There’s a simple formula which is almost verboten in Western mainstream media and political discourse: our violent foreign policies elicit violent responses. We call the violence of others “terrorism” and our own violence “humanitarian intervention,” “self-defense,” “maintaining the rules-based order,” and so on. I say that this formula is “almost” never discussed because occasional references can be found and compiled into a cohesive narrative that demonstrates, consistently, that protecting the general public from terrorism is a low priority compared to asserting imperial control–or “full spectrum dominance” as the Pentagon calls it–over the entire world, “to protect U.S. interests,” by which they mean corporate interests, “and investment.”
As I document in Manufacturing Terrorism (2018, Clairview Books) experts predict an increase in terrorism, as nations assert their dominance over others.
If the UK leaves the European Union, it risks a hard border between Ireland (which is part of the EU) and Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK). By effectively rejecting the Good Friday Agreement by putting a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of Brexit, the Brexiteers are risking a resurgence of Irish Republican Army terrorism. Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, former head of MI5, recently said that attacks, apparently by Republicans, portend a grim future. “I can remember when it was thoroughly unpleasant to go through the border and now, if we go back to that, it cuts off the increasing links between Northern Ireland and the Republic which are an important part of the message of the peace process.”
Turning to the US, Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, recently reaffirmed the formula: “Terrorism remains a persistent threat and in some ways is positioned to increase in 2019.” Coats goes on to cite the wars in Iraq and Syria (omitting the US-British involvement) as “generat[ing] a large pool of skilled and battle-hardened fighters.” Coats goes on to note (omitting the flattening of Mosul by US-British bombers): “While ISIS is nearing territorial defeat in Iraq and Syria, the group has returned to its guerilla-warfare roots while continuing to plot attacks.” Still, as one US Special Forces Operations officer put it just a few years ago: occasional terrorist attacks in the US and Europe are “a small price to pay for being a superpower.”
LEARNING FROM AFGHANISTAN
Numerous agencies suggest that the prolonged occupation of Afghanistan has empowered “al-Qaeda” and the Taliban. A British Ministry of Defence projection out to 2040 states: “State actions are likely to have a significant impact on the process of radicalisation.” It gives as an example “stabilisation operations, [where] the over-vigorous application of military power to crush radical groups may result in increased public support for them, or drive them to ally with other extremists.” It concludes that such actions “may force radical groups to become more extreme, possibly condensing into terrorist cells” (emphases in original).
A UK Defence Committee report noted of Afghanistan: “there has been an increase in suicide attacks from 18 in 2005 to 116 in 2006 and an increase in attacks from IEDs [improvised explosive devices] from 530 to 1,297 in 2006.” Cameron Scott of the British-American Security Information Council also reported that “attacks by insurgents have increased in number and lethality, particularly with the rise of previously rare suicide bombings.” In 2010, a National Bureau of Economic Research a study of civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq found “strong evidence that local exposure to civilian casualties caused by international forces leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run … Minimizing harm to civilians may indeed help counterinsurgent forces in Afghanistan to reduce insurgent recruitment.”
Shortly before, US Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the media: “If defeating an insurgent formation produces popular resentment, the victory is or hollow and unsustainable.” The problem, said McChrystal, was in large part due to the high number of civilian casualties caused by the NATO occupation. “Our willingness to operate in ways that minimize casualties … is essential to our credibility.”
LEARNING FROM IRAQ
Famously, after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush said that the perpetrators “hate our freedoms.” But in 2004, the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board disagreed: “Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies.” These include support for Israel against Palestine, backing dictators across the region, and invading Iraq in the previous year, having tortured the country with an embargo and no-fly zone bombings.
In February 2003, shortly before the invasion, the Joint Intelligence Committee told UK Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in a top-secret memo: “Al Qaida and associated networks will remain the greatest terrorist threat to the UK. The risk of attacks will increase following any Coalition attack on Iraq.” Former Director of MI5, Stella Rimington, later told the media: “Look at what those people who’ve been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation … I think to ignore the effect of the war in Iraq is misleading.”
In 2006, three years into the invasion, the US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) published a classified report on the future of global jihad. Like the Defense Science Board report quoted above, the NIE document said: “The Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement. Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry on the fight.” It concludes: “The jihadists regard Europe as an important venue for attacking Western interests. Extremist networks inside the extensive Muslim diasporas in Europe facilitate recruitment and staging for urban attacks, as illustrated by the 2004 Madrid and 2005 London bombings.”
In addition to invasions, torture and drone bombings are other grievances that terrorists have against the West. Under the Clinton government, the US with help from European allies established a network of sites where alleged terror suspects were kidnapped by CIA and related agents, flown to secret locations and tortured by allies and/or special forces.
