U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix), UC Berkeley News, March 18, 2004,  See also, Hans Blix, Disarming Iraq (New York: Pantheon, 2004.

[73] Clarke, Against All Enemies, 273, 289-90.

[74] Bruno Tertrais, War without End: A View from Abroad (London: New Press, 2004), 85; and Judge Jean-Louis Bruguiére, Terrorism and the War in Iraq (Washington, D.C.: Center on the United States and France, May 2003), 1; cited in Robert A. Pape, “Soft Balancing against the United States,” International Security, Vol. 30, No. 1 (Summer 2005), 29-30.

[75] According to a Congressional Research Study:  “In mid-January 2003, polls showed that a majority of Americans wanted the support of allies before the United States launched a war against Iraq.  The polls shifted on this point after the State of the Union message, with a majority coming to favor a war even without explicit U.N. approval.  Polls shifted further in the administration’s direction following Secretary Powell’s February 5th presentation to the Security Council.  Although subsequent polls showed some slippage in support for a war, President Bush’s speech on the evening of March 17 rallied public support once again.  A Washington Post-ABC News poll taken just afterward, showed that 71% supported war with Iraq and that 66% supported the President’s decision not to seek a U.N. Security Council vote.”  “Iraq War: Background and Issues Overview,” April 22, 2003, CRS Report for Congress, April 22, 2003, page 4,

[76] Paul Blumenthal, “The Largest Protest Ever was 15 Year Ago.  The Iraq War Isn’t Over.  What Happened?” Huffington Post, February 15, 2018,

[77] “Largest antiwar rally, Guinness Book of Records,

[78] Phyllis Bennis, “February 15, 2003. The Day the World Said No to War,” Institute for Policy Studies, February 15, 2013,

[79] Ewen MacAskill and Julian Borger, “Iraq war was illegal and breached UN charter, says Annan,” The Guardian, September 15, 2004,  On November 8, 2002, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1441 which demanded that Iraq allow inspections for WMD to resume within the next 45 days.  The resolution required Iraq to provide a full accounting of all aspects of its programs “to develop chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other delivery systems” as well as the “precise locations of such weapons, components, subcomponents, stocks of agents, and related material and equipment.”  United Nations Security Council, “Resolution 1441 Adopted by the Security Council at its 4644th meeting, on 8 November 2002,”  Speaking after the adoption of Resolution 1441, U.S. Ambassador John Negroponte insisted that the U.S. could interpret Iraq’s subsequent compliance on its own and take action against Iraq, all but nullifying the principle of collective decision-making and action.  He stated that if the Security Council failed to act decisively in the event of a further Iraqi violation, “this resolution does not constrain any Member State from acting to defend itself against the threat posed by Iraq, or to enforce relevant UN resolutions and protect world peace and security.”  Council Members, he added, “can rely on the United States to live up to its responsibilities if the Iraqi regime persists with its refusal to disarm.”  The said “responsibilities,” however, were not conferred upon the U.S. by the UN but rather self-asserted as a Great Power.  Russian Ambassador Sergey Lavrov stated that the resolution “does not contain any provisions about automatic use of force.”  “Security Council members say new Iraq measure contains no automatic triggers for force,” UN News, November 8, 2002,

[80] “Iraq – ICJ Deplores Moves Toward a War of Aggression on Iraq,” International Commission of Jurists Legal Resource Center, March 18, 2003,

[81] “Iraq war illegal, says Annan,” BBC News, September 16, 2004,

[82] “Views of a Changing World 2003: War With Iraq Further Divides Global Publics,” Pew Research Center report, June 3, 2003,

[83] “Bush wraps up UK visit: Mass antiwar protests in London,” CNN, November 20, 2003,; and “Thousands protest at Bush visit to Ireland,” The Irish Times, June 26, 2004,

[84] Stephanie Savell, “The 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force: A Comprehensive Look at Where and How It Has Been Used,” Cost of War project, Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs, Brown University, December 14, 2021,; and Karen J. Greenberg, Subtle Tools: The Dismantling of American Democracy from the War on Terror to Donald Trump (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2021), 11-15.

[85] Public Law 107-40, 107th Congress, Joint Resolution: To authorize the use of United Sates Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States,”

[86] David Abramowitz, “The President, the Congress, and Use of Force: Legal and Political Considerations in Authorizing Use of Force Against International Terrorism.” Harvard International Law Journal 43 (2002), 73-74.  The initial White House draft of the AUMF legislation had sought even more powers, including full presidential authority “to deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression,” thus allowing the U.S. to engage in preemptive attacks; also waiving human rights restrictions on foreign aid and restricting Congressional access to classified briefings.  Congress diluted these original proposals but still provided the White House with substantial leeway, which it used to conduct drone strikes in nations with which the U.S. was not at war, to detain “enemy combatants” at the Guantánamo prison without charges, and to secretly collect information on Americans without warrants.

[87] Greenberg, Subtle Tools, 13.  Karen J. Greenberg is an American historian, professor, author, and founder and director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law.

[88] Austin Wright, “How Barbara Lee Became An Army of One,” Politico Magazine, July 30, 2017,

[89] “H.J.Res.114 – Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002” (Public Law No: 107-243, October 16, 2002), 107th Congress (2001-2002),

[90] Ambassador Spiers wrote in Vermont’s Rutland Herald in March 2004; quoted in Katrina vanden Heuvel, “It’s Not a ‘War’ on Terror,” The Nation, September 8, 2006,  See also, Carol K. Winkler, In the Name of Terrorism: Presidents on Political Violence in the Post-World War II Era (New York: SUNY Press, 2006).  Winkler writes (pp. 15-16):  “For administrations that focus on crime as the featured element of their terrorism narratives, the ideological force of the term in comparatively small. . . . The war narrative, by contrast, invites the public to embrace an ideological perspective related to the conflict.  The culture is under attack, not from an individual as the crime narrative would portend, but from a menacing group that threatens the continued existence of America’s cherished values.”

[91] “Statement of Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, U.S. Senator from Maryland,” The Authorizations for the Use of Military Force: Administration Perspective; Hearing before the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, 115th Congress, First Session, October 30, 2017 (Washington: U.S. Government Publishing Office, 2019), pp. 3-5,

[92] Rep. Barbara Lee, interviewed in “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” Netflix documentary film, Season 1, Episode 5, “Graveyard of Empires.”

[93] Miriam Khan, “House votes to repeal 2002 AUMF in effort to rein in presidential war powers,” ABC News, June 17, 2021,

[94] Theodore Roosevelt, “Fourth Annual Message to Congress,” December 6, 1904, The American Presidency Project,

[95] President Woodrow Wilson, “Joint Address to Congress Leading to a Declaration of War Against Germany (1917),” April 2, 1917, U.S. National Archives,   See Charles F. Howlett, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, “United States Participation in World War One,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2018,; and Roger Peace, “’Yankee Imperialism,’ 1901-1934,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2018,

[96] “Inaugural Address of President John F. Kennedy, Washington, D.C., January 20, 1961,” Presidential Library,

[97] The U.S. official quoted was Joseph Jones, special assistant to the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs, cited in Lawrence S. Wittner, American Intervention in Greece, 1943-1949 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), 77.

[98] See Roger Peace, “Cold War interventionism, 1945-1990,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2019,, especially Section IV.

[99] Winkler, In the Name of Terrorism, 35.

[100] Alfred W. McCoy, “Imperial Hubris: Information Infrastructure and America’s Ascent to Global Power,” Internet Archive, pp. 18-19,  See also, Roger Peace, John Marciano, and Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Vietnam War,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2017,  Another Orwellian named program, “Operation Ranch Hand,” involved spraying nineteen million gallons of environmental poisons – Agent Orange and Agent Blue – on five million acres in South Vietnam (America’s ally), resulting in miscarriages and birth defects long after the war ended.

[101] Elizabeth Schmidt, Foreign Intervention in Africa after the Cold War: Sovereignty, Responsibility, and the War on Terror (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2018), 6.  See also, John K. Cooley, Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism, 3rd ed. (Sterling, VA: Pluto Press, 2002); Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (New York: Penguin, 2004); and Mahmood Mamdani, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War and the Roots of Terror (New York: Pantheon, 2004).

[102] According to the historian David Gibbs, U.S. officials eschewed a negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.  In 1989, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev proposed a general settlement of the Afghan War entailing a symmetrical cutoff of all Soviet aid to the Najibullah government and all U.S. aid to the Mujahideen.  President George H. W. Bush (Sr.) was not interested, expecting a Mujahideen victory.   President Mohammad Najibullah was prescient in warning that instability and more war would ensue if the Islamic fundamentalists took over.  David M. Gibbs, “Afghanistan and the politics of quagmire: A retrospective analysis of US policy,” in Adenrele Awotona, ed., Rebuilding Afghanistan in Times of Crisis: A Global Response (London: Routledge, 2019), 159.  On U.S. perceptions of success, see “The Brzezinski Interview with Le Nouvel Observateur (1998),”

[103] For background on counterterrorism operations, see Walker, The Day that Shook America, Chapter One.

[104] The Reagan administration’s muscular policies included supporting insurgencies in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola, Mozambique, and Cambodia, aiding client states and allies, including El Salvador, Chile, and South Africa, irrespective of human rights abuses; burying détente with the Soviet Union (at least initially); and operating without regard to international law, exemplified by the U.S. invasion of Grenada in October 1983, which the UN General Assembly’s denounced as a “flagrant violation of international law.”  Richard Bernstein, “U.S. Vetoes U.N. Resolution ‘Deploring’ Grenada Invasion,” New York Times, October 29, 1983.  See also, Philip W. Travis, Reagan’s War on Terrorism in Nicaragua: The Outlaw State (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2017); and David C. Wills, The First War on Terrorism: Counter-terrorism Policy during the Reagan Administration (New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2003).

[105] Don Dberdorfer, “Haig Calls Terrorism Top Priority, Washington Post, January 29, 1981.  Haig wanted the U.S. media and public to focus on the human rights abuses of U.S. adversaries such as the Soviet Union, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Libya, rather than U.S. friends such as the Salvadoran, Chilean, and South African governments.  Regarding the South African government, whose Apartheid policies discriminated against the 80% black majority, President Reagan resisted the international campaign of sanctions, boycotts, and divestments aimed at ending the Apartheid system, calling instead for “constructive engagement.”  Congress nevertheless passed the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986 over President Reagan’s veto.

[106] Philip Taubman, “U.S. Tries to Back Up Haig on Terrorism, New York Times, May 3, 1981.

[107] On U.S. support for violently repressive regimes in Latin America, see Stephen G. Rabe, The Killing Zone: The United States Wages Cold War in Latin America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012).  On El Salvador, see From Madness to Hope: the 12-year war in El Salvador: Report of the Commission on the Truth for El Salvador (1993),; Guy Gugliotta and Douglas Farah, “12 Years of Tortured Truth on El Salvador,” Washington Post, March 21, 1992; and Mark Danner, The Massacre at El Mozote (New York: Vintage, 1994).  The human rights movement that emerged in the U.S. during the 1970s was largely motivated by the contradiction between official U.S. pronouncements in support of political freedom, democracy, and human rights, and actual foreign policy practices that flagrantly ignored these principles, particularly in Latin America.  Congress and the Carter administration restricted U.S. aid to some repressive governments, notably Guatemala and Argentina, and not others, notably Iran.  The Reagan administration sought to return to the pre-human rights movement nationalist standard of rewarding client states irrespective of human rights abuses.

[108] “Statement by the Principal Deputy Press Secretary on Combatting Terrorism (NSC-NSDD-138),” April 26, 1984,

[109] Ronald Reagan, “Proclamation 5266 – A time of Remembrance for All Victims of Terrorism Throughout the World,” October 19, 1984; Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at Annual Convention of the American Bar Association,” July 8, 1985; Ronald Reagan, “Remarks to the International Forum of the Chamber of Commerce of the United States,” April 23, 1986; and Ronald Reagan, “The President’s News Conference,” May 7, 1986; also quoted in Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 166, 168, 170.  Unless otherwise noted, all speeches of President Reagan can be found in The Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan, Ronald Reagan Presidential Library,

[110] George Shultz, “Terrorism and the Modern World,” October 25, 1984, Current Policy, U.S. Dept. of State Bulletin, Vol. 84 (December 1984),; quoted in Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 166.

[111] Public Report of the Vice President’s Task Force on Combatting Terrorism, February 1986, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1986), 5.

[112] “United States Crime Rates 1960-2019,; “Motor vehicle fatality rate in U.S. by year,” Wikipedia,; “United States drug overdose death rates and totals over time,” Wikipedia,; and Chris Robbins, “Lightning Stats for Injuries & Fatalities 1940 to 2015, September 16, 2016,

[113] Wills, The First War on Terrorism, 6-10.  According to Wills, during Reagan’s eight-year term of office, there were 636 international terrorist incidents and, of these, 126 involved some level of violence, injury, or attempted harm to Americans.  Wills briefly lists the 126 incidents, which reveal a total of 518 U.S. deaths over eight years, 248 military and 270 civilian.  The military deaths include four U.S. officers killed in El Salvador in 1985, a country riven by civil war in which the U.S. backed the Salvadoran military.  Following the Marine barracks bombing in Lebanon, U.S. warships shelled Syrian-backed militias for two months before withdrawing the Marines in February 1984.

[114] “United States Crime Rates 1960-2019,”

[115] Richard Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism, 166.

[116] Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at Annual Convention of the American Bar Association,” July 8, 1985; also quoted in Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 180.

[117] United Nations Charter,

[118] Secretary of State George Shultz, “The Struggle Against Terrorism,” Address before the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith on the Occasion of Receiving the Joseph Prize for Human Rights in Palm Beach, Florida, February 12, 1988, reprinted in Current Policy No. 1045, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs, Washington, D.C., online.

[119] Gregory Francis Intoccia, “American Bombing of Libya: An International Legal Analysis,” Case Western Reserve Journal of International Law, Vol. 19, Issue 2 (1987), 199.  Intoccia provides a brief history of the lead-up to the U.S. bombing of Libya, the main points of which follow:  Although Libyan leader Col. Muammar Qadhafi did not acknowledge support for terrorist activities, various intelligence agencies in Europe linked Libyan agents to terrorist bombings of Rome and Vienna airline offices in December 1985, which Qadhafi referred to as “heroic.”  The Abu Nidal organization, deemed a Palestinian terrorist organization, also had its headquarters in Libya.  In mid-January 1986, the U.S. imposed economic sanctions against Libya.  This was followed two weeks later by U.S. Navy exercises in international waters that Libya claimed as its own.  On March 24, 1986, Libyan forces fired six missiles at U.S. planes operating more than twelve miles away from the Libyan coastline but within waters which Libya considered its own.  The U.S. Navy responded by attacking two Libyan patrol boats and one missile site.  On April 5, 1986, a bomb explosion in a West German discotheque frequented by American servicemen killed three, including two Americans, and wounded 154, including 50 to 60 Americans.  France expelled two Libyan diplomats and two other Arabs who were purportedly communicating with people believed to be planning attacks against American installations and personnel in Europe.  Such was the lead-up to the U.S. bombing of Libya on April 15, 1986, which, according to Libyan officials, killed 37 and injured 93.  Among those killed was a young girl who Qadhafi claimed was his stepdaughter.  Two of his sons were wounded.  Intoccia notes that the U.S. ambassador to the UN, Vernon Walters, “defended the American raid in the UN as being in accordance with international law. . . . Referring to the bombing of the West German discotheque, he said:  ‘In light of this reprehensible act of violence – only the latest in an ongoing pattern of attacks by Libya – and clear evidence that Libya is planning a multitude of future attacks, the United States was compelled to exercise its rights of self-defense’” (191).  Intoccia examines the legality of retaliatory measures and concludes that “contemporary international standards regarding use of force no longer allow states to resort to armed retaliation.  This appears to be a settled doctrine although some evidence exists that the international community is increasingly tolerant of some types of reprisals” (200).  Retaliatory measures worked both ways, as following the U.S. bombing of Libya, explosions “ripped through American business offices in France and British business offices in Lebanon.  Throughout the world, threats were made on American installations” (186-87).

[120] Intoccia, “American Bombing of Libya: An International Legal Analysis,” 187-89; and United Nations General Assembly Resolution 41/38, “Declaration of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity on the aerial and naval military attack against the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya by the present United States Administration in April 1986,

[121] Ronald Reagan, “Remarks Announcing the Release of the Hostages from the Trans World Airlines Hijacking Incident,” June 30, 1985; Ronald Reagan, “Remarks Following Discussions with Prime Minister Shimon Peres of Israel,” October 17, 1985; Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at a White House Meeting With Members of the American Business Conference,” April 15, 1986; and “Speech to the National Association of Evangelicals,” March 8, 1983.

[122] The framing of history to reinforce beliefs in the noble character of the U.S. and its outsized role in the world is often labeled “exceptionalism.”   On the debate over the character of U.S. foreign policies among historians, see Roger Peace, “Introduction: The Fifth Estate,” U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide, 2021,

[123] For a comprehensive overview of U.S. policies in Central America during the Carter and Reagan years, see William M. LeoGrande, Our Own Backyard:  The United States in Central America, 1977-1992 (Chapel Hill: Univ. of N. Carolina Press, 1998).  On the Reagan administration’s framing of its proxy war against Nicaragua, the salience of its arguments, public opposition to Reagan’s policies in Nicaragua, and transnational connections between U.S. activist groups and the Nicaraguan government and communities, see Roger Peace, A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012); and Virginia S. Williams, Roger Peace, and Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Central America wars, 1980s,” United States Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide, 2018, updated January 2022,

[124] On U.S.-supported Contra terrorism, see Gordon Mott, “In a Nicaraguan Village, ‘We’re Used to Gunfire,’” New York Times, Nov. 11, 1984; and Reed Brody, Contra Terror in Nicaragua: Report of a Fact-Finding Mission, September 1984-January 1985 (Boston: South End Press, 1985).  In December 1984, Contra commander Bosco Matamoros acknowledged that “several hundred cases” of rebel attacks against civilians had taken place over the past two years.  Joel Brinkley, “Nicaragua Rebels Accused of Abuses,” New York Times, Dec. 27, 1984.

