The United States recently mourned the 20th anniversary of one of the largest and most destructive terrorist attacks in history — the Sept. 11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Ever since that attack in 2001, 9/11 has remained a fixture in the American ethos and foreign policy. Former President George W. Bush launched the “War on Terror,” forever changing the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East.
Carnage followed, with nearly 900,000 civilians in the region killed, alongside 38 million people displaced. The terror attacks on this country were indeed terrible; I make no pretensions to the contrary. But the ensuing chaos and destruction has been incalculable. When President Bush first declared the War on Terror, he said “America and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security in the world, and we stand together to win the war against terrorism.” Despite that rhetoric, this ‘War on Terror’ brought no peace or security to the Middle East.
The first target of America’s wrath was Afghanistan. The United States asked the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, operated by the Taliban (whose existence can be blamed on the United States — a topic I wrote about here), to extradite Osama bin Laden. The latter denied this request, so the U.S. invaded.
The Taliban were temporarily pushed back, and the U.S. propped up its own administration. The U.S. wreaked havoc in the country after failing to find bin Laden and continued to do so even after finding him. The most recent example of this was the failed airstrike on Aug. 29, killing 10 innocent civilians.
Other targets included Yemen, which the U.S. has been drone-striking for nearly two decades. The number of strikes in total is 374, with civilian deaths numbering up to 150. While President Joe Biden hasn’t himself launched a strike against Yemen, he continues to support Saudi Arabia’s invasion of the country despite promising not to do so.
Another war started by the United States was the invasion of Iraq in 2003, in which the U.S. armed forces and other allies overthrew Saddam Hussein’s government. This particular conflict was based on allegations that the Hussein regime was developing weapons of mass destruction, such as chemical or nuclear weapons.
The evidence for this was completely fabricated, and the U.S. entered into a conflict based on lies. Saddam Hussein did not have weapons of mass destruction. After the U.S. severely damaged the country, it left in 2011. It then re-entered Iraq in 2014 to combat the rise of ISIL, which itself formed as a splinter group of al-Qaida after the initial U.S. invasion.
Despite these two major invasions — among many more — one glaring hypocrisy stands out: U.S. politicians’ refusal to examine the possibility of the Saudi Arabian government’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks.
If we really wanted to hold the perpetrators of 9/11 responsible, we would’ve taken action against the Saudi oligarchs who allegedly funded the operation. Rather than actually doing that, though, president after president let the autocratic regime continue without punishment due to the U.S.’s favorable relations based on oil and their strategic importance in the Middle East.
Recently, President Biden declassified an FBI report that details the relationship between Saudi nationals and the hijackers. Osama bin Laden himself was connected to the wealthy Saudi family, and 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is also the center of Wahhabism, a fundamentalist movement in Islam funded by the House of Saud. Al-Qaida and ISIL were both founded on the principles of this extremist ideology.
The United States wreaked havoc upon the Middle East, whether through intentional maliciousness or unintended consequences. We used the deaths of 2,997 people on 9/11 to justify the slaughter of hundreds of thousands more.
The government has abused the memory of the deceased to justify their own conflicts, whether it be for oil, war profiteering or other imperialist machinations. In the wake of 9/11, two decades later, the smoldering ruins of the twin towers loom large in American memory.
The subsequent 20 years of destruction ought to as well.
Sam Fogel is an Opinion Columnist and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.