A report written by an anonymous insider published by the Financial Times in 2006 noted that “[t]he ‘ghost prisoners’ of the ‘black sites’ are now a grievance to be added to Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and Bagram.” Guantánamo refers to the prison in Cuba owned and run by the US, where alleged suspects are detained without charge or trial and tortured. Abu Ghraib was the prison in Iraq, where alleged “insurgents” (i.e., people resisting occupation) were tortured by US forces. Bagram is the US Air Force base in Afghanistan, also a site of torture and death. “It is getting hard to think of what more we can do to empower al-Qaeda,” the report concluded.
Even US President Barack Obama acknowledged that “Guantanamo continues to be one of the key magnets for jihadi recruits.” Under the pretense of facing a Republican-controlled Congress that wanted to keep it open, Obama refused to close the prison, even though he could have easily done so by signing an Executive Order to bypass Congress. A report by Human Rights Watch (2014) concludes that most Guantánamo prisoners were innocent: “Of the 779 detainees” imprisoned since 11 September 2001, “roughly 600 were released without charges, many after being detained for years … Of the 149 detainees that remain at Guantanamo only six, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, and the September 11, 2001 co-defendants face any formal charges.”
The Center for the Study of Human Rights in the Americas writes: “fifteen children [aged between 13 and 17 years old] were imprisoned, at some time or another, at Guantánamo. This is three more than the twelve the State Department acknowledged to the public after our earlier report on the subject, and seven more than the eight the State Department reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.” The Center adds that “[f]ourteen of the individuals … have now been released—one of them being the first child in History to have been convicted of war crimes (Omar Ahmed Khadr). The fifteenth (Yasser Talal al Zahrani) allegedly killed himself in his Guantánamo cell at age 21.”
The use of unmanned aerial vehicles (drones), which unlawfully target alleged terrorists and their commanders, cause a high number of civilian deaths and injuries. They are a terrorist generating machine.
The US runs two drone programs: one military and one civilian (via the CIA and private contractors). European allies, including the UK and Germany, are part of the war crime, supplying information to the US in its operations. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalists, Barack Obama—who personally signed off the murder of many alleged terrorism suspects—killed 2,464 individuals with drones in the last six years of his presidency. Counterterrorism adviser to the Pentagon, David Kilcullen, estimated in 2009 that 98% of those killed by drones were civilians. He says: “every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased.” Drones have names like Predators and missiles have names like Hellfire. They are used unlawfully by the US (and often Britain) in Afghanistan (beginning 2002), Yemen (2002), Iraq (2004), Pakistan (2004), Somalia (2006), Libya (2011) and Syria (2014).
In 2009, Pakistan’s Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, said “missile strikes by US drones on the northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan were in fact strengthening the militants” (Financial Times). In 2010-11, the BBC said that “[m]issile attacks by US drones in Pakistan’s tribal areas have more than trebled under the Obama administration … The militant backlash over the same period has been even more violent.” The report notes that “[e]xtremists have struck more than 140 times in various Pakistani locations, killing more than 1,700 people and injuring hundreds more.” The BBC concludes that Pakistanis have “consistently argued that drone attacks are hindering rather than helping with the battle against extremism, saying they fuel public anger against the government and the US and boost support for militants.” Reuters reports “mounting resentment from Pakistanis who decry the government for bowing to U.S. wishes.” Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, said “drones are radicalizing more people to side with the Taliban.”
After pleading guilty, the so-called Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad (a Pakistan-born naturalized American) told the US court that he had been trained by the Taliban to make a bomb and acted alone in trying to detonate it in New York. He said: “unless the US pulls out of Afghanistan and Iraq, until they stop drone strikes in Somalia, Pakistan, and Yemen, and stop attacking Muslim lands, we will attack the US.” Six years later, Emma Manna of Georgetown Public Policy Review studied drone attacks and terrorist counterattacks. Manna finds “a positive correlation between U.S. drone strikes and terrorist attacks in Pakistan.” Manna notes “a statistically significant rise in the number of terrorist attacks occurring after the U.S. drone program begins targeting a given province.” Ex-head of Obama’s Defense Intelligence Agency, Gen. Mike Flynn, says: “What we have is this continued investment in conflict … The more weapons we give, the more bombs we drop, that just fuels the conflict” (sic). Flynn also says: “When you drop a bomb from a drone[,] you’re going to cause more damage than you are going to cause good.”
The above is a tiny sample from a long record of executive decisions that drag reluctant populations into brutal wars that have killed over a million people since 2001, injured and displaced millions more, and inflicted intergenerational trauma on entire populations of young Asians. In addition, it is clear that, as a priority, the executive places the welfare of its domestic citizens below the invasion and domination of weaker powers.