[125] “C.I.A. Said to Produce Manual for anti-Sandinistas,” New York Times, Oct. 15, 1984.

[126] Joel Brinkley, “Democrats Assail C.I.A. Primer for Latin Rebels,” New York Times, Oct. 18, 1984, A6.

[127] Joanne Omang, “Inquiry Finds Atrocities By Nicaraguan ‘Contras,’” Washington Post, March 7, 1985, A14.

[128] Statement of Adm. Stansfield Turner, Former Director of Central Intelligence” (April 16, 1985), U.S. Support for the Contras, Hearing Before the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, Ninety-Ninth Congress, First Session, April 16, 17 and 18, 1985 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1985), 4.

[129] In 1983, the Reagan administration created a special propaganda agency, the Office for Public Diplomacy (S/LPD), for the purpose of spreading its views on Central America.  The overall theme for propagation was summarized in the agency’s “Public Diplomacy Action Plan” dated March 12, 1985: “The Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters are fighters for freedom in the American tradition; FSLN are evil.”  [Col. Daniel Jacobowitz, “Public Diplomacy Action Plan: Support for the White House Educational Campaign,” March 12, 1985, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC00934, 2-3.  The agency was called the Office of Public Diplomacy (S/LPD).]   An investigation into S/LPD’s operations by the General Accounting Office in 1987 led to the conclusion that the agency had engaged “in prohibited, covert propaganda activities designed to influence the media and the public to support the Administration’s Latin American policies.”  [Harry Van Cleve, Comptroller General of the U.S. General Accounting Office, non-classified letter to Rep. Jack Brooks and Rep. Dante B. Fascell, Sept. 30, 1987, National Security Archive, Iran-Contra collection, IC04287.]  A later investigation by the House Committee on Foreign Affairs confirmed that S/LPD had illegally used taxpayer funds for the purpose of domestic propaganda.  The committee report, dated September 7, 1988, stated that the agency employed “groups of private citizens outside the government” which “raised money for Contra weapons, lobbied the Congress, ran sophisticated media campaigns in targeted Congressional districts, and worked with S/LPD to influence American public opinion through manipulation of the American press.”[Committee on Foreign Affairs Staff Report, U.S. House of Representatives, State Department and Intelligence Community Involvement in Domestic Activities Related to the Iran/Contra Affair, Sept. 7, 1988, 24, National Security Archive, Nicaragua collection, NI02137.]

[130] Ronald Reagan, “Remarks to Jewish Leaders During a White House Briefing on United States Assistance for the Nicaraguan Democratic Resistance,” March 5, 1986, also quoted in Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 175.

[131] Ronald Reagan, “Remarks at the Heritage Foundation Anniversary Dinner, April 22, 1986,” also quoted in Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 175.

[132] Melinda Beck, with David Newell and Margaret Garrard Warner, “Aid to the Contras: Saying No – For Now,” Newsweek, March 31, 1986, 20; and Douglas Farah and Walter Pincus, “CIA, Contras and Drugs: Questions on Links Linger, Washington Post, October 31, 1996.

[133] The report, “Drugs, Law Enforcement and Foreign Policy,” prepared by the Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, December 1988, noted:  “The private efforts on behalf of the Contras attracted a number of drug traffickers . . . George Morales . . . in fact delivered planes, weapons and money to the Contras who were desperate for help at the time.  When his relationship with the contras developed more fully, Morales began to take advantages of the Contra infrastructure to enhance his drug operations” (pp. 124-25).  Available online:

[134] “Case Concerning the Military and Paramilitary Activities In and Against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of America), Judgment of 27 June 1986,” International Court of Justice,  See also, Abram Chayes, “Nicaragua, the United States, and the World Court,” Columbia Law Review, Vol. 85, No. 7 (Nov. 1985): 1445-1482.  Regarding the injury caused by the U.S.-directed Contra War, according to Lynn Horton, in Peasants in Arms: War and Peace in the Mountains of Nicaragua, 1979-1994 (Athens: Ohio Univ. Center for International Studies, 1998), “Out of a population of approximately 3.5 million, 30,865 Nicaraguans were killed during the war” (p. xv).

[135] Another travesty to democratic accountability was the Iran-Contra affair, in which Reagan administration officials illegally sold arms to Iran and used the money to illegally purchase arms for the Contras at a time when Congress had banned it.  Fourteen persons were charged with criminal offenses.  Four were convicted of felony charges after trial by jury, seven pleaded guilty either to felonies or misdemeanors, and one had his case dismissed because the Administration refused to declassify information deemed necessary to the defendant by the trial judge.  Two cases that were awaiting trial were aborted by pardons granted by President George H. W. Bush in December 1992.  Bush granted pardons to six defendants in all, including Duane Clarridge and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.  In defense of the pardons, Bush stated, that “the common denominator of their motivation – whether their actions were right or wrong – was patriotism.”  See “The 1992 Pardons” and other website pages of “Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs,” Brown University,

[136] Bill Clinton, “Address to the Nation by the President,” August 20, 1998, The White House archives,; and “President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001.  On al Qaeda and its appeal, see Daniel L. Byman, “Review of Al-Qaeda as an Adversary: Do We Understand Our Enemy?” World Politics 56, no. 1 (2003): 139–63. There was some understanding in Washington that political actions could mitigate terrorist attacks and retard terrorist recruitment; hence the Clinton administration belatedly initiated talks between Israeli and Palestinian leaders in late December 2000, although the negotiations were ultimately unsuccessful.

[137] Martin Chulov, “My son, Osama: the al-Qaida leader’s mother speaks for the first time,” The Guardian, August 2, 2018,  For more photos of Osama bin Laden, see “Osama bin Laden: his life in pictures,” The Guardian, May 7, 2011,  See also, Bergen, The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden.

[138] “From decorated veteran to mass murderer,” 2001, CNN,

[139] Bruce Hoffman, interviewed in “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” Netflix documentary film, Season 1, Episode 5, “Graveyard of Empires.”

[140] “President’s Remarks at National Day of Prayer and Remembrance, the National Cathedral,” September 14, 2001.  Unless otherwise noted, transcripts of President Bush’s speeches can be found in “Selected Speeches of President George W. Bush, 2001 – 2008,” White House Archives,

[141] Jackson, “Genealogy, Ideology, and Counter-Terrorism,” 169.  Jackson quotes Colin Powell’s “Remarks by the Secretary of State to the National Foreign Policy Conference for Leaders of Nongovernmental Organizations,” October, 26, 2001; George W. Bush’s “Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People,” September 20, 2001: and Bush’s “State of the Union Address,” January 29, 2002.

[142] George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002.

[143] Manuel Perez-Rivas, “Bush vows to rid the world of ‘evil-doers,’” CNN Washington Bureau, September 16, 2001,; and George W. Bush, “Remarks by the President Upon Arrival,” September 16, 2001,

[144] “Department of Defense Service of Remembrance at the Pentagon,” October 11, 2001; and “Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” November 10, 2001.

[145] Howard Fineman, “The Bushes’ Saddam Drama,” Newsweek, January 7, 2007,

[146] Daniel Heradstveit and G. Matthew Bonham, “What the Axis of Evil Metaphor Did to Iran,” Middle East Journal 61, no. 3 (2007), 423.

[147] Heradstveit and Bonham, “What the Axis of Evil Metaphor Did to Iran,” 423. 425.

[148] “Medieval Sourcebook:  Urban II (1088-1099):  Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095, Five versions of the Speech,” Fordham University,

[149] Robert Worth, “Truth, Right and the American Way; A Nation Defines Itself By Its Evil Enemies,” New York Times, February 24, 2002.

[150] “Text of Speech by Vice President Cheney” (speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors), New York Times, April 9, 2003.  Prior to this, President Bush warned in his “Address to the United Nations General Assembly,” November 10, 2001:  “And all the world faces the most horrifying prospect of all:  These same terrorists are searching for weapons of mass destruction, the tools to turn their hatred into holocaust.  They can be expected to use chemical, biological and nuclear weapons the moment they are capable of doing so.  No hint of conscience would prevent it.”

[151] “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended:  Remarks by the President from the USS Abraham Lincoln At Sea Off the Coast of San Diego, California,” May 1, 2003, The White House archives,

[152] David E. Sanger, “Bush Cites Philippines as Model in Rebuilding Iraq,” October 18, 2003, New York Times, A1; and “Remarks by the President to the Philippine Congress,” Manila, Philippines, October 18, 2003, White House archives,  On the U.S.-Filipino War, see Brian D’Haeseleer and Roger Peace, “The War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War, 1899-1902,” Section VI, United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,

[153] Terrence Hunt, “Bush calls for Mideast freedom,” Tallahassee Democrat, November 7, 2003, p. 1.  President Bush also raised the issue of freedom in the Middle East in a speech at the United Nations in September; and G. G. LaBelle, “Arabs to Bush:  Butt Out,” Tallahassee Democrat, November 8, 2003.

[154] “The Second Inaugural Address,” January 20, 2005, Selected Speeches of President George W. Bush, 2001-2008, p. 274,

[155] “President Bush Delivers State of the Union Address,” January 23, 2007,

[156] U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform – Minority Staff Special Investigations Division, “Iraq on the Record: The Bush Administration’s Public Statements on Iraq,” March 16, 2004,

[157] David Barstow, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, New York Times, April 20, 2008.

[158] Hartig and Doherty, “Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11”; and Danny Hayes and Matt Guardino, “Whose Views Made the News?  Media coverage and the March to War in Iraq,” Political Communication, 27 (2010), 59, 61, 80,  Hays and Guardino examined every ABC, CBS, and NBC Iraq-related evening news story – 1,434 in all – in the 8 months before the invasion.  They write that their “findings support the view that the media’s performance did not live up to the democratic standards most journalists hold themselves to, much less those expected by their critics” (80).

[159] David Barstow, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, New York Times, April 20, 2008.

[160] “Poll: 70% believe Saddam, 9-11 link,” AP wire service, September 6, 2003,

[161] Richard Jackson and Chin-Kuei Tsui, “Obama and the adaptive evolution of US counterterrorism,” in Michelle Bentley and Jack Holland, eds., The Obama Doctrine: A legacy of continuity in US foreign policy? (London: Routledge, 2016), 73.  See also, Trevor McCrisken, “Ten Years on: Obama’s War on Terrorism in Rhetoric and Practice.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs), Vol. 87, No. 4 (2011): 781–801; and Jeremy Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2019).

[162] James Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush’s War Cabinet (New York: Penguin Books, 2004), 45-46; and Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Phoenix Program Was a Disaster in Vietnam and Would Be in Afghanistan – And the NYT Should Know that,” History News Network, September 2007,

[163] George W. Bush, “A Period of Consequences,” speech at The Citadel, South Carolina, September 23, 1999,  See also, Andrew Cockburn, Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (New York: Henry Holt, 2015), 62, 63.

[164] Robert Tomes, U.S. Defense Strategy from Vietnam to Operation Iraqi Freedom: Military Innovation and the new American Way of war, 1973-2003 (New York: Routledge, 2007).  On the Carter administration’s advancement of the revolution in military affairs in the late 1970s, see Jeremy Kuzmarov, “The Improbable Militarist: Jimmy Carter, the Revolution in Military Affairs and Limits of the American Two-Party System,” Race, Class and Corporate Power, Vol. 6, Issue 2 (2018),

[165] James Kitfield, War & Destiny: How the Bush Revolution in Foreign and Military Affairs Redefined American Power (Washington, D.C.: Potomac Books, 2005), 25; Dale R. Herspring, Rumsfeld’s Wars: The Arrogance of Power (University Press of Kansas, 2008); and Mike Davis, “War-Mart Revolution in Slouching Towards Baghdad: It’s all the Network,” San Francisco Chronicle, March 9, 2003.

[166] Alfred W. McCoy, “Imperial Illusions: Information Infrastructure and the Future of U.S. Global Power,” in Alfred W. McCoy, Josep M. Fradera, and Stephen Jacobson, eds., Endless Empire: Spain’s Retreat, Europe’s Eclipse, America’s Decline (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2012), 375.

[167] Max Boot, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today (New York: Gotham Books, 2006), 363.  See also, Eugene Jarecki, The American Way of War: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men and a Republic in Peril (New York: The Free Press, 2008); and Benjamin S. Lambeth, Air Power Against Terror: America’s Conduct of Operation Enduring Freedom (Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation National Defense Research Institute, 2005).

[168] Dana Priest and William M. Arkin, Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State (Boston: Little & Brown, 2011), 182, 186; Anne Hagedorn, The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014); Annie Jacobsen, The Pentagon’s Brain: An Uncensored History of DARPA, America’s Top Secret Military Research Agency (Boston: Little & Brown, 2015), 369; Moshe Schwartz and Jennifer Church, “Department of Defense’s Use of Contractors to Support Military Operations,” Congressional Research Service, May 17, 2013; and Simon Chase and Ralph Pezzullo, Zero Footprint: The True Story of a Private Military Contractor’s Covert Assignments in Syria, Libya and the World’s Most Dangerous Places (Boston: Little & Brown, 2016).

[169] Other technological innovations included unmanned Global Hawk surveillance drones equipped with light censors capable of seeing two hundred miles away, backpack surveillance kits, high-resolution geo-spatial maps that produced digital imagery through tiny surveillance cameras, micro-processing devices planted on telephone poles, and polymer ice (a synthetic substance that could be thrown from the back of Humvees to make an enemy slip).  Science Application International Corporation (SAIC), a Fortune 500 company run by J. Robert Beyster, developed weather forecasting systems, iris scans, fingerprint readers, and a robotic sensor to detect and destroy Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  SAIC was also a leader in computer data mining technologies used for tracking terrorists online.  See Dr. J. Robert Beyster, The SAIC Solution: How We Built an $8 Billion Employee-Owned Technology Company (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2007); Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Distancing Acts: Private Mercenaries and the War on Terror,” The Asia Pacific Journal, December 29, 2015; and Kate Brannen, “Spies for Hire Now at War in Syria: Army Sinking Millions of Dollars Into Private intelligence Contractors for the Fight,” The Daily Beast, August 8, 2016,

[170] Vernon Loeb, “Afghan War is a Lab for U.S. Innovation, New Technologies Are Tested in Battle,” Washington Post, March 26, 2002; Jacobsen, The Pentagon’s Brain, 378, 379; Priest and Arkin, Top Secret America, 29; Wilson W. Wong, Emerging Military Technologies (New York: Praeger, 2013), 71; and Sharon Weinberger, The Imagineers of War: The Untold History of DARPA, the Pentagon Agency that Changed the World (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017), 318.

[171] Steven E. Jones, Against Technology: From the Luddites to Neo-Luddites (New York: Routledge, 2006), 34.

[172] Boot, War Made New, 364.  After 9/11, Pentagon officials immediately placed calls to technology companies for new innovations.  See “Biometric Identification and the New Face of Terror: New Technologies,” in Government Hearings Before the Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism and Government Information of the Committee on the Judiciary, U.S. Senate, 107th Congress, 1st Session, November 14th, 2001; Alan Leo, “Fighting Drugs, Fighting Terror,” MIT Technological Review, May 3, 2002; and Jason Ackleson, “Securing Through Technology? ‘Smart Borders’ After September 11th,” in David Clarke, ed., Technology and Terrorism (New Jersey: Transaction Publishers, 2004), 60.

[173] Marc W. Herold “Afghanistan as Empty Space: The Perfect Neocolonial State of the 21st Century,”  See also, Robert H. Latiff, Future Peace: Technology, Aggression and the Rush to War (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2022).

[174] On January 19, 2022, following revelations by the New York Times of U.S. air strikes killing large numbers of civilians in Syria in 2019, a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to President Joe Biden urging an overhaul of the administration’s system of accountability.  “When there is little policy change or accountability for repeated mistakes this grave and this costly,” the senators wrote, “it sends a message throughout the U.S. armed forces and the entire U.S. government that civilian deaths – including deaths where there was no military target – are the inevitable consequence of modern conflict, rather than avoidable and damaging failures of policy.”  Catie Edmondson, “Democrats Rebuke Policy On Drone Use,” New York Times, January 21, 2022, A11.

[175] Charlie Savage, Eric Schmitt, Azmat Khan, Evan Hill and Christoph Koetti, “Newly Declassified Video Shows U.S. Killing of 10 Civilians in Drone Strike,” New York Times, January 19, 2022; and Letta Tayler and Elisa Epstein (Human Rights Watch), “’Legacy of the ‘Dark Side’: The Costs of Unlawful U.S. Detentions and Interrogations Post-9/11,” January 9, 2022, Brown University, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs,, p. 22.  As of January 2023, none of the surviving relatives of those killed had received monetary compensation from the U.S. government.  Azmat Khan, “U.S. Military Inquiry Reveals Errors in Botched Kabul Drone Strike,” New York Times, January 7, 2023.

