Looking back a decade at the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, it is clear that we now live in a different world.
After the attacks, the U.S. launched its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, while globally governments tightened security and cracked down on civil liberties. (In Russia, for example, the terrorist threat was used to beef up security services’ powers and budgets – at the cost of democratic rights and freedoms.) Yet it can be argued that the so-called “War on Terror” did not fundamentally change anything.
As Bush’s administration sought to prove that the U.S. was an imperial colossus bestriding the world, the $3 trillion wars in Afghanistan and Iraq eventually showed that the modern-day Rome had feet of clay.
A decade on, the “War on Terror” has failed. The occupation of Afghanistan has been reduced to control of Kabul and a patchwork of provinces, while Hamid Karzai’s warlord regime is seeking a powersharing deal with the Taliban. In Iraq, the occupation led to the deaths of 600,000 Iraqis, the collapse of even basic infrastructure and increased sectarianism. The “War on Terror” also lost all moral authority, as the CIA committed atrocities at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. (In Libya, the CIA teamed up with ex-terrorist Colonel Gaddafi to torture his opponents.)
And yet, the failure to defeat the disparate al-Qaeda network has not translated into success or popularity for the terrorists. In Russia’s North Caucasus, the insurgency has moved from predominantly Chechen nationalism toward rightwing Islamic fundamentalism. But while it remains a destabilizing factor, it continues to cause revulsion among ordinary Russians.
In the end, other factors are changing the world far more than the 9/11 attacks or the “War on Terror” ever did.
The neo-liberal consensus has been shattered by the economic crisis of 2008-09, and the likely resumption of the “Great Recession.” The impressive mass movements in this year’s Arab spring owed nothing to Al-Qaeda.
In the coming decade, faced with the twin bankruptcy of “liberal intervention” and individual terrorism, people will likely look instead to collective action to bring about social and economic change.
Read other articles of the print issue “The Moscow News #69”