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War on Terror or War of Terror?

Critical evidence from the British government and other sources suggest that the “War on Terror” has actually destabilized the Middle East and increased the terror threat throughout the globe.  The former head of Britain’s MI5 – Baroness Manningham-Buller – finds that the Iraq war has dramatically contributed to the growing terror danger as directed against the United Kingdom and its citizens.  Britain has been forced to double the budget devoted to investigating terrorist plots following the 2003 invasion.  An official British inquiry into the proposed invasion warned of just such an increase in the terror threat.  This means that the destabilizing affects of Western attacks were predicted in advance of attacks that were seen as illegal under international law (as British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg recently conceded) .

Buller’s confession is an admission that the war in Iraq has further inflamed anti-U.S. and anti-U.K. sentiment.  When considering it along other critical studies, it looks as if the war has contributed to a greater hostility toward British foreign policy more generally among the majority of Middle Easterners, and among British nationals more specifically (Buller is most concerned with the latter group).  She concludes that “a whole generation of young people” have been “radicalized’ by what is perceived as an attack on Islam.  The Blair administration, Buller states, conceded that the war increased the terror threat at home: the budget increases for anti-terror operations were “unheard of, certainly unheard of today, but he (Blair) and the Treasury and the chancellor accepted that because I was able to demonstrate the scale of the problem that we were confronted by.”  The growing threat to Britain seems all the more plausible in light of the 7/7 2005 terrorist bombings in London, which killed more than 50 civilians and were motivated by anger at the British invasion of Iraq.

Buller concedes what should be known by most in the U.S. and U.K. today – the terror threat has grown in the wake of the Iraq invasion, despite the fact that Iraq posed no real national security threat to the West.  Buller admits that MI5 had refused to contribute to the intelligence comprising the British government’s dossier against Iraq’s “WMD threat” in 2002.  The reason is clear enough: there was “no credible evidence” that Iraq was linked to the 9/11 attacks, and Saddam Hussein was “unlikely” to support any attacks against the U.S. or U.K. unless his regime’s survival was threatened.  These conclusions were shared with the Bush administration at the time, and promptly ignored by a U.S. administration whose members had been set on going to war for more than 10 years.

Buller also discusses a point well known among critics of U.S. foreign policy on the left: the invasion of Iraq has actually served as one of the best recruiters for Osama bin Laden, al Qaeda, and loosely affiliated Islamist terror groups.  As Buller describes with regards to U.S.-U.K. actions in Iraq: “Arguably, we gave Osama bin Laden his Iraqi jihad.”  In short, those throughout the Muslim world see the U.S.-allied occupation as motivated by imperial ambitions for oil; they see the torture and abuses in which American and British troops are responsible, and they are reacting critically.  Targeting of U.S. and allied forces has become far more common now than it was prior to 9/11.

Buller’s MI5 based conclusions are not the first time it’s been conceded that the “War on Terror” actually increases the global terror threat.  Terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank found through their own statistical analysis that the 2003 invasion was accompanied by an “Iraq Effect” in which terrorist attacks escalated dramatically from 2003 to 2006 (the time period when the study was conducted).  More specifically, their report finds that: “the rate of terrorist attacks around the world by jihadist groups and the rate of fatalities in those attacks increased dramatically after the invasion of Iraq. Globally there was a 607 percent rise in the average yearly incidence of attacks (28.3 attacks per year before and 199.8 after) and a 237 percent rise in the average fatality rate (from 501 to 1,689 deaths per year). A large part of this rise occurred in Iraq, which accounts for fully half of the global total of jihadist terrorist attacks in the post-Iraq War period. But even excluding Iraq, the average yearly number of jihadist terrorist attacks and resulting fatalities still rose sharply around the world by 265 percent and 58 percent respectively.”  Subsequent empirical studies of the decline of violence in Iraq after 2007 demonstrated that the reduction came about, not because of the success of the “surge” in promoting humanitarianism, but because the ethnic cleansing in cities like Baghdad had essentially succeeded (with the help of U.S. troops disarming Sunni communities in the name of “counter-insurgency”), and with the Shia militias winning the civil war against Iraq’s Sunnis (for more, see: http://www.juancole.com/2008/07/social-history-of-surge.html and dimaggio02272009.html).  In short, violence declined because there were fewer people to kill following the successful ethnic cleansing.

Additional journalistic investigation finds that the policy of torture and mistreatment at Guantanamo, in Iraq, and in Afghanistan (often directed against those whose terrorist ties were questionable to non-existent, but were nonetheless picked up in blanket raids in Afghanistan and Iraq) led to a further intensification of anti-U.S. sentiment in the Muslim world.  As McClatchy Newspapers concluded in an eight month investigation in 11 countries, U.S. detainees were often kept “on the basis of flimsy or fabricated evidence…McClatchy interviewed 66 released detainees, more than a dozen local officials in Afghanistan, and U.S. officials with intimate knowledge of the detention program…This unprecedented compilation shows that most of the 66 were low level Taliban grunts, innocent Afghan villagers, or ordinary criminals.  At least seven had been working for the U.S. backed Afghan government and had no ties to militants…many of the detainees posed no danger to the U.S. or its allies”.

Through its investigations, McClatchy found that “prisoner mistreatment became a regular feature in cellblocks and interrogation rooms at Bagram and Kandahar air bases, the two main way stations in Afghanistan en route to Guantanamo…the investigation found that top Bush administration officials knew within months of opening the Guantanamo detention center that many of the prisoners there weren’t ‘the worst of the worst,’” as “it was obvious [from military administrators] that at least a third of the population didn’t belong there.”

American soldiers were often gullible in that they accepted “false reports passed along by informants and officials looking to settle old grudges in Afghanistan, a nation that had experienced more than two decades of occupation and civil war before U.S. troops arrived”.  The lack of connections of many detainees to any terror operations looks especially tragic in hindsight, considering that the torture visited upon these individuals contributed to their radicalization against the United States.  As McClatchy reports, “U.S. detention policies fueled support for extremist Islamist groups.  For some detainees who went home far more militant than when they arrived, Guantanamo became a school for jihad.”

The above evidence strongly suggests that the U.S. and U.K. primarily play a destabilizing role throughout the world, rather than fighting terrorism and ensuring world order out of chaos.  Global public opinion polls have long found that most throughout the world view the U.S. as one of the primary threats to global security, rather than the protector of world order.  These revelations are likely to elude many Americans, as the evidence above is not widely disseminated in the U.S. press.  American journalists have long been content to uncritically repeat statements from liberal and conservative political officials (typically accompanied with no evidence) that the “War on Terror” must continue in order to keep America, its allies, and the Middle East “safe.”  In reality, though, the U.S. and U.K. are not fighting a War on Terror, but a War of Terror.

ANTHONY DiMAGGIO is the editor of media-ocracy (www.media-ocracy.com), a daily online magazine devoted to the study of media, public opinion, and current events.   He is the author of When Media Goes to War (2010) and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He can be reached at: mediaocracy@gmail.com

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Anthony DiMaggio is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He holds a PhD in political communication, and is the author of the newly released: The Politics of Persuasion: Economic Policy and Media Bias in the Modern Era (Paperback, 2018), and Selling War, Selling Hope: Presidential Rhetoric, the News Media, and U.S. Foreign Policy After 9/11 (Paperback: 2016). He can be reached at: anthonydimaggio612@gmail.com

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