[176] Loyalties in Afghanistan are divided among tribes, ethnic groups, and religious affiliations, with loyalty to the nation often lagging behind these.  The population of Afghanistan in the year 2000 was about 21 million.  The main ethnic groups consisted of Pashtun with about 40% of the population, mainly in the south and encompassing northwestern Pakistan; Tajiks, with about 30%, primarily in the north and east; Hazaras, the descendants of East Asian Mongols, with about 15%, primarily in the mountainous center; Uzbeks, with historic ties to Central Asia, Russia, and Turkey, with about 10%, mainly in the north; and Baluchi, with about 2%, in the south, extending across the borders of Iran and Pakistan.  Pashto (spoken by Pashtuns) and Dari are the official languages, but a number of other languages are also spoken in different parts of the country.  Many citizens are multi-lingual.  The Hazaras are Shiite Muslim, in contrast to the vast majority of Afghans who are Sunni Muslim.  The Hazaras have been targeted at times by Sunni zealots.  For more background, see Carter Malkasian, The American War in Afghanistan: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021); and “The Afghan Taliban,” Stanford Center for International Security and Cooperation,

[177] Barry Bearak, “Over World Protests, Taliban Are Destroying Ancient Buddhas,” New York Times, March 4, 2001,

[178] “Bomb kills 3 U.S. soldiers, 5 Afghan fighters,” CNN, December 5, 2001; Gary Schroen, First In: An Insider’s Account of How the CIA Spearheaded the War on Terror in Afghanistan (New York: Ballantine Books, 2005), 38; and Noah Shachtman, “How Technology Almost Lost the War,” Wired Magazine, November 27, 2007.  The misdirected bomb was apparently caused by an air controller confusing the GPS coordinates.  The CIA officer who helped save Karzai’s life, Greg Vogle, became the key envoy between Karzai and the American government.  In 2010, the Wall Street Journal profiled Vogle, without using his name, calling him a “pivotal behind-the-scenes power broker in Kabul.”  Mustafa Ariaie, “America’s Longest War: An Afghan’s Perspective,” CovertAction Magazine, December 26, 2020,

[179] Sonntag quoted in Boot, War Made New, 373.  On military hardware, see Lambeth, Air Power Against Terror, 256; and David A. Fulghum and Robert Wall, “Heavy Bomber Attacks Dominate Afghan War,” Aviation Week and Space Technology, December 3, 2001, 22.  On the Kunduz massacre, see “Obama orders review of alleged slayings of Taliban in Bush era,” CNN, July 13, 2009,

[180] Bergen, Manhunt, 48, 50-51. See also, Gary Berntsen and Ralph Pezzullo, Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA’s Key Field Commander (New York: Crown, 2005); Priest and Arkin, Top Secret America, 232; and Peter Beaumont and Rory McCarthy, “Daisy Cutters Dropped on Caves,” The Guardian, December 10, 2001,  Berntsen notes in Jawbreaker, “I’d sent my request for 800 U.S. Army Rangers and was still waiting for a response.  I repeated to anyone at headquarters who would listen: We need Rangers now! The opportunity to get bin Laden and his men is slipping away!” (290).  The requests were denied.

[181] “Tora Bora Revisited: How We Failed to Get Bin Laden and Why It Matters Today,” A Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, John F. Kerry, Chairman, 111th Congress, First Session, November 30, 2009 (Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2009), Executive Summary,

[182] “President Bush Holds Press Conference,” The White House, March 13, 2002,  See also, Horton, Fool’s Errand, 63, 66-67.

[183] President George W. Bush, “Address at The Citadel,” Charleston, South Carolina, December 11, 2001,” Selected Speeches of President George W. Bush, 2001-2008, pp. 94-95,

[184] John Glasser and John Mueller, “Terrorist ‘safe havens’ are a myth – and no reason for continuing the war in Afghanistan,” Los Angeles Times, August 19, 2019,

[185] Mark Landler, “A Nation Challenged: Afghan Leader; Hailed Abroad, Karzai Is Ignored at Home,” New York Times, February 2, 2002.  On Hamid Karzai, see Jeremy Kuzmarov, “You Have to Not Mind Killing Innocents,” in Hannah Gurman, ed., A People’s History of Counterinsurgency (New York: The New Press, 2013); and Ariaie, “America’s Longest War: An Afghan’s Perspective.”  The Bonn conference determined that an interim government (under Karzai) would rule for 6 months, followed by a loya jirga (grand assembly) which would create an 18-month transitional government. The transitional government’s job would be to create a constitution and organize elections for a permanent government.  Karzai was elected president in 2004 and re-elected in 2009; he stepped down in 2014.

[186] Matt Waldman, “System Failure: The Underlying Causes of US Policy-Making Errors in Afghanistan.” International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944-) 89, no. 4 (2013): 827.

[187] The 9/11 Commission Report, 231, 170.

[188] John Quigley, “The Afghanistan War and Self-Defense,” Valparaiso University Law Review, Vol. 37, No 2 (2003), 541, 545.  For a brief review of relevant sections of the UN Charter related to the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan, see Rabia Khan, “Was the NATO Invasion of Afghanistan Legal?” E-International Relations, November 6, 2013,  See also, Michael Mandel, How America Gets Away with Murder: Illegal Wars, Collateral Damage, and Crimes Against Humanity (London: Pluto Press, 2004), 37, 38.

[189] “International Security Assistance Force (ISAF),” Institute for the Study of War,

[190] Seth G. Jones, “The Rise of Afghanistan’s Insurgency: State Failure and Jihad.” International Security 32, no. 4 (2008), 31.  Jones interviewed Richard Armitage on October 17, 2007.  See also, Carlotta Gall, The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan, 2001-2014 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2014), 60-61.

[191] Yaron Steinbuch, “Founder of Haqqani network is dead, Taliban say,” New York Post, September 4, 2018; and Mark Mazetti, The Way of the Knife: The CIA, a Secret Army and War at the Ends of the Earth (New York: Penguin, 2013), 34, 35.  See also Paul Fitzgerald and Elizabeth Gould, Invisible History: Afghanistan’s Untold History (San Francisco: City Lights, 2009).

[192] “Rumsfeld: Major combat over in Afghanistan,” CNN, May 1, 2003,

[193] Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), What We Need to Learn: Lessons from Twenty Years of Afghanistan Reconstruction, August 16, 2021, page 16,

[194] Quoted in Noam Chomsky and Vijay Prashad, “The reality behind the US ‘withdrawal’ from Afghanistan,” AlterNet, May 7, 2021,  See also, “U.S. bombs are boosting the Taliban,” The Guardian, November 1, 2001,; and Gall, The Wrong Enemy, 28.

[195] Carlotta Gall, “NYU Report Casts Doubt on Taliban’s Ties with Al Qaeda” New York Times, February 6, 2011; Gareth Porter, “Shattering the Myth of Taliban/Al Qaeda Ties,” Counterpunch, February 8, 2011,

[196] Matthew Hoh, Talk before the Tulsa Council on Foreign Relations, December 2010; “Matthew Hoh’s Afghanistan: An Insider Talks,” The Nation, January 3, 2011, 15; and Anand Gopal, “Who Are the Taliban? The Afghan War Deciphered,” December 4, 2008,,

[197] Marc W. Herold, “’Collateral Damage’? Civilians and the US Air War in Afghanistan,” Sicherheit Und Frieden (S+F) / Security and Peace 20, no. 1 (2002), 19.  See also, Marc Herold, “Truth as Collateral Damage: Civilian Deaths From U.S./NATO Air Strikes,” The Guardian, October 22, 2008.

[198] Anthony H. Cordesman and Arleigh A. Burke, “The Ongoing Lessons of Afghanistan: Warfighting, Intelligence, Force Transformation, and Nation Building,” Center for Strategic and International studies, May 6, 2004, pp. 66, 63-64,

[199] Patricia Gossman of Human Rights Watch reports, as one example of misinformation supplied to the U.S. military, an air strike on December 23, 2001, that killed some 65 elders traveling to Kabul for Karzai’s inauguration.  U.S. officials claimed for months the elders were al-Qaeda members, despite much evidence to the contrary.  Patricia Gossman, “How US-Funded Abuses Led to Failure in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch, July 6, 2021,

[200] Cordesman and Burke, “The Ongoing Lessons of Afghanistan,” 65; and George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, January 29, 2002.

[201] “Airstrike Killed Afghan Civilians, U.S. General Says,” Washington Post, July 7, 2002.

[202] “’Troops in Contact,’ Airstrikes and Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch, September 8, 2008,

[203] Carlotta Gall, “Afghan Leader Criticizes U.S. on Conduct of War,” New York Times, April 26, 2008.

[204] Abdul Waheed Wafa and John F. Burns, “U.S. Airstrike Reported to Hit Afghan Wedding,” New York Times, November 5, 2008.

[205] Carlotta Gall and Taimoor Shah, “Afghan Villagers Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes,” New York Times, May 14, 2009; and “The U.S. War in Afghanistan, 1999-2021,” Council on Foreign Relations,  See also, “Amnesty International Lists 83 Afghan Civilians Killed in NATO Airstrike in Kunduz,” Amnesty International, October 30, 2009; Tom Engelhardt, “The Wedding Crashers”, July 15, 2008; Patrick Cockburn, “Who Killed 120 Civilians? The U.S. Says It’s Not a Story,” Counterpunch, May 11, 2009; Gall, The Wrong Enemy, 104; and Priest and Arkin, Top Secret America, 233.

[206] Richard A. Oppel Jr., “Tighter Rules Fail to Stem Deaths of Innocent Afghans at Checkpoints,” New York Times, March 26, 2010.

[207] “Afghan president says NATO responsible for 52 civilian deaths,” CNN World, July 27, 2010,; and Jean MacKenzie, “Afghanistan: In search of the true civilian toll,” GlobalPost (Agence France-Presse), August 12, 2010,

[208] MacKenzie, “Afghanistan: In search of the true civilian toll.”

[209] Anand Gopal, “The Other Afghan Women,” The New Yorker, September 13, 2021, 43.

[210] Julian Barnes, “US Secretly Adds Strike Teams – As ‘Hunter-Killer’ Squads Gain Favor in Afghan Effort, White House Has Bolstered Their Raids,” Wall Street Journal, May 6, 2011, A6; Craig Whitlock, “Members of U.S. platoon in Afghanistan accused of killing civilians for sport,” Washington Post, September 18, 2010; and Whitlock, “Stryker platoon leader’s talk to Afghan villagers recorded, Washington Post, October 28, 2010.

[211] Greg Waldmann, “Hidden in Plain Sight,” Open Letters Monthly, 2014,

[212] “Human cost of Post-9.11 Wars (chart),” Cost of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, September 2021,

[213] Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “A Deep History of Water in Afghanistan” (lecture), December 7, 2020,; and Hanifi, “Environmental War Crimes in Afghanistan,” South Asia Avante-Garde: A Dissident Literary Anthology (2002),  Dr. Shah Mahmoud Hanifi is a Professor of History and the founding coordinator of the Middle Eastern Communities and Migrations minor at James Madison University.  The danger to human health posed by the toxic burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq was recognized in a bill passed by Congress in August 2022, enabling U.S. veterans to obtain health care from Veterans Administration hospitals for exposure.  “Exposure from trash fires is believed to have led to a number of ailments and respiratory illnesses among veterans such as bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, sleep apnea, bronchitis and sinusitis, as well as different kinds of cancer,” noted the New York Times (Aug. 20, 2022). . . . At issue is legislation that would affect an estimated 3.5 million veterans and rival the Agennt Orange Act that increased access to care for Vietnam War veterans exposed to the toxic substance that was used as an herbicide and endangered generations of Vietnamese, Laotians and Cambodians.”  Oddly, the article says nothing about Afghanis and Iraqis affected by the toxic burn pits, though their exposure was greater and longer.  Nor did the NBC television news story that evening mention Afghanis or Iraqis.  Stephanie Lai, “Spending Dispute Halts Health Bill for Veterans,” New York Times, August 2, 2022, 12A.

[214] Tim Mak, “McChrystal: Understanding of Afghanistan ‘frighteningly simplistic,’” Politico, October 7, 2011,  The Pentagon spent relatively little on its language training program, but it did hire thousands of Afghan interpreters to serve with U.S. Army units and Special Forces.  The interpreters translated languages, often explained regional traditions and cultures – which is not to say that the traditions were respected – and sometimes gathered military-related information from local villagers, which in turn made them targets of the Taliban.

[215] Sonali Kolhatkar and James Ingalls, Bleeding Afghanistan: Washington, Warlords, and the Propaganda of Silence (New York: Seven Stories Press, 2006), 58.  See also, Hannah Gurman, “Tribal Engagement and the Heavy History of Counterinsurgency Light,” Small Wars Journal, June 6, 2010,

[216] Montgomery McFate and Janice H. Laurence, “Introduction: Unveiling the Human Terrain System” in Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 2.  See also, Montgomery McFate and Steve Fondacaro, “Reflections on the Human Terrain System During the First 4 Years,” Prism, Vol. 2, No. 4 (July 2010): 63-82,

[217] “American Anthropological Association’s Executive Board Statement on the Human Terrain System Project,” November 6, 2007,  The statement applied to HTS programs in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

[218] Major Mark W. Lee, “The Afghanistan-Pakistan Hands Program,” U.S. Army, February 12, 2014,; and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi, “Imperial Cartography and National Mapping in Afghanistan,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 54 (July 2022), 345,  See also, Mark Price, Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State (Oakland, CA: AK Press, 2011); and Rochelle Davis, “Culture as a Weapon System,” Middle East Report, Summer 2010, 9, 11.

[219] Capt. Brittany Ramos, interviewed in “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” Netflix documentary film, Season 1, Episode 4, “The Good War.”

[220] Cecilia Saixue Watt, “’It’s horrible to watch’: US veterans on seeing Afghanistan fall to the Taliban,” The Guardian, August 30, 2021,

[221] Tamoor Shah and Rod Nordland, “Guided by Night Vision, Taliban Units Overrun Police Posts,” New York Times, November 15, 2017, A10.

[222] Alex Ward, “Trump has tripled the pace of US bombing in Afghanistan,” Vox Media, November 21, 2021,

[223] W.J. Hennigan, “Air Force Drops the non-Nuclear Mother of all Bombs in Afghanistan,” Los Angeles Times, April 14, 2017,  The Islamic State, or ISIS, originated in 2014 in Iraq and spread into isolated areas of war-torn Afghanistan.  This offshoot of al Qaeda was not welcomed by the Taliban and the two groups fought each other on occasion.

[224] Helene Cooper and Mujib Marshall, “A Giant U.S. Bomb Strikes ISIS Caves in Afghanistan,” New York Times, April 14, 2017, 1.

[225] Human Rights Watch, “’They’ve Shot Many Like This’: Abusive Night Raids by CIA-Backed Afghan Strike Forces,” October 31, 2019,  One example cited in the report:  “In March 2018, Afghan paramilitary forces raided the home of a staff member of an Afghan nongovernmental organization (NGO). The forces arrived late at night at the family compound and separated the women from the men. They singled out the staff member’s brother and took him to another part of the house.  They shot him, leaving the body, and left with another male family member, whom the government later denied holding.”  The report provided many other examples.

[226] “Joint Declaration between the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the United States of America for Bringing Peace to Afghanistan,” signed in Doha, Qatar, February 29, 2020.

[227] Mark Landler, “In Pulling Troops Out, A President Becomes An Unlikely Insurgent,” New York Times, September 2, 2021.  When the U.S.-backed government in Kabul fell to the Taliban, numerous U.S. political leaders raised the alarm of a Taliban-terrorist alliance.  In response, Paul Pillar, who served in senior government positions in intelligence and counterterrorism agencies, wrote that such notions were based on the mistaken belief that the Taliban were interested in promoting international terrorism.  He wrote that the Taliban “have always been narrowly focused on power in Afghanistan and the political and social order of Afghanistan.  They have shown no interest in international terrorism. . . . This is illustrated by the current fierce conflict between the Taliban and the Afghan branch of the so-called Islamic State or ISIS. For anyone hoping to see this branch of ISIS quashed, the Taliban represent the best bet for doing so.”  Paul Pillar, “Taliban and Al Qaeda: If there’s no war, there won’t be an alliance,” Responsible Statecraft, August 19, 2021,

[228] Gossman, “How US-Funded Abuses Led to Failure in Afghanistan.”  See also, “Afghanistan:  Forces Linked to Vice President Terrorize Villagers,” Human Rights Watch, July 31, 2016,

[229] Rod Nordland, “Accused of Rape and Torture, Exiled Afghan Vice President Returns,” New York Times, July 22, 2018.

[230] “’All Our Hopes Are Crushed’: Violence and Repression in Western Afghanistan,” Human Rights Watch, Vol. 14, No. 7, November 2002, page 4.  See also, “General Mohammad Ismail Khan,”,

[231] Gossman, “How US-Funded Abuses Led to Failure in Afghanistan.”

[232] Joseph Goldstein, “U.S. Soldiers Told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies, New York Times, September 20, 2015.  The article also told of Lance Corporal Gregory Buckley Jr. who told his father before being killed in 2012 that he was troubled by the screams of young boys.  “At night we can hear them screaming, but we’re not allowed to do anything about it.”  See also, David Zucchino and Taimoor Shah, “Rare Response to Accusations Afghan Boy Was Fatally Raped: Arrests,” New York Times, October 9, 2020, A16.

[233] “’All Our Hopes Are Crushed,’” 8; and Norah Niland, “The Great Deception: Only Democratic Delusions for Afghans,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute, 2011, pages 8-9,  See also, Romain Malejacq, Warlord Survival: The Delusion of State Building in Afghanistan (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019).

[234] Gossman, “How US-Funded Abuses Led to Failure in Afghanistan.”

