War is a racket. It always has been.
It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small “inside” group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.
Maj General of the Marine Corps and Smedley Butler, two-time winner of the Congressional Medal of Honor
On September 11th, 2001, terrorists attacked the United States. I will never forget watching the planes fly into the tower, or the bomb threat that closed my school later that day. Like many I was shocked and angered.
While I did not understand the history that had transpired to bring about this attack I wanted revenge. 9/11 cemented my resolve to join the military and serve my country, a plan only foiled by the fact that I was medically disqualified.
Even though I was far removed from most of the US’s actions since then as I pursued college, graduate school and work, the Global War on Terror has still been a defining endeavor that has shaped world events and U.S. policy at home and abroad over the last 13 years. In many ways the Global War on Terror has cast a shadow over the world that no one could really escape. As Obama has now officially extended this war to Iraq (again) and Syria to combat the Islamic State, I am forced again to ask what this great endeavor has cost us and if it has even achieved its goal.
What has the Global War on Terror cost us?
The United States has paid dearly for the Global War on Terror, and has offloaded many more costs onto other countries, usually to the most vulnerable people in their nations.
We have lost 6,639 service men and women and many more will be living with and dealing with the physical and psychological wounds for the rest of their lives.
We have killed at least 174,000 civilians in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere. This is a conservative estimate, and the number is likely much higher due to U.S. intentionally under-reporting and classifying civilians as combatants with no evidence. Millions more have been displaced, impoverished, diseased, traumatized and/or wounded due to our actions. Considering the dead civilians alone we have killed 63 times the number of civilians we lost in 9/11.
We now live in a world under pervasive, warrantless U.S. surveillance. Civil liberties, constitutional rights and freedoms in the United States have been degraded significantly and our respect for those rights abroad is non-existent if it ever was.
We have seen an exponential increase in the militarization of police forces as police departments cross train in counter-terrorism and receive military gear from the government.
We have further sullied our global reputation with our willingness to pursue this war through very immoral means including fanning the flames of sectarian war, funding death squads, utilizing torture, practicing indefinite detention and operating without consequence or boundary in the world of black ops.
We have sown the seeds for the very extremism and terrorism we sought to defeat, and future generations around the world will be dealing with individuals understandably seeking vengeance for our actions against them.
And what have we gained from all of this?
While we killed Osama Bin Laden, this did not end terrorism. After 13 years and all of the above costs, an extremist group now has a presence, influence and military equipment in Iraq and Syria that Al Qaeda had previously never achieved.
Perhaps most importantly, we are still afraid. Thanks to blowback from our actions and intentional fear-mongering by politicians and the media, a majority of U.S. citizens now believe ISIS has sleeper agents in the United States and support military action against the group.
The Global War on Terror Racket
I am tempted to suggest our political and military leaders have been inept, that they have misspent our money and pursued the wrong strategies.
If fear the truth is much worse. If these failures were the result of incompetency we could elect new officials and promote different generals.
However, I fear that the failures of the Global War on Terror have not been bumbling mistakes but calculated moves designed to keep us and the world in a state of perpetual war and fear.
The Military Industrial Complex’s Golden Goose
The Military Industrial Complex, that Eisenhower warned us about, is now thoroughly embedded within the power structure of the United States. Initially the Cold War provided a climate of fear that made it easy for the US to garner public support for an arms race against the USSR. This arms race kept the world on the brink of World War III but financially ruined the USSR and made those in the military industrial complex vast amounts of wealth, millions of which was used to buy politicians and policy in DC.
Since the fall of the USSR, the military industrial complex has tried to keep its populace in a state of fear against an identified threat in order to maintain our outrageous annual defense spending and their profits. Sometimes these threats have been states and in other cases they have been non-state actors. Iran, Iraq, China, Russia, Terrorism, Communism and a variety of democratically elected and socialist leaders around the world have been cast as the imminent threat to the United States. The threat doesn’t have to be real, or even make sense, it just has to scare people into thinking a strong U.S. military active around the world is our only path to safety.
In many ways the Global War on Terror is the military industrial complex’s golden goose. Terrorism is a vague threat that can strike anywhere at any time. People’s reaction to terrorism is visceral and ill-informed; people demand military action be taken to make them safe without ever seeking to understand the situation or even do basic fact checking. U.S. interventions cause civilian casualties, foster extremism, and invite understandable resentment and retaliation against us. Retaliation against us by those that we have wronged reinforces the threat of terrorism and justifies more defense spending, more interventions, and more infringements on civil liberties..
This cycle of violence, fear and animosity does not benefit any average citizen of the world; it only benefits people in the industry of the war and those seeking their campaign contributions. While it is glaringly obvious the outrageous costs of the Global War on Terror have failed to win it, companies like Halliburton, which made $40 billion on the invasion and occupation of Iraq alone, and Raytheon, whose stock hit an all time high when Syria destabilized, will not let it end anytime soon.
With this in mind, maybe this September 11th it would be best if we did not double-down on nationalistic propaganda and restate our desire for another pound of flesh, one that has already been taken from people who had nothing to do with 9/11 sixty-three times over, and instead contemplate who is keeping this disastrous Global War on Terror going and how to stop them.