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20 years later

It is time to reflect on the gains that accrued in terms of ensuring global security and what needs to be done to protect them, as well as the mistakes made by the US-led West’s intervention in Afghanistan

SNS | NEW DELHI |

As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the aftermath of which the USA went into Afghanistan to cut off the head of the snake, as it were, comes up, it is perhaps apposite to assess the success ~ or lack thereof ~ of the War on Terror launched by President George W. Bush given the Joe Biden-inspired gloom over the current Afghan fiasco. More importantly, it is time to reflect on the gains that accrued in terms of ensuring global security and what needs to be done to protect them, as well as the mistakes made by the US-led West’s intervention in Afghanistan. The cowboy-style articulation post-9/11 by Mr Bush, who threatened and came through on his promise of ‘bombing them into the stone age’, was no great shakes. Millions of Afghans were already there, as it turns out, despite the veneer of the modernist, West-leaning and corrupt reign of King Zahir Shah and the Soviet-enforced Afghan version of socialism which followed the end of the monarchy. But that is the thing about mid to late 20th century international strategic positions from the American perspective; as William A. Galston puts it: “Our excessive focus on the Middle East diverted us from the geopolitical forces that that were reshaping the world to our disadvantage.” So, is it fair to say, as commentator Robert Kagan insists, it wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan, but fear? “Afghanistan was a classic case, repeated many times throughout American history, of a United States with one foot out the door from the moment of intervention,” he has written recently. There may well be an element of profound truth in this assertion. For, in reacting to the war on America (as the most visible and powerful symbol of an allegedly decadent West) launched by extremist Islamic groups which was initially cheered sotto voce by the anti-imperialist global South till it all went terribly wrong as armed terror outfits under the Islamic banner took over, Washington was driven in large measure by fear. Of the known unknown. America did not help its own cause by ignoring the advice of erstwhile colonial powers including the British whose knowledge of the region may have been outdated but was certainly not informed by wide-eyed naivete. Then, 9/11 happened, and it was a categorical imperative for every civilised nation on earth to stand by the USA. But the fact is that the USA is weaker, more divided, and less respected than it was two decades ago. Yes, there has been no major terror attack on the US mainland over the past two decades, but it has come at the cost of living in constant fear at home and has fuelled Islamic terror abroad, especially in Central, South and West Asia. While its response to 9/11 and continuing flip-flop on Afghanistan, in particular, and fighting Islamic terrorism in general are certainly not solely responsible for these developments, they have contributed significantly to the state of affairs. In his long war against America, writes a leading strategic thinker, Osama bin Laden has won a sweeping if posthumous victory. The 9/11 era began in Afghanistan, and now it has ended there. In humiliating defeat for America.