[235] Cheryl Benard, “The Next Afghanistan,” in Afghanistan: State and Society, Great Power Politics, and the Way Ahead: Findings from an International Conference, Copenhagen, Denmark, 2007 (Rand Corporation Center for Middle East Public Policy, 2008), page 52,  Egregious abuses by Afghan security personnel were more than tolerated.  The worst abusers, such as Abdul Raziq, police chief of Kandahar, were lauded by top U.S. military officials as effective anti-Taliban fighters.  A belated investigative article by the New York Times, based on 50,000 hand-written complaints to Afghan officials between 2011 and 2021, and hundred of follow-up interviews with Afghans over the course of one year, revealed hundreds, if not thousands, of abductions, disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killings.  “Many American commanders, diplomats and their allies in Afghanistan knew at the time they were bankrolling a war that strayed far outside international law,” wrote the Times.  But this did not hinder U.S. support for Raziq’s operations.  In hindsight, Razig’s “acts not only discredited the American war effort – breeding profound resentment that pushed people to support the Taliban – but embodied it in many ways as well.  Across Afghanistan, the United states elevated and empowered warlords, corrupt politicians and outright criminals to prosecute a war of military expediency in which the ends often justified the means. . . . Many Afghans came to revile the American-backed government and everything it represented. . . . It was not that everyone embraced the Taliban, residents said; they just came to detest the Afghan government and the Americans who propped it up.”  Azam Ahmed and Matthieu Aikins, “America’s Monster: How the United States Backed Kidnapping, Torture and Murder in Afghanistan,” New York Times, May 23, 2024.

[236] Tara Copp, “The US Spent $83 billion Training Afghan Forces.  Why Did They Collapse So Quickly,” Defense One, August 14, 2021,

[237] Ann Jones “Meet the Afghan Army: Is It a Figment of Washington’s Imagination?” in Nick Turse, ed., The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan (New York: Verso, 2016), 77, 80.

[238] Obaid Younossi, Peter Dahl Thruelsen, Jonathan Vaccaro, Jerry M. Sollinger, and Brian Grady, “The Long March: Building an Afghan National Army,” National Defense Research Institute (RAND Corporation), 2009, page xiii,

[239] T. Christian Miller, Mark Hosenball, and Ron Moreau, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight,” Newsweek, March 20, 2010,; and Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012), 1.

[240] David Isenberg, “It’s Déjà Vu for DynCorp All Over Again,” Huffpost, May 25, 2011,; and Jill R. Aitoro, “Afghan Subcontractors,” Washington Business Journal, October 3, 2013,

[241] Younossi & all, “The Long March,” 3.  The 28 percent literacy rate in Afghanistan was reported by UNICEF (United Nation’s Children Fund) in 2008.

[242] Miller & all, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight”; and Kuzmarov, “’You Have to Not Mind Killing Innocents,’” 192, 193.

[243] William Fischer, “Rights: Afghan Prison Looks Like Another Guantanamo,” Inter Press Service, January 15, 2008, cited in American Civil Liberties Union, Freedom of Information Act request, April 23, 2009,; and Kuzmarov, “’You Have to Not Mind Killing Innocents,’” 194.

[244] Ariaie, “America’s Longest War”; and Douglas Valentine, The CIA as Organized Crime: How Illegal Operations Corrupt America and the World (Atlanta: Clarity Press, 2017), 375, 376.

[245] Craig Whitlock, “Consumed by Corruption” (The Afghanistan Papers: A secret history of the war series), Washington Post, December 19, 2019,

[246] Frank Vogl, “Afghan corruption imperils future success,” USA Today, February 10, 2013,

[247] Miller & all, “The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”

[248] Jason Motlagh, “Highway to Hell: A Trip Down Afghanistan’s Deadliest Road, Rolling Stone, January 22, 2021,; and Mueller, The Stupidity of War, 101.

[249] Tom Vanden Brook, “Fraud, waste and abuse in Afghanistan: Inspector general reflects on US failures,” USA Today, August 18, 2021,  See also, “US has a big part to play in Afghan corruption,” Washington Post, November 7, 2012.

[250] Ashley Jackson, “The Taliban’s Fight for Hearts and Minds,” Foreign Policy, September 12, 2018,  In 2009, the Washington Post reported that many Afghans preferred the severe but decisive authority of the Taliban compared to the “corruption and inefficiency of Karzai’s appointees.”  Griff Witte, “Taliban Establishes Elaborate Shadow Government in Afghanistan,” Washington Post, December 8, 2009,

[251] According to international studies scholars Alan Richards and Steven Simon, once the Bush administration became committed to nation-building in Afghanistan, it oversold its ability to remake the country:  “The Bush administration and its cheerleaders sold the notions that in Afghanistan, they could create a centralized, pro-American state where no such state had ever been successfully constructed; that they could transform rural mores; and that they could redefine traditional personal status arrangements.  All this, their Ponzi pitch went, would be somehow achievable in a reasonable time frame, with minimal casualties and financial costs.”  Alan Richards and Steven Simon, “Afghanistan Was a Ponzi Scheme Sold to the American Public, Foreign Policy, September 2, 2021,

[252] Ariaie, “America’s Longest War;” and Ashraf Ghani and Clare Lockhart, Fixing Failed States: A Framework for Rebuilding a Fractured World (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009).

[253] “Afghanistan opium survey 2019,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, February 2021, page 5,

[254] Craig Whitlock, “At War with the Truth,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019.

[255] Matthew Rosenberg and Adam Nossiter, “After 7 Years of Failing to Fix Afghanistan, Ghani Makes a Hasty Escape,” New York Times, August 18, 2021, A8.

[256] Jon Lee Anderson, “After the Fall: The Taliban fought for decades to retake Afghanistan.  How will they rule?” The New Yorker, February 28, 2022, 55.  Following the fall of the U.S.-backed government in Afghanistan, the Taliban issued a decree in May 2022 requiring women to cover their faces, accompanied by escalating punishments.

[257] For background on democracy and women’s rights, see Anna Larson, “Democracy in Afghanistan: Amid and Beyond Conflict,” United States Institute of Peace Special Report, No. 497, July 2021; Caroline Alexander, “As Taliban Return, a History of Afghan Women’s Rights,” Bloomberg Equality, August 18, 2021,; and Hannibal Travis, “Freedom or Theocracy?  Constitutionalism in Afghanistan and Iraq,” Northwestern Journal of International Human Rights, Vol. 3, Issue 1, Article 4 (Spring 2005).  The Afghan constitution of 1923 established an elected parliament that co-ruled with the monarchy.  The system developed in fits and starts, buffeted by coups, civil wars, and corruption.  According to Hannibal Travis (p. 5):  “In 1959, Prime Minister [Muhammed] Daoud [King Zahir Shah’s first cousin] created a major cultural crisis when the wives and daughters of the Afghan royal family appeared unveiled for the first time since Amanullah’s reign [which ended in 1933].  Many religious leaders publicly condemned this display, but Daoud argued that Islam did not make the veiling and seclusion of women obligatory.  Other educated women, particularly in Kabul, then began to abandon the veil, including growing numbers of nurses, midwives, and teachers.  In response, the more conservative mullahs provoked riots and acid attacks on unveiled women, until Daoud had about 50 of them jailed and charged with treason and heresy.  Daoud’s government quelled an armed uprising in Kandahar with advanced weaponry obtained from the Soviet Union.  Daoud finally released the mullahs from custody, and they brought the unrest to a halt, agreeing that each Afghan family would be allowed to decide for itself whether its women would practice purdah [the veiling of women and their general concealment].”  The culture war continued in the 1970s and 1980s, with “communists and fundamentalists” dividing the country between them.

[258] “Pentagon Briefing with Secretary Rumsfeld,” Washington Post, November 19, 2001.

[259] Jennifer Fluri, “Reflections on Gender and Development in Afghanistan 2001-2021,” University of Colorado Boulder website, September 9, 2021,

[260] Craig Whitlock, “At War with the Truth,” The Washington Post, December 9, 2019.

[261] Thomas Gibbons-Neff, “Public Was Duped on Afghan War,” New York Times, December 10, 2019, A1.

[262] Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers, xiv, xv.  In addition to SIGAR interviews, Whitlock made use of (1) confidential memoranda from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, composed of an estimated 59,000 pages and released in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research institute based at George Washington University; (2) oral history interviews with officials who served in the U.S. embassy in Kabul, conducted by the nonprofit Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training – the diplomats “who vented about Washington’s fundamental ignorance of Afghanistan and its mishandling of the war” (p. xvii); (3) oral history interviews of more than 3,000 U.S. troops conducted between 2005 and 2015 by the Army’s Operational Leadership Experience project, part of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and (4) interviews of about 100 Bush administration officials conducted by the Miller Center, a nonpartisan affiliate of the University of Virginia.

[263] Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers, xvii.

[264] Craig Whitlock, “The Afghanistan Papers, A secret history of the war,” Washington Post, December 9, 2019.  Before being assigned to the White House, General Lute served as Director of Operations on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, overseeing U.S. military operations worldwide.  From 2004 to 2006, he was Director of Operations for the United States Central Command, with responsibility for U.S. military operations in 25 countries across the Middle East, eastern Africa and Central Asia, in which over 200,000 U.S. troops operated.  In 2007 President Bush named him Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor, tasked with coordinating the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was retained on the National Security Council by President Barak Obama and his focus shifted to South Asia.  Following his six years in the White House, Lute was appointed Permanent Representative to the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s standing political body, assuming this post from 2013 to 2017.

[265] Whitlock, The Afghanistan Papers, xv.

[266] Neta C. Crawford, “Afghanistan’s Rising Civilian Death Toll Due to Airstrikes, 2017-2020,” Costs of War project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, December 7, 2020,

[267] Mujib Mashal, “C.I.A.-Led Afghan Forces Leave Grim Trail of Abuse,” New York Times, December 31, 2018, A1; Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Mujib Mashal, “To Push Pace of Peace Talks in Afghanistan, U.S. Increases Strikes on Taliban,” New York Times, February 9, 2019, A6; and David Zucchino and Taimoor Shah, “U.S. Airstrikes Said to Kill at Least 10 Afghan Civilians,” New York Times, February 11, 2019, A7.  “Thirteen Civilians, Mostly Children, Believed Killed In Afghan Air Strike, UN Report Finds,” Radio-Free-Europe-Radio-Liberty, March 25, 2019,

[268] Sgt. James LaPorta, interviewed on “Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror” Netflix documentary film, Season 1, Episode 4, “The Good War.”

[269] Erik Edstrom, “How American Politics Got Troops Stuck—and Killed—in Afghanistan,” Politico Magazine, May 4, 2021,

[270] Erik Edstrom, interview, “Dissenting veterans on post-9/11 wars.” Radio Open Source, May 26, 2022,; and Edstrom, “How American Politics Got Troops Stuck – and Killied – in Afghanistan.”

[271] Erik Edstrom, Un-American: A Soldier’s Reckoning of Our Longest War (New York: Bloomsbury, 2020), Epigram.

[272] Andrew J. Bacevich, “Why Did We Fight the Iraq War?” New York Times Book Review, May 12, 2019, 14.  See also, Thomas E. Ricks, Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2003-2005 (New York: Penguin Books, 2007); and Andrew Bacevich, “My son was killed in Iraq 14 years ago – who’s responsible?” Boston Globe, May 27, 2021.

[273] Joel D. Preston and Frank K. Sobchak, eds., The U.S. Army and the Iraq War (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2019, Vol. 2, 639; quoted in Mueller, The Stupidity of War, 116.

[274] Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns (AP), “General says US troops to remain in Iraq,” Military Times, December 9, 2021,  The vote on the bill in the 328-member Iraqi Parliament was 170-0, with 158 members not attending or not voting.  Iran responded to the killing of General Soleimani by firing a barrage of missiles at the al-Asad airbase on January 8, 2020.  No U.S. troops were killed but more than 100 service members suffered traumatic brain injuries from the blasts.

[275] Alissa J. Rubin, Ben Hubbard, Farnaz Fassihi, and Steven Erlanger, “Iraqi Leaders Vote to Expel U.S. Troops,” New York Times, January 6, 2020, A1; Mohammed Tawfeeq, “Hundreds of thousands protest US troop presence in Iraq,” CNN, January 24, 2020; Alissa J. Rubin and Falih Hassan, “Baghdad Protesters Demand the Removal of U.S. Forces,” New York Times, January 25, 2020, A6; and Heather Murdock, “Tens of Thousands Turn Out in Baghdad for Anti-US Protest,” January 24, 2020, Voice of America News,

[276] Miriam Berger, “Invaders, allies, occupiers, guests: A brief history of U.S. military involvement in Iraq,” Washington Post, January 11, 2020.

[277] Annie Karni and Eric Schmitt, “In Winding Down Wars, Biden Takes Two Paths for Iraq and Afghanistan,” New York Times, July 27, 2021, A5.

[278] Baldor and Burns, “General says US troops to remain in Iraq.”

[279] Mosheh Gains, Saphora Smith, Courtney Kube and Abigail Williams, “2 American service members, 1 British soldier killed in rocket attack on Iraqi base,” NBC News, March 12, 2020,

[280] Alissa J. Rubin and Eric Schmitt, “Iraq Fumes, Blaming U.S. Airstrikes for Deaths of Soldiers and Police Officers,” New York Times, March 14, 2020, A24.

[281] “Iraq election: Nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr claims victory,” BBC News, October 12, 2021,; and Jane Arraf, “After Election, Iraqi Cleric Once Targeted by U.S. Emerges as a Vital Ally,” New York Times, October 17, 2021.  Muqtada al-Sadr is the youngest son of a revered Shiite cleric, the Grand Ayatollah Mohammad Sadeq al-Sadr, who was assassinated by Saddam Hussein’s henchmen in 1999.  The Saeroun party won 73 seats in the 329-member Council of Representatives in October 2021.  It was one of seven parties to win over 10 seats.  There were 22 other parties that gained between one and five seats; and another 43 independent candidates.  To gain a majority on any legislative proposal, the Saeroun party would need to find 92 votes from other parties or independent members.  The Iraqi Constitution reserves 25% of all seats in the Council of Representatives for women.

[282] Dana Adams Schmidt, “CIA Head Warns of Danger in Iraq,” New York Times, April 29, 1959; and Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt, “Embracing Regime Change in Iraq,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 39, No. 1 (January 2015), 103.  The relationship between Qasim and Nasser was contentious, a rivalry, despite their common affinity for Arab nationalism and oil nationalization.  President Dwight Eisenhower issued the Eisenhower Doctrine in January 1957, with Congress approving in March, which declared that the U.S. would aid any government in the Middle East threatened by “armed aggression from another state.”  This was largely a cover for mobilizing against any government deemed unfriendly to U.S. economic interests or friendly to communist parties or the Soviet Union.

[283] Wolfe-Hunnicutt, “Embracing Regime Change in Iraq,” 114-115.  The State Department had already met with representatives of the International Petroleum Company on October 26, 1962 and informed them that Qasim would not “last much longer.”

[284] “Iraq: Green Armbands, Red Blood,” Time, February 22, 1963,,33009,828007,00.html.

[285] Wolfe-Hunnicutt, “Embracing Regime Change in Iraq,” 118.  Primary source:  “Baghdad (William Lakeland, First Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad) to State (U.S. State Department) ,no. 513, “Opponents of Qasim Regime [Hashemites] Urge Intervention,” January 31, 1962, John F. Kennedy National Security Files, 3: 108.  See also, Said Aburish, A Brutal Friendship: The West and the Arab Elite (New York: St. Martin’s, 1998).

[286] Akins quoted in Michel Despratx and Barry Lando, “Iraq: Crimes and Collusions: 40 Years of Western Support for the Baathists,” Le Monde Diplomatique, English Edition, November 2004, cited in Wolfe-Hunnicutt, “Embracing Regime Change in Iraq,” 117.

[287] Patrick Cockburn, “Revealed: How the West Set Saddam on the Bloody Road to Power,” The Independent, June 28, 1997,

[288]  According to a short biography of Saddam Hussein:  “Hussein was born in 1937 in Tikrit, Iraq.  He grew up in a very poor area of Iraq and did not finish the equivalent of high school until 1959, when he was twenty-two.  His official biography notes that his father died before he was born (although some accounts suggest that his father abandoned the family) and his mother remarried.  His step-father rejected Saddam, putting him to work as a sheep-herder rather than sending him to school.  When he was ten, he went to live with an uncle (his mother’s brother) in Baghdad, who was a passionate Arab nationalist.  For most of his teenage years, he was a member of a violent street gang.  He combined his political leanings with this violent streak, by joining (at age 19) the radical Baath party, which had as its goal the overthrow of the Iraqi government.  Within two years, he led an assassination attempt against Iraqi leader Abdul Karim Qassim during which Hussein was shot in the leg.  The assassination failed, and Hussein escaped to Egypt in 1959. . . . He returned to Iraq after the successful Baathist coup of 1961, in which Qassim was overthrown. He worked in the internal security forces as an interrogator and practiced torture as a regular part of his job.  Another coup landed Saddam in jail for two years, until he escaped in 1966.  He quickly consolidated control over the Baath Party’s internal security organization, and when the party regained control over Iraq in a 1968 coup, Hussein became the head of the new government’s internal security network.  Over the next ten years, he strengthened his personal control over the internal police, and in 1979 removed his own cousin from the presidency through an internal party coup.”  “A First-Lens Analysis Saddam Hussein: A Profile,”  See also, Said Aburish, Saddam Hussein: The Politics of Revenge (New York: Bloomsbury, 2000).

[289] “Nationalizing of Oil Completed by Iraq,” New York Times, December 9, 1975.

[290] As of July 4, 1979, Iraq employed 62,500 teachers at 23,804 literacy centers in teaching some 1.2 million women and over 527,000 men to read and write.  Christopher J. Lucas, “Arab Illiteracy and the Mass Literacy Campaign in Iraq,” Comparative Education Review 25, no. 1 (1981), 82.

[291] Kathleen Moore, “Iraq: The Rise and Fall of Saddam Hussein,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, December 15, 2003,

[292] “World Oil Reserves 1948 – 2001: Annual Statistics and Analysis,” Eneregy Exploration & Exploitation, Vol. 19, Numbers 2 & 3, 262,

[293] For a short, pithy critique of the Carter Doctrine, see Andrew J. Bacevich, “Kissing the Carter Doctrine Goodbye (Shouldn’t Be This Hard),” The American Conservative, May 2, 2020,

[294] Joyce Battle, ed., “Shaking Hands with Saddam Hussein: The U.S. Tilts toward Iraq, 1980-1984,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 82, February 25, 2003,

[295] Michael Dobbs, “U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup,” Washington Post, January 8, 2003.

[296] Weldon C. Matthews, “The Kennedy Administration and Arms Transfers to Ba’thist Iraq,” Diplomatic History, Vol. 43, No. 3 (2019): 469-492; and “Gulf Crisis Grows into War with Iraq,” Congressional Quarterly Almanac 1990, 46th edition: 717-56 (Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly, 1991),

[297] Peter Hahn, “A Century of U.S. Relations with Iraq,” Origins: Current Events in Historical Perspective, April 2012,  See also, Seymour M. Hersh, “U.S. Secretly Gave Aid to Iraq in Its War Against Iran,” New York Times, Jan. 26, 1992. Hersh notes that “the Reagan Administration had permitted Iraq’s allies in the Middle East to ship American-made arms to Baghdad,” thought to have begun in 1982.

[298] “Iraqi Kurds mark 25 years since Halabja gas attack,” BBC News, March 16, 2013,  In addition to immediate fatalities at Halabja, another 10,000 were blinded, maimed, or otherwise severely disabled.  According to the U.S. State Department, Hussein launched chemical attacks at 40 Kurdish villages in all.  “Saddam’s Chemical Weapons Campaign: Halabja, March 16, 1988,” Bureau of Public Affairs, U.S. State Department, March 14, 2003.  Significantly, this information was not published in 1988 after the chemical attacks happened and were confirmed by the U.S., but only became of topic of public interest when the U.S. was ready to go to war against Saddam Hussein.

[299] Julie Johnson, “U.S. Asserts Iraq Used Poison Gas Against the Kurds,” New York Times, September 8, 1988, A1.

[300] Shane Harris and Matthew M. Aid, “Exclusive: CIA Files Prove America Helped Saddam as He Gassed Iran,” Foreign Policy, August 26, 2013,

[301] The White House, “National Security Directive 26,” October 2, 1989, page 2,; and Joseph Stieb, The Regime Change Consensus: Iraq in American Politics, 1990-2003 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2021), 18-19.

[302] On the Persian Gulf War, see Brian D’Haeseleer, Jeremy Kuzmarov, and Roger Peace, “The Post-Cold War era,” Section III, U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide, 2020,  Tens of thousands of Iraqi soldiers were killed in the “shock and awe” U.S. air war.  Middle East Watch estimated 2,500-3,000 civilian deaths, not including “the substantially larger number of deaths that can be attributed to malnutrition, disease and lack of medical care caused by a combination of the U.N.-mandated embargo and the allies’ destruction of Iraq’s electrical system, with its severe secondary effects.”  Contrary to U.S. claims of “precision bombing,” the human rights group noted the destruction of some 400 homes, 19 apartment buildings, four hospitals and medical clinics, two schools, one mosque, and numerous hotels, restaurants and commercial buildings.  Middle East Watch, Needless Deaths in the Gulf War: Civilian Casualties During the Air Campaign and Violations of the Laws of War (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1991), section: “Introduction and Summary of Conclusions,”

[303] In September 1992, eighteen months after the Persian Gulf war ended, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney said, “I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him [Hussein’s forces] from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we’d achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq.”  Once out from under Bush Sr.’s shadow, however, Cheney made a 180-degree turn and called for Hussein’s ouster.  Randal C. Archibold, “Edwards Notes Cheney Warned of Getting ‘Bogged Down’ in Iraq,” New York Times, September 30, 2004.

[304] R. W. Apple Jr., “After the War: Politics; Another Gulf War? New York Times, March 10, 1991.

[305] George Bush and Brent Scowcroft, A World Transformed (New York, 1998), 383-84.

[306] Joyce Battle, “The Iraq War – Part I: The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 326, Timeline,; Sewell Chan, “Ahmad Chalabi, Iraqi Politician Who Pushed for U.S. Invasion, Dies at 71,” New York Times, November 3, 2015; and Aram Roston, “Iraqi politician’s suit against Jordan dismissed,” NBC News, August 28, 2007,  Chalabi’s conviction was later overturned with the help of U.S. officials.  He served as Iraq’s deputy prime minister from May 2005 to May 2006, as well as Iraq’s Minister of Oil within that period.  See also, Kenneth M. Pollack, “Ahmad Chalabi, RIP,” Brookings, November 4, 2015,

[307] “Defense Planning: Guidance FY 1994-1999,” April 16, 1992, page 22,  For an overview of U.S. global strategy, see Andrew J. Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (New York: Random House, 2016); and Douglas Little, American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).

[308] Walter Pincus, “U.S. Lacks Specifics on Banned Arms,” Washington Post, March 16, 2003.  See also, “Iraq: A Chronology of UN Inspections” (no date),  The Arms Control Association Special Report cites numerous instances of Iraqi intransigence and concealment, but also the achievements of the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) in overseeing the destruction of Iraq’s chemical, biological, and missile programs:  “UNSCOM destroyed more than 38,000 filled and unfilled chemical munitions.  UNSCOM also oversaw the destruction of 690 tonnes of chemical warfare agents, more than 3,000 tonnes of precursor chemicals, and roughly 600 pieces of production equipment.  With varying degrees of confidence, UNSCOM further certified that another 34,000 special munitions and 823 tonnes of key precursors had been destroyed during the Gulf War and that Iraq had unilaterally destroyed another 13,660 special munitions and about 200 additional tonnes of key precursors after the war.  UNSCOM also verified that more than 600 additional pieces of production and analytical instruments were no longer operational.  Inspectors also succeeded in uncovering Iraq’s VX program, which Baghdad had tried to conceal, as well as additional chemical weapons research and development projects on which Iraq had not volunteered information.  UNSCOM supervised the dismantlement of Iraq’s top chemical weapons complex, the al-Muthanna State Establishment, and put other sites under monitoring.”

[309] United Nations, “Report of the Secretary-General Pursuant to Paragraph 3 of Resolution 1111 (1997),” S/1997/935, November 28, 1997; and United Nations, Security Council Committee established by Resolution 661, Summary Record, Meeting 195, S/AC.25/SR.195, March 20, 2000; cited in Joy Gordon, “The Enduring Lessons of the Iraq Sanctions,” Middle East Report 294 (Spring 2000),

[310] “President Bush, Prime Minister Blair Hold Press Availability,” Camp David, Maryland, March 27, 2993, White House archives,

[311] “Raid on Baghdad: The Iraqi Capital; On Baghdad Streets, Angry Demands for Revenge,” New York Times, June 28, 1993; Tim Weiner, “Plot by Baghdad to Assassinate Bush is Questioned,” New York Times, October 25, 1993; Seymour M. Hersh, “A Case Not Closed,” The New Yorker, November 1, 1993; Scott Shane, “When the threat of Hussein hit home for Bush, Baltimore Sun, February 22, 2003;  Robert Fisk, The Great War For Civilization: The Conquest of the Middle East (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2006), 715; and Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair, Al Gore: A User’s Manual (London: Verso, 2000), 212.

[312] Robert Kagan, “Saddam’s Impending Victory,” Weekly Standard, February 2, 1998; quoted in Andrew Bacevich, The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 88.

[313] “Iraq Liberation Act of 1998,” Public Law 105-338 – Oct. 31, 1998,

[314] John F. Harris and John M. Goshko, “Clinton Makes Case for Strike Against Iraq,” Washington Post, February 18, 1998, A1.

[315] Joe Biden, “I Meant No Disrespect,” letter to The Washington Post, September 19, 1998.

[316] The Project for a New American Century envisioned not only the takeover of Iraq, but also the decapitation of other regimes regarded as adversaries of the U.S., including Iran, Syria, and Libya.  See Norman Podhoretz, “In Praise of the Bush Doctrine,” Commentary, September 2002.

[317] Ron Suskind, The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 85-86; cited in Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 513.

[318] Clarke, Against All Enemies, 30.

[319] Michael Cooper and Marc Santora, “Mideast Hawks Help to Develop Giuliani Policy,” New York Times, October 25, 2007; and Jonathan Stein and Tim Dickinson, “Lie by Lie: A Timeline of How We Got Into Iraq,” Mother Jones, September/October 2006,; also cited in Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 503.

[320] Suskind, The Price of Loyalty, 85-86; cited in Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 513.

[321] Bob Woodward, Plan of Attack (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004), 45; Joyce Battle, “The Iraq War – Part I: The U.S. Prepares for Conflict, 2001,” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 326, Timeline (through February 2010),; Julian Borger, “Bush ‘wanted war in 2002,’” The Guardian, February 23, 2004,; and Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt, “Military Would Be Stressed By a New War, Study Finds,” New York Times, May 24, 2002, A8. The Borger article reviews Rowan Scarborough’s recently published book, Rumsfeld’s War: The Untold Story of America’s Anti-Terrorist Commander (New York: Regnery Publishing, January 2004).

[322] Brent Scowcroft, “Don’t Attack Saddam,” Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2002,

[323] “Bush’s UN speech: Full Text,” BBC News, September 13, 2002,; and “The Rest of the Story: Iraq’s Links to Al Qaeda,” The White House, September 15, 2006,

[324] “Public Law 107-243, 107th Congress:  Joint Resolution:  To authorize the use of United States Armed Forces against Iraq,” October 16, 2002,  Senator Joe Biden, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, facilitated the passage of the act; see Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Biden’s Key Role in the Crime of the Century: The 2003 U.S. Invasion of Iraq,” January 19, 2021,

[325] Victoria Carty, “The Anti-War Movement Versus the War Against Iraq,” International Journal of Peace Studies, Vol. 14, No. 1 (Spring/Summer 2009), 33.

[326] Capt. Gregory Ball, “2003 – Operation Iraqi Freedom,” Air Force Historical Support Division,

[327] Max Fisher, “The Truth About Iconic 2003 Saddam Statue-Toppling,” The Atlantic, January 3, 2011; Lloyd C. Gardner, The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from 1970s to the Present (New York: The New Press, 2008), 170; and George W. Bush, “Remarks on the Rescue of U.S. Prisoners of War and an Exchange With Reporters,” April 13, 2003, The American Presidency Project.

[328] Niko Price “3,240 Civilian Deaths in Iraq,” Associated Press, June 10, 2003; cited in Human Rights Watch, “Summary and Recommendations: Principal Findings,” Off Target: The Conduct of the War and Civilian Casualties in Iraq, December 2003,

[329] Human Rights Watch, “Summary and Recommendations: Principal Findings.”

[330] President George W. Bush, Address of the President to the Nation, September 7, 2003,

[331] Carl Conetta, “The Wages of War: Iraqi Combatant and Noncombatant Fatalities in the 2003 Conflict,” Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #8, October 20, 2003,  In this thoroughly researched report, Conetta writes:  “More generally, the casualty costs of Operation Iraqi Freedom are relevant in assessing the notion of a ‘new warfare,’ which has helped shape recent American debates about the utility of war.  One premise of the ‘new warfare’ hypothesis is that precision technologies and new warfighting techniques now allow the United States to wage war while incurring dramatically fewer casualties — especially civilian casualties.  Although Operation Iraqi Freedom was supposed to exemplify the new warfare, it provides no unambiguous support for the hypothesis regarding civilian casualties.”

[332] “US chief Iraq arms expert quits,” BBC News, January 24, 2004,

[333] Lloyd C. Gardner, “Mr. Rumsfeld’s War,” in Lloyd C. Gardner and Marilyn B. Young, Iraq and the Lessons of Vietnam:  Or, How Not to Learn from the Past (New York: The New Press, 2007), 193.

[334] United Nations Security Council press release, “UN Inspectors Found No Evidence of Prohibited Weapons Programmes as of 18 March Withdrawal, Hans Blix Tells Security Council,” 5 June 2003,  According to the Arms Control Association:  “UN weapons inspectors worked in Iraq from November 27, 2002 until March 18, 2003.  During that time, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations Monitoring, Verification, and Inspections Commission (UNMOVIC) conducted more than 900 inspections at more than 500 sites.  The inspectors did not find that Iraq possessed chemical or biological weapons or that it had reconstituted its nuclear weapons program. Although Iraq was cooperative on what inspectors called ‘process’ – allowing inspectors access to suspected weapons sites, for example – it was only marginally cooperative in answering the questions surrounding its weapons programs.  Unable to resolve its differences with Security Council members who favored strengthening and continuing weapons inspections, the United States abandoned the inspections process and initiated the invasion of Iraq on March 19.”  Arms Control Association, “Disarming Saddam – A Chronology of Iraq and UN Weapons Inspections from 2002-2003,” August 2017,

[335] “Transcript: David Kay at Senate hearing,” CNN, January 28, 2004,

[336] Bob Woodward, State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006), 278-79.

[337] “This Will Be a Campaign Unlike Any Other in History,” Wall Street Journal, March 22, 2003; and Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 248-51.

[338] George W. Bush, “President Discusses the Future of Iraq,” Washington Hilton Hotel, February 26, 2003, The White House,

[339] Susan L. Carruthers, The Good Occupation: American Soldiers and the Hazards of Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016), 2.  Carruthers notes that the president’s analogy to WWII occupations was further flawed by the fact that the occupations of Germany and Japan lasted until 1955 and 1952, respectively, with the island of Okinawa remaining under U.S. sovereignty until 1972; and after the end of formal occupation, U.S. troops were garrisoned in both countries.

[340] Fisher, “The Truth About Iconic 2003 Saddam Statue-Toppling.”

[341] Sean Loughlin, “Rumsfeld on looting in Iraq: ‘Stuff happens,’” CNN, April 12, 2003,

[342] Elisabeth Bumiller and David E. Sanger, “A Nation at War: The President; How 3 Weeks of War in Iraq Looked From the Oval Office,” New York Times, April 14, 2003, A1.

[343] “Maxwell Reid Thurman, General, United States Army,” Arlington National Cemetery,

[344] Woodward, State of Denial, 108.

[345] “Interview Lt. Gen. Jay Garner (Ret.),” Frontline (transcript), Public Broadcasting Station, October 9, 2003,

[346] Corey Adwar, “The Former Head Of The US Occupation In Iraq Did 2 Very Embarrassing Things On His First And Last Days On The Job,” Insider, August 8, 2014,  One commander who rejected the order was U.S. Army Col. H.R. McMaster who told PBS Frontline:  “There just is not sufficient justification to shoot somebody because they’re carrying a computer out of the old Ministry of Education building.”

[347] “Losing Iraq,” PBS Frontline (interviews), July 29, 2014,  Bremer claimed to not remember the comment of the CIA station chief that “30,000 to 50,000 Baathists” would be driven underground.

[348] James P. Pfiffner, “US Blunders in Iraq:  De-Baathification and Disbanding the Army,” Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 15, No. 1 (February 2010), 79.  The quote within Pfiffner’s is from George Tenet, At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 427.  As explained by Pfiffner, Bremer’s two orders involved:  “(1) the decision to bar from government work Iraqis who ranked in the top four levels of Saddam’s Baath Party or who held positions in the top three levels of each ministry; (2) the decision to disband the Iraqi Army and replace it with a new army built from scratch.”

[349] See Woodward, State of Denial.

[350] President George W. Bush, “President Discusses the Future of Iraq,” April 28, 2003, The White House archives,

[351] On the frailties of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams organized by the U.S. State Department, see Peter Van Buren, We Meant Well:  How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2011).   In the film, “The Lost Year in Iraq,” Col. T.X. Hammes, a counterinsurgency expert and adviser to Iraq’s Interior Ministry, noted, “We had so many of these very, very young people that are dedicated Americans, brave enough to take a chance and go into Iraq to try to do something right for their country.  But [they] didn’t get any training; they have no background. . . . And yet we put them in charge of planning at [the] national level.”  Frontline, “The Lost Year in Iraq: Introduction,” October 17, 2006,

[352] Pfiffner, “US Blunders in Iraq,” 76.  As explained by Pfiffner, Bremer’s two orders involved:  “(1) the decision to bar from government work Iraqis who ranked in the top four levels of Saddam’s Baath Party or who held positions in the top three levels of each ministry; (2) the decision to disband the Iraqi Army and replace it with a new army built from scratch.  These two fateful decisions were made against the advice of military and CIA professionals and without consulting important members of the President’s staff and cabinet.”

[353] Paul Krugman, “Battlefield of Dreams,” New York Times, May 4, 2004.

[354] Jeremy Kuzmarov, “War Without End: The Iraq War in Context,” Global Policy Forum, January 2009,  The economic dimension of the U.S. takeover of Iraq is analyzed by sociology professor Michael Schwartz in War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2008), available online through

[355] James Glanz, “Rebuilding of Iraqi Pipeline as Disaster Waiting to Happen,” New York Times, April 25, 2006.

[356] James Glanz and Erik Eckholm, “Transition in Iraq: Bricks, Mortar and Money; Reality Intrudes on Promises in Rebuilding of Iraq,” New York Times, June 30, 2004.

[357] Neela Banerjee and John H. Cushman Jr., “The Struggle for Iraq: The Economy; Unemployed Iraqis Say New Jobs Will Pay Off in Greater Security for All,” New York Times, February 8, 2004.

[358] James Glanz and Denise Grady, “Cholera Epidemic Infects 7,000 People in Iraq,” New York Times, September 12, 2007; “Cholera Outbreak Highlights Iraq’s Plight,” Associated Press, October 5, 2007; and Schwartz, War Without End, 166.

[359] “As Iraqi children return to school, UNICEF urges more aid,” UN News, October 8, 2007,

[360] “Violent Response: The U.S. Army in al-Falluja,” Human Rights Watch, June 16, 2003,  President Bush did not explicitly say “mission accomplished” in his speech aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, but a large banner with that inscription hung from the ship behind Bush.

[361] “Third Infantry Division Commander Live Briefing from Iraq” (May 15, 2003), and “Maj. Gen. Odierno Video-On teleconference from Baghdad” (June 18, 2003), cited in Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 258; and Pauline Jelinek, “Rumsfeld downplays resistance in Iraq,” Kitsap Sun, July 19, 2003,

[362] “White House defends Bush remark on Iraqi attacks,” CNN, July 3, 2003,; and Gardner, The Long Road to Baghdad, 180.

[363] “Iraq Index: Tracking Variables of Reconstruction & Security in Post-Saddam Iraq,” The Brookings Institution, July 31, 2006, pp. 21, 5,

[364] “DoD News Briefing – Mr. Di Rita and Gen. Abizaid” (July 16, 2003), cited in Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 258-59.

[365] Lt. Gen. Sanchez Interview on CNN” (July 27, 2003), and “Briefing on the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq” (September 9, 2003), cited in Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 259-60.

[366] “Briefing on the First Marine Expeditionary Force in Iraq” (September 9, 2003), cited in Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 259-60.

[367] As examples of the invisibility of the enemy, a bomb exploded outside the Jordanian embassy in Baghdad on August 7, killing 17 and injuring dozens; and twelve days later, a suicide bomber drove a truck full of explosives to the UN headquarters in Baghdad, killing 22 and wounding over 100.  In the aftermath, a news correspondent asked Bremer, “With this new kind of attack, how can you secure this city and this country?”  Bremer replied, “We’ll do our best to find these people before they attack and to deal with them, and we will.”  “Losing Iraq,” PBS Frontline.

[368] “Commander, 4th Infantry Division, Maj. Gen. Raymond Odierno, via Teleconference from Tikrit, Iraq” (October 27, 2003), cited in Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 259.

[369] Dexter Filkins, “The Fall of the Warrior King, The New York Times Magazine, October 23, 2005,  Filkins reported from The New York Times Baghdad bureau in Iraq from 2003 to 2006.

[370] Ali A. Allawi, who served in a variety of positions in the Iraqi government, wrote:  “The measures that were used [by U.S. and Coalition forces] were mainly ineffective.  They were also deeply offensive to the cultural and religious mores of what was still a tribal society.  It is not so much that the US forces deliberately trampled over these sensibilities, rather that they were generally ignorant of them.  The searching of homes without the presence of a male head of household, body searches of women, the use of sniffer dogs, degrading treatment of prisoners, public humiliation of the elderly and notables, all contributed to the view that the Americans had only disdain and contempt for Iraq’s traditions.  These stories of American insensitivity to local customs grew in the telling and became in the hands of the insurgents and their sympathisers a deliberate programme on the part of the USA to undermine the religious and cultural roots of the country.”  Allawi also noted a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate in October 2003 which concluded that the growing insurgency was driven by local factors and drew its strength from deep grievances and a widespread hostility to the presence of foreign troops.  Ali A. Allawi, The Occupation of Iraq: Winning the War, Losing the Peace (USA: Yale University Press, 2007), 186.

[371] Bacevich, America’s War for the Greater Middle East, 261, 263.  A study commissioned by the UN Development Programme, the “Iraq Living Conditions Survey,” estimated 24,000 war-related Iraqi deaths between March 2003 and May 2004, including both civilians and combatants.  “Iraq Living Conditions Survey 2004,” United Nations Development Programme,

[372] “Poll: 70% believe Saddam, 9-11 link,” AP wire service, September 6, 2003,

[373] “Text of President Bush’s 2004 State of the Union Address,” Washington Post, January 20, 2004,

[374] Brian Bennett and Vivienne Walt, “Losing Hearts And Minds,” Time, December 3, 2003,,9171,552124,00.html.

[375] Timothy S. Williams, with Nicholas I. Schlosser, “The Battle for Fallujah,” U.S. Marines in battle:  Fallujah, November-December 2004, page 3,

[376] “Iraq Index,” Brookings, page 4.

[377] Anthony H. Cordesman, Charles Loi, and Vivek Kocharlakota, “IED Metrics for Iraq: June 2003 – September 2010,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, November 11, 2010,  Remarkably, the Second Battle of Fallujah was treated by Air Force Magazine as a model for counterinsurgency warfare.  Editor Rebecca Grant wrote, “The proper integration of airpower into Fallujah’s ground operation provided on call strike and created an unprecedented level of urban warfare competence.  The new model added to the ‘margin of superiority’ for ground forces.”  Rebecca Grant, “The Fallujah Model,” Air Force Magazine, February 2005,

[378] Eric Schmitt, “Iraq-Bound Troops Confront Rumsfeld Over Lack of Armor, New York Times, December 8, 2004.

[379] Thom Shanker, “’Stop-Loss’ Will All but End by 2011, Gates Says,” New York Times, March 18, 2009.

[380] “Iraq Index,” Brookings, page 18.

[381] “Beyond Abu Ghraib: detention and torture in Iraq,” Amnesty International, March 6, 2006, page 16,

[382] A number of prison administrators were brought in from the U.S. without adequate vetting.  Lane McCotter, for example, an Abu Ghraib prison official who helped train guards, had been forced to resign as corrections department director in Utah in 1997 when a mentally ill inmate died after guards left him shackled naked to a restraining chair for hours.  As Director of the Texas Department of Corrections, McCotter had forced thousands of inmates into tiny isolation chambers for record periods.  Another prison official at Abu Ghraib, Don Bordenkircher, had overseen the infamous Tiger Cages in Vietnam when he worked for the USAID’s Office of Public Safety (OPS).  The Assistant director of Iraq’s prison, John J. Armstrong, had been forced to resign as head of the Department of Corrections in Connecticut after settling a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the families of two inmates who died in a supermax facility which the National Prison project referred to as a “high tech dungeon.”  One of the victims had been hit by a guard with a stun gun after he had gone into diabetic shock.  Armstrong had also ignored complaints of sexual abuse of female guards on his watch.  His appointment reflects the tough on crime attitude prevalent among Bush-type conservatives which frequently led to a disregard for human rights – whether in the U.S. or Iraq.  Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression, 249-51.

[383] Seymour M. Hersh, “Torture at Abu Ghraib:  American soldiers brutalized Iraqis.  How far up does the responsibility go?” The New Yorker, April 30, 2004,

[384] Dana Milbank, “U.S. Tries to Calm Furor Caused by Photos, Washington Post, May 1, 2004.

[385] Annys Shin, “In 2004, CBS aired photos of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib,” Washington Post, April 19, 2018,  Some of the photos can be seen on the Wikimedia website, “Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse,”

[386] Mona Mahmood, Maggie O’Kane, Chavala Madlena, and Teresa Smith, “”Revealed: Pentagon’s link to Iraqi torture centres,” The Guardian, March 6, 2013,; and “Iraq: Wikileaks Documents Describe Torture of Detainees, Human Rights Watch, October 23, 2010,

[387] Charles J. Lister, The Syrian jihad: Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State and the Evolution of an Insurgency (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 290; and Michael E. Schmidt and Eric Schmitt, “Weapons Sales to Iraq Move Ahead Despite U.S. Worries,” New York Times, December 28, 2011.

[388] Najim Abed Al-Jabouri and Sterling Jensen, “The Iraqi and AQI Roles in the Sunni Awakening,” Prism, Vol. 2, Issue 1 (December 2010), pp. 11-12,

[389] “Iraqi PM vows to crush insurgents,” BBC News, July 15, 2004,  Iyad Allawi was a pro-U.S., Shiite politician and rival of Ahmad Chalabi (his second cousin) who helped prepare the way for the American invasion in 2003 by persuading Iraqi troops not to fight.  As a result, he was “often vilified by Iraqis, particularly Sunnis, as a Western puppet,” according to The New Yorker (January 16, 2006).  “Allawi was anointed Iraq’s leader in June [2004], in a formal ceremony with Paul Bremer III, the outgoing administrator of the Coalition Provisional Authority.  Since Allawi took office, Iraq has become unmoored by violence, and his efforts to restore security have been the central obsession of his leadership.”  One such effort involved shooting seven suspected terrorists in the head without a trial, as reported by Paul McGeough for the Sydney Morning Herald.  “This is how we must deal with the terrorists,” said Allawi.  Jon Lee Anderson, “A Man of the Shadows: Can Iyad Allawi hold Iraq together?” The New Yorker, January 16, 2005.

[390] Jessica Stern and Megan K. McBride, “Terrorism and the 2003 Invasion of Iraq,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University (2013), page 1,

[391] Al-Jabouri and Jensen, “The Iraqi and AQI Roles in the Sunni Awakening,” 3-4.  Najim Abed Al-jabouri was a major general in the new Iraqi police and the mayor of Tal Afar, Ninevah, from 2005 to 2008.

[392] Al-Jabouri and Jensen, “The Iraqi and AQI Roles in the Sunni Awakening,” 9.  See also, Patrick Cockburn, The Occupation: War and Resistance in Iraq (New York: Verso, 2007).  Cockburn, an investigative reporter residing in Baghdad in early 2007, did not view the U.S. surge of troops as changing the faulty dynamics of the U.S. occupation.  He writes:  “The U.S. had failed to pacify Iraq between 2003 and 2007.  Now, with much of the US public openly disillusioned with the war, Bush was to try for victory once again.  The US army was to go on fighting the 5 million-strong Sunni community as it had been doing since the capture of Baghdad (xiii). . . . Above all, the Bush administration was determined to put off the day, at least until after the Presidential election in 2008, when it had to admit that the US had failed in Iraq” (xiv). . . . There was a central lesson of four years of war which Bush and Tony Blair never seemed to take on board though it was obvious to anybody living in Iraq: the occupation was unpopular and becoming more so by the day” (xvi). . . . Opinion polls consistently showed this trend.  A comprehensive survey of Iraqis has been conducted by ABC News, USA Today, BBC and ARD annually over the last three years.  Its findings illuminate the most important trends in Iraqi politics.  They show that by March 2007 no less than 78 percent of Iraqis opposed the presence of US forces, compared to 65 per cent in November 2005 and 51 per cent in February 2004.  In the latter year [2004] only 17 per cent of the population thought that violence against US forces was acceptable while by 2007 the figure had risen to 52 per cent.  This pool of people sympathetic to Sunni insurgents and Shia militias was so large as to make it difficult to control and impossible to eliminate them” (xvii).

[393] “Iraqi PM: Shooting Was “In Cold Blood,” CBS News, September 19, 2007,  For a detailed description of the massacre, see “Nisour Square Massacre,” Citizens’ Oversight Projects,; and “Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues,” Congressional Research Service, September 29, 2008, p. 10,

[394] “Private Security Contractors in Iraq,” 10.

[395] “Remarks of President Barack Obama – As Prepared for Delivery; Responsibly Ending the War in Iraq,” Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, February 27, 2009, The White House,

[396] Tim Arango and Michael S. Schmidt, “Despite Difficult Talks, U.S. and Iraq Had Expected Some American Troops to Stay, New York Times, October 21, 2011; James Jeffery (former U.S. ambassador to Turkey and to Iraq), “Behind the U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, November 2, 2014,; and Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars, 178.  On September 1, 2010, the U.S. formally ended Operation Iraqi Freedom – after the loss of 4,431 military personnel – and began Operation New Dawn. U.S. fatalities during Operation New Dawn totaled 74, of which 38 were killed in action and 36 died from non-hostile causes.  U.S. Department of Defense, “Casualty Status,” March 7, 2022,

[397] Emma Sky, The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq (New York: Public Affairs, 2015), 322; Kuzmarov, Obama’s Unending Wars, 179; Liz Sly, “Arab Spring Style Protests Take Hold in Iraq,” Washington Post, February 8, 2013; and Patrick Cockburn, The Rise of the Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (London: Verso, 2014), 47.  Al-Maliki’s nationalist ideals were inspired by his grandfather, Mohammed Hassan Abul Mahasin, a poet and rebel fighter who opposed the British occupation of Iraq in the 1920s before becoming education minister.

[398] Rod Nordland, “Maliki Contests the Result of Iraq Vote,” New York Times, March 27, 2010.

[399] Tim Arango, “Dozens Killed in Battles Across Iraq as Sunnis Escalate Protests Against Government,” New York Times, April 23, 2013.

[400] “Terrorist March in Iraq: The U.S. Response,” Hearing Before the Committee on Foreign Affairs, House of Representatives, 113th Congress, 2nd Session, July 23, 2014 (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2014), page 5.

[401] Jessica T. Matthews, “Iraq Illusions,” New York Review of Books, August 14, 2014,

[402] Cockburn, The Rise of the Islamic State, x, xi; Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan, ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (New York: Regan Arts, 2015), 24-38; and Wayne Madsen, Unmaking ISIS: The Shocking Truth (San Diego, CA: Progressive Press, 2016), 76, 143.

[403] “Timeline: the Rise, Spread, and Fall of the Islamic State,” Wilson Center, October 28, 2019,; and Zack Beauchamp, “The US and Iran are tacitly cooperating in Iraq,” Vox Media, November 17, 2015,

[404] Awra Damon (narrator), “Mosul survivors search for loved ones,” CNN video recording,; and Azmat Khan and Anand Gopal, “The Uncounted: An on-the-ground Investigation Reveals that the U.S. Led Battle Against ISIS – Hailed as the most precise Air Campaign in History – is Killing Far More Iraqi Civilians Than the Coalition Has Acknowledged,” New York Times Magazine, November 19, 2017, 43-47.

[405] “Iraq: Civilians killed by airstrikes in their homes after they were told not to flee Mosul,” Amnesty International, March 28, 2017,

[406] Tim Arango, “Mosul air strikes by US-led coalition leave ‘panorama of destruction,’ Deaths of many civilians in fight against Isis described by Iraqi commander as ‘normal thing,'” The Irish Times, ” March 28, 2017.

[407] Charlie Savage, “Penned in Desert Camps, the Children of ISIS Are Stuck in Limbo,” New York Times, July 20, 2022.

[408] “Iraqi Civilians,” Costs of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University, June 2021,

[409] Neta C. Crawford and Catherine Lutz, “Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars: Direct War Deaths in Major War Zones, Afghanistan and Pakistan (October 2001 – October 2019), Iraq (March 2003 – October 2019); Syria (September 2014-October 2019); Yemen (October 2002-October 2019); and Other,” November 13, 2019, Costs of War Project, Watson Institute International & Public Affairs, Brown University,; and Borzou Daragahi, “Envoy to Iraq Sees Threat of Wider War,” Los Angeles Times, March 7, 2006.

[410] Lieutenant General Greg Newbold (Ret.), “Why Iraq Was a Mistake,” Time Magazine, April 9, 2006,,33009,1181629-2,00.html; and Robert D. McFadden, “Donald H. Rumsfeld, Defense Secretary During Iraq War, Is Dead at 88,” New York Times, June 30, 2021.

[411] Scott McClellan, What Happened: Inside the Bush White House and Washington’s Culture of Deception (New York: Public Affairs, 2008), xiii.

[412] Gallup Historical Trends, “Iraq,”

[413] “Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2012 Spring Survey Topline Results,” July 10, 2012,

[414] Joanna Sweatt, “19 Years After the Invasion: A Reflection on the U.S. Military Presence in Iraq,” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft webinar (comments), March 23, 2002; and Robert Draper, “Iraq, 20 Years Later: A Changed Washington and a Terrible Toll on Americans,” New York Times, March 20, 2023.

[415] Steven Thomas and Warren P. Strobel, “Bush sets lone wolf strategy for U.S.,” Tallahassee Democrat, July 26, 2001; and Stone and Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States, 542.  President Bill Clinton signed the Rome Statute of the ICC on December 31, 2000, but President Bush “suspended” Clinton’s signature.  Continuing in this vein, in December 2001, the Bush administration withdrew the U.S. from the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty with the Soviet Union thereby opening the way to a new nuclear arms race.  Terence Neilan, “Bush Pulls Out of ABM Treaty; Putin Calls Move a Mistake,” New York Times, December 13, 2001.

[416] Jean Galbraith, “The Bush Administration’s Response to the International Criminal Court,” University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School, 2003,

[417] U.S. officials have typically distorted the language of internationalism in order to make it conform to U.S. interests and actions, conflating Pax Americana with the “rules-based international order” and branding U.S. adversaries as “rogue nations.”  Quite apart from this nationalistic and propagandistic framing, the “rules-based international order” has been in the making since the first international conference to establish the “laws and customs of war” took place in Brussels, Belgium, in 1874, and later conferences at The Hague in the Netherlands in 1899 and 1907.   At the Hague convention of 1899, leaders of major nations agreed to create a Permanent Court of Arbitration in order to mediate disputes between nations.  They sought to limit the death and destruction of wars by prohibiting the use of poisons, the bombardment of undefended towns and villages, the killing of prisoners, and the looting of property.  This was before two world wars and the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In the aftermath of the Second World War, a new surge of international rule-making took place.  In the interest of peace and human rights, political leaders created the United Nations (1945) and adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and the Convention Against Genocide (1948).  They established the basis of international humanitarian law in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols of 1977.  Subsequent accords include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), which the U.S. belatedly ratified in 1992, the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), which the U.S. ratified in 1994, and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (1998), which the U.S. did not join.  International human rights law is furthermore buttressed by regional human rights courts such as the European Court of Human Rights and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, and by ad hoc international criminal tribunals such as those created for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.  On another front, international disarmament treaties have banned the production, stockpiling, and use of biological and chemical weapons, cluster bombs, and land mines (the U.S. did not ratify the latter two treaties); they have restricted the proliferation of nuclear weapons and established “nuclear free zones” in certain regions; and they have prohibited the deployment of weapons in outer space and on the ocean floor.  For background, see “Disarmament Treaties Database,” United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs,; and “Frequently Asked Questions on International Law Aspects of Countering Terrorism,” United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, 2009,

[418] “The Vice President appears on Meet the Press with Tim Russert,” Camp David, Maryland, September 16, 2001,

[419] Tayler and Epstein, “’Legacy of the ‘Dark Side,’” 7.

[420] “How 9/11 shaped Foreign Policy: The Legacy of the Attacks,” Council on Foreign Relations,; and Dana Priest, “CIA Holds Terror Suspects in Secret Prisons,” Washington Post, November 2, 2005.

[421] Tayler and Epstein, “’Legacy of the ‘Dark Side,’” 2-3.  See Letta Tayler on the Costs of War Project’s webinar, “Lebacy of the ‘Dark Side’: The Costs of Unlawful U.S. Detentions and Interrogations Post-9/11” (52 minutes), September 13, 2022,

[422] Cockburn, Kill Chain, 168-69.  General Billy Mitchell, the reputed father of the U.S. Air Force in the 1920s, had envisioned the use of air power alone to win wars, unaided by armies and navies.  According to one Air Force reviewer, Mitchell envisioned “being able to attack rapidly and persistently anywhere on the globe with a wide range of munitions.”  Maj. Randy Kee, USAF, “Brig Gen Billy Mitchell’s Continuing Legacy to USAF Doctrine,” page 3,

[423] Scahill, Dirty Wars, 182-83.  See also, Nick Turse, “The Special Ops Surge: America’s Secret War in 134 Countries,” January 16, 2014,; and Nick Turse, The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012).

[424] Jonathan Masters, “Guantanamo Bay: Twenty Years of Counterterrorism and Controversy,” Council on Foreign Relations, October 5, 2021,; and “Final Report: Guantanamo Review Task Force, January 22, 2010” (sponsored by six U.S. government agencies),  According to the latter, “By the end of 2002, 632 detainees had been brought to Guantanamo. In 2003, 117 additional detainees were brought to the base, with 10 more detainees added in 2004, 14 detainees in 2006, five detainees in 2007, and one detainee in 2008.  Since 2002, a total of 779 individuals have been detained at Guantanamo.”  The great majority of detainees came from Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Pakistan.

[425] Carol Rosenberg, “The Secret Photos of Guantánamo Bay,” New York Times, June 12, 2002.

[426] Peter Jan Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged: The Human Consequences of the War on Terror (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009), 77-78.

[427] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 83-85.

[428] Charlie Savage, William Glaberson, and Andrew W. Lehren, “Classified Files Offer New Insights Into Detainees,” New York Times, April 24, 2011.

[429] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 77.

[430] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 154.

[431] “US: Landmark Supreme Court Ruling on Detainees,” Human Rights Watch, June 12, 2008,

[432] “International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance,” December 20, 2006 (entry into force December 23, 2010), UN Treaty Collection,

[433] “Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” United Nations General Assembly resolution 39/46 adopted December 10, 1984, Article Two,  See also, International Committee of the Red Cross, “What does the law say about torture?” June 24, 2011,; and UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, “International Legal Instruments,”

[434] The White House, February 7, 2002, “Memorandum for: The Vice President, The Secretary of State, The Secretary of Defense, The Attorney General, Chief of Staff to the President, Director of Central Intelligence, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; Subject: Humane Treatment of Taliban and al Qaeda Detainees,”

[435] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 8, 19-20.  See also, Karen J, Greenberg, Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State (New York: Crown Publishers, 2016).

[436] “Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program, together with Forward by Chairman Feinstein and Additional and Minority Views,” December 9, 2014 (unclassified sections only), pages 36, xiii,  Only the 700-page Executive Summary of the 6000-page report is available, the rest being classified.  See also, Reed Brody, Getting Away with Torture: The Bush Administration and Mistreatment of Detainees (Human Rights Watch, 2011).

[437] Raymond Bonner, “Pictures From an Interrogation: Drawings by Abu Zubaydah,” ProPublica, May 30, 2018,; Mark Denbeaux, “How America Tortures,” Seton Hall Public Law Research Paper Forthcoming, posted December 2, 2019,; Carol Rosenberg, “What the C.I.A.’s Torture Program Looked Like to the Tortured,” New York Times, December 4, 2019 (updated Nov. 6, 2021); and Robert F. Worth, “Throwing Away the Key: The appalling story of a man held captive by the C.I.A. for 20 years” [Review of Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, The Forever Prisoner: The Full and Searing Account of the C.I.A.’s Most Controversial Covert Program (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2022)], The New York Times Book Review, May 22, 2022, 8.

[438] George W. Bush, “Statement by the President, United Nations International Day in Support of Victims of Torture,” June 26, 2003, The White House,  The general pattern in Washington for dealing with human rights abuses was to cover up those committed by the U.S. and its allies while highlighting those of geopolitical rivals.  For example, on September 25, 2007, President Bush spoke before the UN General Assembly.  He hailed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, omitted any discussion of U.S. human rights abuses, and highlighted abuses by “Belarus, North Korea, Syria, and Iran, brutal regimes [that] deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration.”  He also denounced the governments of Burma, Cuba, Zimbabwe, and Sudan as “tyrannical” regimes.  President George W. Bush, “President Bush Addresses the United Nations General Assembly,” The White House, September 25, 2007,

[439] Amnesty International, “Guantanamo and beyond: The continuing pursuit of unchecked executive power,” May 13, 2005, page 5,

[440] David Barstow, “Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon’s Hidden Hand, New York Times, April 20, 2008.

[441] Scott Shane, “U.S. Practices Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,” New York Times, April 16, 2013.

[442] “Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” v.

[443] “Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence,” xi-xxvi.  See also, Rebecca Gordon, American Nuremberg: The U.S. Officials Who Should Stand Trial for Post-9/11 War Crimes (New York: Hot Books, 2016).

[444] Stephen Grey and Don van Natta Jr., “In Italy, Anger at U.S. Tactics Colors Spy Case,” New York Times, June 26, 2005.  Another name for Abu Omar was Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr.

[445] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 124.

[446] Carol Rosenberg, “For First Time in Public, a Detainee Describes Torture at C.I.A. Black Sites,” New York Times, October 28, 2021.

[447] Carol Rosenberg, “U.S. Official Ends Sentence of Terrorist Who Was Tortured by C.I.A.,” New York Times, March 11, 2022.

[448] “The Guantánamo Docket,” New York Times, Updated May 5, 2022; and Masters, “Guantanamo Bay: Twenty Years of Counterterrorism and Controversy.”

[449] Carol Rosenberg, “Youngest Detainee is Cleared for Transfer,” New York Times, April 27, 2022; “The Guantánamo Docket”; “Hassan bin Attash,” The Rendition Project,; and “Walid Mohammed bin Attash,” The Rendition Project,

[450] Carol Rosenberg and Charlie Savage, “Panel Backs Transfer of Mentally Ill Guantánamo Detainee Suspected of 9/11 Role,” New York Times, February 4, 2022.

[451] Honigsberg, Our Nation Unhinged, 5.

[452] Dave Philipps, “The Unseen Scars of the Remote-Controlled Kill: Civilian Deaths Haunt U.S. Crews,” New York Times, April 17, 2022.

[453] Alice Ross, “Ten Years On: Eyewitnesses Describe the Aftermath of the First Pakistan Drone Strike, The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, June 17, 2014, ttps://; and Avery Plaw, Matthew S. Fricker, and Brian Glyn Williams, “Practice Makes Perfect?: The Changing Civilian Toll of CIA Drone Strikes in Pakistan.” Perspectives on Terrorism 5, no. 5/6 (2011), 52.

[454] James Cavallaro, Stephan Sonnenberg, and Sarah Knuckey, Living Under Drones: Death, Injury and Trauma to Civilians from US Drone Practices in Pakistan (Stanford, NY:  International Human Rights and Conflict Resolution Clinic, Stanford Law School; NYU School of Law, Global Justice Clinic, 2012), 40,

[455] David Kilcullen and Andrew McDonald Exum, “Death From Above, Outrage Down Below,” New York Times (op-ed), May 16, 2009.  David Kilcullen was an Australian counterinsurgency adviser to Gen. David Petraeus, 2006 to 2008, and Andrew Exum was an Army officer in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2002 to 2004.

[456] Zeeshan-ul-hassan Usmani and Hira Bashir, “The Impact of Drone Strikes in Pakistan, Costs of War Project, Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University, December 4, 2014, page 4,; and Greenberg, Rogue Justice, 220.  See also, Jessica Purkisss and Jack Serle, “Obama’s covert drone war in numbers: ten times more strikes than Bush,” The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, January 17, 2017,

[457] Cavallaro, Sonnenberg, and Knuckey, Living Under Drones, v-ix.  See also, “The Civilian Impact of Drones: Unexamined Costs, Unanswered Questions,” Center for Civilians in Conflict, Columbia Law School Human Rights Clinic, 2012,

[458] Cavallaro, Sonnenberg, and Knuckey, Living Under Drones, 57-62.  The Associated Press also conducted an investigation of the drone strike and noted that four Taliban were present.

[459] Plaw, Fricker, and Williams, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 57.  See John Brennan on C-SPAN, “Obama Administration Counterterrorism Strategy, June 29, 2011,

[460] Robert Chesney, “Text of John Brennan’s Speech on Drone Strikes Today at the Wilson Center, The White House, Office of the Press Secretary April 30, 2012,

[461] Elizabeth Palmer, “Will Pakistan court ruling against U.S. drone strikes force new PM to stick to promises?” CBS News, May 16, 2013,

[462] “NA unanimously passes resolution against US drone strikes,”, December 10, 2013,; and

[463] Peter Hamby, “10 more secrets from campaign 2012,” CNN, November 4, 2013,

[464] Nasser al-Awlaki, “The Drone That Killed My Grandson,” New York Times, July 17, 2013.

[465]Al-Aulaqi v. Panetta – Constitutional Challenge to Killing of Three U.S. Citizens,” ACLU, June 4, 2014,; and “Legal Sidebar: No Remedy for Drone Deaths,” April 30, 2014, Congressional 4Research Service Reports on Miscellaneous Topics,

[466] Jo Becker and Scott Shane, “Secret ‘Kill List’ Proves a Test of Obama’s Principles and Will,” New York Times, May 29, 2012.  See also, Edward Wong, “U.S. Fails to Assess Civilian Deaths in Yemen War, G.A.O. Report Finds,” New York Times, June 8. 2022; Jeremy Scahill, “The Drone Papers,” The Intercept, October 15, 2015,; and Cockburn, Kill Chain, 145.

[467] Dave Philipps, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti, “Civilian Deaths Mounted as Secret Unit Pounded ISIS,” New York Times, December 12, 2021.

[468] Erik Schmitt and Dave Philipps, “How the U.S. Hid an Airstrike That Killed Dozens of Civilians in Syria,” New York Times, November 13, 2021; and Schmitt and Philipps, “Pentagon Faults Review of Lethal ’19 Airstrike but Finds No Wrongdoing,” New York Times, May 18, 2022.

[469] Rebecca DiLeonardo, “UN rights expert announces investigation in to use of drone strikes,” Jurist, Jan. 24, 2013,

[470] Spencer Ackerman, “Fewer deaths from drone strikes in 2013 after Obama policy change,” The Guardian, December 31, 2013,

[471] Scott Shane, “Drone Strikes Reveal Uncomfortable Truth: U.S. Is Often Unsure About Who Will Die,” New York Times, April 23, 2015.  See also, Conor Friedersdorf, “The Obama Administration’s Drone-Strike Dissembling,” The Atlantic, March 14, 2016,

[472] Nicholas Grossman, “Trump Cancels Drone Strike Civilian Casualty Report: Does It Matter?” War on the Rocks (Texas National Security Review), April 2, 2019,; and Spencer Ackerman, “Trump Ramped Up Drone Strikes in America’s Shadow Wars,” Daily Beast, November 26, 2018,

[473] See Peter Singer, Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century (New York: Penguin, 2008); and Hugh Gusterson, “Towards an Anthropology of Drones: Remaking Space, Time and Valor in Combat,” in The American Way of Bombing: Changing Ethical and Legal Norms, From Flying Fortresses to Drones (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 201.

[474] “Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Philip Alston,” UN Human Rights Council, 14th session, May 28, 2010, page 25,  See also Medea Benjamin, Drone Warfare: Killing By Remote Control (London: Verso, 2013), 86.

[475] Suite, “High Suicide Rates Among United States Service Members and Veterans of the Post-9/11 Wars,” 16-18; and Nancy Sherman, Afterwar Healing the Moral Injuries of Our Soldiers (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 8.  See also, Kelly Denton-Borhaug, “Moral Injury and the Forever Wars: What Americans Don’t Want to Hear,” TomDispatch, August 3, 2021,

[476] Philipps, “The Unseen Scars of the Remote-Controlled Kill.”

[477] Chris McGreal, “Wikileaks reveals video showing US air crew shooting down Iraqi civilians, The Guardian, April 5, 2010,; and Charlie Savage, “Soldier Admits Providing Files to WikiLeaks,” New York Times, February 28, 2013.  See also, YouTube video, “Collateral Murder – Wikileaks – Iraq” (sign in required):

[478] Hartig and Doherty, “Two Decades Later, the Enduring Legacy of 9/11.”

[479] Robert P. Saldin, “Foreign Affairs and the 2008 Election,” The Forum, Vol. 6, Issue 4 (2008), 5,

[480] “During the year after 9/11, more people enlisted into the military than in any single year since then.  In total, 181,510 Americans enlisted into active-duty service that year, and 72,908 joined the reserves, according to the USO [United Service Organizations].”  Nikki Wentling, “A generation shaped by 9/11: Stories of Americans inspired to serve,” Stars and Stripes, September 10, 2021,,reserves%2C%20according%20to%20the%20USO.

[481] David L. Evans, “The United States Did Not Go to War in Afghanistan,” Passport, Vol. 52, No. 3 (January 2022), 48.

[482] Crawford and Lutz, “Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars.”

[483] The survey poll of 1,284 U.S. military veterans was taken between May 14 and June 3, 2019, reported in Oriana Pawlyk, “Most Veterans Say Iraq, Afghanistan Wars Weren’t Worth It: Pew Report,”, July 10, 2019,; and Thomas Howard Suitt III, “High Suicide Rates Among United States Service Members and Veterans of the Post-9/11 Wars,” Costs of War Project, Brown University, June 21, 2021, 1, 3, 4, 18.  See also, “Those Who Can’t Forget: Portraits of Nine Families That Have Lost a Service Member to the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan,” New York Times Magazine, September 23, 2018.

[484] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Table 7. Employment status of veterans 18 years and over by presence of service-connected disability, reported disability rating, period of service, and sex, August 2021, not seasonally adjusted,” April 21, 2022,; and Patricia Kime, “Service Academies Report Highest Number of Sexual Assaults Ever,” Military News, February 18, 2022,

[485] Amelia Sharp, “Alcohol Abuse Among Veterans,” American Addition Centers, April 13, 2022,; and U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “PTSD and Substance Abuse in Veterans” (2019),

[486] Tevah Gevelber, “Military families facing housing, health, and food challenges, survey finds:  The results may help explain in part why the military is having recruiting troubles,” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, July 17, 2022,; and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “VA Homeless Programs,” January 6, 2022,  See also, “What are the biggest problems facing veterans returning home from conflict?” National Academy of Sciences,

[487] “Remarks of President Barack Obama – State of the Union Address As Delivered,” The White House, January 13, 2016,; and Gevelber, “Military families facing housing, health, and food challenges, survey finds.”

[488] “Estimate of U.S. Post-9/11 War Spending, in $ Billions FY 2001 – FY2022,” Costs of War Project, Brown University, September 2021,  In addition to the amounts noted, the Costs of War Project adds in Homeland Security Prevention and Response to Terrorism at $1.117 trillion, for a total of over $8 trillion.  See also, Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict (New York: W. W. Norton, 2008).

[489] Samuel Stebbins and Evan Comen, “Military spending: 20 companies profiting the most from war,” USA Today, February 21, 2019.

[490] “President Bush’s address to a joint session of Congress and the nation,” Washington Post, September 20, 2001.

[491] Arshad Ahmed and Farid Senzai, “The USA Patriot Act: Impact on the Arab and Muslim American Community,” January 1, 2004, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding,

[492] Daniel Lefitas, The Terrorist Next Door: The Militia Movement and the Radical Right (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), 339; and Andrew Walsh, “The Trouble with Missionaries,” Religion in the News, Summer 2003, Vol. 6, No. 2,

[493] “Anti-Sharia law bills in the United States,” Southern Poverty Law Center, February 5, 2018,

[494] William Kates, “Poll: Many favor limiting Muslims: Nearly half say U.S. government should curtail civil rights,” Tallahassee Democrat, December 18, 2004.  On statements issued by Islamic scholars and community leaders, see “Muslims Condemn Terrorist Attacks,” Islamic Society of Greater Lansing,

[495] Diala Shamas and Mermeen Arastu, Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and Its Impact on American Muslims, The Creating Law Enforcement Accountability & Responsibility (CLEAR) Project, CUNY School of Law, page 8,; and Avram Bornstein, “Antiterrorist Policing in New York City after 9/11: Comparing Perspectives on a Complex Process.” Human Organization 64, no. 1 (2005): 55.

[496] Russ Feingold, “Why I Opposed the Patriot Act,” The Nation, October 26, 2021,

[497] James Risen and Eric Lichtblau, “Bush Lets U.S. Spy on Callers Without Courts,” New York Times, December 16, 2005; and David Hastings Dunn, “Bush, 11 September and the Conflicting Strategies of the ‘War on Terrorism,’” Irish Studies in International Affairs 16 (2005), 17.

[498] Barton Gellman and Laura Poitras, “U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program,” Washington Post, June 7, 2013.

[499] Charlie Savage, “Letter Reveals C.I.A. Collects Data That Invades Americans’ Privacy,” New York Times, February 11, 2022,

[500] Greenberg, Rogue Justice, 261.  Greenberg is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University School of Law.

[501] “Terrorism 2002/2005,” U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation,  The FBI sought to protect Americans against violent religious extremism from all sources.  It prevented “a plot to attack an Islamic center in Pinellas Park, Florida,” as well as a “plot by a prison-originated, Muslim convert group to attack U.S. military, Jewish, and Israeli targets in the greater Los Angeles area.”  The report also noted “special interest extremists active in the animal rights and environmental movements” who were responsible for a number of attacks targeting “materials and facilities rather than persons.”

[502] Audra D. S. Burch and Luke Vander Ploeg, “Surge in Hate Crimes Against Black People Is Seen in F.B.I. Data,” New York Times, May 17, 2022.

[503] For an overview, see Chris Wilson, “41 Years of Mass Shootings in the U.S. in One Chart,” Time, April 16, 2021,

[504] Josh Rubin and Matt Smith, “’I am the shooter,’ Nidal Hasan tells Fort Hood court-martial,” CNN, August 6, 2013,

[505] Katharine Poppe, “Nidal Hasan: A Case Study in Lone-Actor Terrorism,” George Washington University Program on Extremism, October 2018, page 9,

[506] “Confronting White Supremacy: Statement Before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties,” June 4, 2019, FBI News,  In 2009, Congress passed the Hate Crimes Prevention Act which expanded FBI authority to investigate crimes committed against persons or property motivated by bias against race, religion, and ethnicity/national origin, and added to this list bias against disability, sexual orientation, gender, or gender identity.  The 1968 federal hate-crime law extends to crimes motivated by actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin, but only if the victim is engaged in a federally protected activity, like voting or going to school.  The 2009 Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed after a gay man (Shepard) and a black man (Byrd) were brutally murdered in separate incidents.

[507] “National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism,” Executive Office of the President, National Security Council, June 2021, pages 4, 6, 30,

[508] Joanna Walters and Alvin Chang, “Far-right terror poses bigger threat to US than Islamist extremism post-9/11,” The Guardian, September 8, 2021,  See also, Daniel Byman, Spreading Hate: The Global Rise of White Supremacist Terrorism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2022), which offers a comprehensive overview of white power terrorism from the U.S. to New Zealand and considers how governments can protect the public from white power terrorism; and Yan Lucas, “Proud Boy leader pleads guilty to Jan. 6 conspiracy, agrees to cooperate with DOJ,” National Public Radio, April 8, 2022,

[509] W. J. Hennigan and Vera Bergengruen, “For the Oath Keepers and Proud Boys, Jan. 6 Was Just the Start,” Time, July 11, 2022,  Guy Reffitt, a leader of the Texas militant group call the Three Percenters, entered the Capitol on January 6 with a handgun and led physical attacks on police officers.  He was sentenced to fifteen years in prison for his actions.  Another rioter, Robert Scott Palmer, received a five-year sentence after throwing a fire extinguisher at police.  The model for slandering liberals as treasonous was set by Ann Coulter in Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003).  During the mid-1990s, Republican Party leader Newt Gingrich set the tone by issuing a set of guidelines for Republican candidates that consisted of 100 derogatory words with which to label their liberal opponents.  See McKay Coppins, “The Man Who Broke Politics: Newt Gingrich turned partisan battles into bloodsport, wrecked Congress, and paved the way for Trump’s rise. Now he’s reveling in his achievements,” The Atlantic, November 2018,

[510] “Thousands join anti-war march,” BBC News, November 18, 2001; “Antiwar protesters gather in London,” UPI, November 18, 2001,; and “Protests against the war in Afghanistan,” Wikipedia,  According to the ANSWER coalition website (  “A distinguishing feature of the organizing principles and work of the ANSWER coalition, in contrast with the traditional U.S. peace movement, was its uncompromising support in defense of the rights of the Palestinian people.”

[511] John Nichols, “Kucinich Rocks the boat,” The Nation, March 25, 2002.

[512] Jerry Isaacs, “75,000 march in Washington against US militarism and Israeli aggression,” Worldwide Socialist Web Site, April 22, 2002,  The September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,, was born when a small group of family members of those killed on 9/11 connected after reading each others’ pleas for nonviolent and reasoned responses to the terrorist attacks.  Several of these individuals met one another when they participated in the “Walk for Healing and Peace” from Washington, D.C. to New York City in late 2001 organized by Kathy Kelly of Voices in the Wilderness (now Voices for Creative Nonviolence).  In January, 2002 four family members traveled to Afghanistan in a delegation organized by Medea Benjamin of Global Exchange to witness the consequences of U.S. military action there and to express their concern that high numbers of civilian casualties would increase terrorist recruitment rather than making the U.S. and the world safer.  This core group decided to unite in order to strengthen their message and voices.  Peaceful Tomorrows was launched as a project of the Fellowship of Reconciliation USA in February 2002.

[513] United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), “History 2003-2013,”; and Sarah Coffey and Jen Mehigan, “Anti-war rally draws thousands to D.C.,” United Press International, Top News, January 18, 2003,  UFPJ includes national peace organizations such as Peace Action, Veterans for Peace, Fellowship of Reconciliation, and War Resisters League; religious-affiliated groups such as the National Council of Churches, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Pax Christi, Episcopal Peace Fellowship, and Congregational Just Peace; other groups such as American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Democratic Socialists of America, CODEPINK, and National Lawyers Guild; and numerous state and local groups.  UFPJ, “Member groups,”

[514] David Cortright, A Peaceful Superpower: Lessons from the World’s Largest Antiwar Movement (New York: New Village Press, 2023), 43, 74, 61-63, 79, 81, 113-16.

[515] Military Families Speak Out, “Mission Statement,”; and Jim O’Brien, “Historical Notes on Historians Against the War,” July 2019,  The group changed its name to Historians for Peace and Democracy in the spring of 2017.

[516] Sam Hamill, ed., Poets Against the War (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003), xviii-xix; and Mark Gregory, “Poets for Peace,” March 2003,

[517] “Musicians Band Together Against War Threat,” Billboard, Music News, February 27, 2003,; and “36 cities tell Bush: Give peace a chance,” People’s World, January 17, 2003,; and “The Anti-War Movement,” CBS News, January 17, 2003,

[518] United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Statement on Iraq, 2002,” Washington DC, November 13, 2002,; and Cortright, A Peaceful Superpower, 91-93.

[519] “Cities jammed in worldwide protest of war in Iraq,” CNN, February 16, 2003,

[520] Phyllis Bennis, “February 15, 2003. The Day the World Said No to War,” Institute for Policy Studies, February 15, 2013,

[521] John Nichols, “Kucinich Rocks the boat,” The Nation, March 25, 2002. In April 2007, Kucinich co-sponsored a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. The resolution attracted 26 co-sponsors, including Barbara Lee and Jim McDermott. H-Res. 799 was referred to the House Judiciary Committee and died there.

[522] Helen Dewar, “Lott Calls Daschle Divisive,” Washington Post, March 1, 2002; and “Daschle: Congress won’t ‘rubber-stamp’ Bush,” CNN, March 3, 2002,

[523] Richard Benedetto, “Poll: Most back war, but want U.N. support,” USA TODAY, March 16, 2003.  The poll was a combined USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup poll taken of 1,007 adults March 14-15, with a margin of error +/-3 percentage points.

[524] Carty, “The Anti-War Movement Versus the War Against Iraq,” 33.

[525] Gary C. Jacobson, “A Tale of Two Wars: Public Opinion on the U.S. Military Interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Presidential Studies Quarterly 40, no. 4 (2010), 602.

[526] Miriam Berger, “Invaders, allies, occupiers, guests: A brief history of U.S. military involvement in Iraq,” Washington Post, January 11, 2020; and Congressional Research Service, “Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Afghanistan and Iraq: 2007-2020,” Updated February 22, 2021,

[527] “The Nobel Peace Prize for 2009,”,; and Loren Thompson, “Obama Backs Biggest Nuclear Arms Buildup Since Cold War,” Forbes, December 15, 2015,  On Libya, see Elizabeth Schmidt, “Africa and the War on Terror,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2021, Section V,  On the peaceful diplomacy side, the Obama administration negotiated an agreement with Iran limiting its nuclear development and eased travel restrictions to Cuba.

[528] Regarding protests, see Bryan Wright, “Daniel Ellsberg Among Anti-War Protesters Arrested At The White House,” NPR, December 16, 2010,; and Ellen Davidson, “113 Antiwar Protesters Arrested at White House Fence,” The Indypendent, March 20, 2011,

[529] Iraq Veterans Against the War, “History of IVAW,”  The group later changed its name to About Face: Veterans Against the War.  See also, Nan Levinson, War Is Not a Game: The New Antiwar Soldiers and the Movement They Built (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2014).

[530] David Henson, “Bush, Sheehans share moments,” The Reporter (Vacaville, CA), July 24, 2004; and “Cindy Sheehan Is Working To Bring Our Troops Home: ‘Mr. President. You have daughters. How would you feel if one of them was killed?’” Buzzflash Interview, October 7, 2004,  President Bush told an audience of military leaders, soldiers, and diplomats in March 2008, “The battle in Iraq is noble, it is necessary, and it is just. . . .  And with your courage the battle in Iraq will end in victory.” “Bush: Iraq War “Noble” and “Necessary,” CBS News, March 19, 2008,

[531] “Cindy Sheehan,” Americans Who Tell the Whole Truth (biography),; and “Cindy Sheehan,” Wikipedia, Cindy Sheehan’s published works include an account of her first year of activism called Not One More Mother’s Child, a collection of her writing and speeches, Dear President Bush, and Peace Mom: A Mother’s Journey through Heartache to Activism.

[532] Ewan Palmer, “Trump Claims ‘I Had to Run the Military’ but Mark Esper Reveals ‘Four Noes,’” Newsweek, May 9, 2022,

[533] “Roll Call 350, Bill Number: H. R. 7900, National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, United States House of Representatives, July 14, 2022,; and Catie Edmondson, “House Passes $84 Billion Military Bill to Counter Threats From Russia and China,” New York Times, July 15, 2022.

[534] Austin Wright, “How Barbara Lee Became An Army of One,” Politico Magazine, July 30, 2017,

[535] Crawford and Lutz, “Human Cost of Post-9/11 Wars”; and “Estimate of U.S. Post-9/11 War Spending, in $Billions FY2001-FY2022, Costs of War Project,

[536] Trita Parsi, “Why non-Western countries tend to see Russia’s war very, very differently,” MSNBC, April 11, 2022,    Parsi cites as examples of “blatant illegality,” the “Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq, the Obama administration’s regime-changing intervention in Libya,” U.S. tacit endorsement of “Israeli occupation” (despite UN Resolution 242 which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territories following the Six-Day War in June 1967), and the U.S. “’global war on terror,’ which has destabilized much of the Middle East and North Africa.”  Similarly, the New York Times reported that the “NATO-led intervention in Libya in 2011 and the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 have only heightened mistrust of the West.”  Hannah Beech, Abdi Latif Dahir, and Oscar Lopez, “More Nations Straddle Sides This Cold War,” New York Times, April 25, 2022.

[537] David E. Sanger, “Putin Spins a Conspiracy Theory That Ukraine Is on a Path to Nuclear Weapons,” New York Times, February 23, 2022.

[538] Elena Becatoros and Jon Gambrell, “As Putin marks Victory Day, his troops make little war gains,” AP News, May 9, 2022,

[539] Valerie Hopkins, Neil MacFarquhar, Ivan Nechepurenko, and Michael Levenson, “Russia Exploits Capture of Ukrainians to Push False Premise of Terror.” New York Times, May 19, 2022.

[540] “Putin says Russia will achieve goals in Ukraine, won’t bow to the West,” Reuters, March 16, 2022,; and Matina Stevis-Gridneff and Richard Pérez-Peña, “Russia Flagship Sinks in Black Sea; E.U. Could Ban Oil,” New York Times, April 15, 2022, A9.  See also, Gavriel Rosenfeld, “Understanding How Counterfactuals Shape Putin’s Worldview and Historical Rhetoric,” History News Network, April 24, 2022,  There are, of course, differences in the way Russia and the U.S. managed public opinion.  The Russian Duma passed legislation making the dissemination of “false information” about the Ukrainian conflict a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, effectively shutting down all independent sources of information and locking up outspoken critics.  U.S. officials, in contrast, manipulated sources of information, conducted a virulent media propaganda campaign, and wrapped themselves in the flag of patriotism to deflect critical questioning.  See Masha Gessen, “Moscow Dispatch: Manufactured Reality,” The New Yorker, March 14, 2022, 18-19; and Victor Jack, “Russia expands laws criminalizing ‘fake news,’” Politico, March 22, 2022,

[541] Andrew J. Bacevich, “America’s Militarism Will Be Its Downfall,” The Nation, April 18, 2022,  Bacevich cites as an example of drawing the wrong lesson an essay in Foreign Affairs titled, “The Return of the Pax Americana?”  He writes, “The question mark is misleading.  An exclamation point would more accurately have captured the aims of its authors.  Michael Beckley and Hal Brands teach at Tufts and Johns Hopkins, respectively.  Both are also senior fellows at the hawkish American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C.  And both welcome the Ukraine War as the medium that will reignite an American commitment to the sort of assertive and muscular approach to global policy favored in militaristic quarters.  Russian President Vladimir Putin, they write, has handed the United States ‘a historic opportunity to regroup and reload for an era of intense competition’ – with not only Russia but also China meant to be in our crosshairs.  The call to reload is central to their message. . . . Notably, their essay contains only a single passing reference to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and no mention whatsoever of what two decades of post-9/11 US war-making yielded and at what cost.”

[542] Sylvie Corbet and Jeffrey Schaeffer, “Milley likens defense of Ukraine to D-Day,” (Associated Press) Tallahassee Democrat, June 7, 2022, 9A.

[543] Zolan Kanno-Youngs and Peter Baker, “President Says He’d Use Force to Defend Taiwan From a Chinese Attack,” New York Times, May 24, 2022.

[544] Andrew Bacevich, “Imperial Detritus: Henry Luce’s Dream Comes Undone,” Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, July 13, 2022,  See also, Connor Echols, “What ever happened to the ‘rules-based international order?’ Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, August 9, 2022,  The blowback from continuing drone strikes is of three kinds: (1) outrage by affected groups, especially when civilians are killed; (2) mimicry by other nations who assassinate their designated foes in other countries; (3) and international anarchy, or the inability to establish legal parameters around killing and war.

[545] More specifically, the evolving international moral architecture includes the following: (1) prohibitions against national aggression and military interventionism written into the charters of the United Nations (1945) and the Organization of American States (1948); (2) the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, approved by the United Nations General Assembly on December 9, 1948; (3) human rights guidelines set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, and nine subsequent binding human rights treaties; (4) humanitarian laws governing the treatment of civilians and prisoners of war, via the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols; (5) the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, entered into force in 2002, whose mandate is to investigate and prosecute individuals accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes; (6) arms control treaties that ban the production and use of chemical and biological weapons, limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and establish nuclear-free zones in space and certain regions of the earth; and (7) the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change (1992) and other ecological measures, including the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (1993) and UN Sustainable Development Goals which address poverty, gender bias and illiteracy, among other inequities.

[546] See Armand Clesse, “America’s Classical Security Dilemma: Search for a New World Order,” World Affairs: The Journal of International Issues 8, no. 2 (2004): 10–16.

About the authors

Roger Peace is a diplomatic historian (PhD, Florida State University), former community college instructor, and coordinator of this website.  He is the author of “Choosing Values: Toward an Ethical Framework in the Study of History,” The History Teacher,” Vol. 50, No. 2 (February 2017): 285-98; “Threat Perception and Multinational Cooperation,” in Frank C. Shanty, ed., Counterterrorism: From the Cold War to the War on Terror (ABC-CLIO, August 2012): 345-48; A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012); and A Just and Lasting Peace: The U.S. Peace Movement from the Cold War to Desert Storm (Noble Press, 1991).
Jeremy Kuzmarov (PhD, Brandeis University) has taught at numerous universities and colleges in the field of U.S. history and foreign relations.  He is the author of The Myth of the Addicted Army: Vietnam and the Modern War on Drugs (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009); Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation Building in the American Century (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012); Obama’s Unending Wars: Fronting the Foreign Policy of the Permanent Warfare State (Clarity Press, 2019); and with co-author John Marciano, The Russians Are Coming, Again: The First Cold War as Tragedy, the Second as Farce (Monthly Review Press, 2018).  He is currently the managing editor for CovertAction Magazine.
Thanks to readers and contributors John Marciano, Anne Meisenzahl, Tom Clark, Elizabeth Schmidt, and Shah Mahmoud Hanifi.

Cite this article

Endnotes:  Roger Peace and Jeremy Kuzmarov, “Afghanistan, Iraq, and the ‘war on terror,'” United States Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide, 2022 (updated March 2023),
Bibliography:  Peace, Roger, and Jeremy Kuzmarov.  “Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “war on terror.”  United States Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide, 2022 (updated March 2023),