The West in vain tries to find
a form of agony worthy of its past
- E M Cioran
Enduring Freedom is how the United States government defined its
official, military response to 9/11. It should have been Operation Infinite
Justice; but then some apparatchik found out that also happened to be a
definition of God. Ten years after 9/11, facts on the ground spell out a world
shocked and awed to endure war rather than justice, while freedom, shrinking by
the minute, is just another word for everything left to lose.
Osama bin Laden used to define 9/11 as Yaum Niu York ("the day of New
York"). Little did the now decomposed corpse at the bottom of the Arabian Sea know he would unleash an early 21st century conformed
as a wasteland littered with militarized newspeak .
Ground Zero spawned the George Bush-designated global war on terror
(GWOT), a nonsensical war against a tactic. A more realistic Pentagon called it The
Long War. United States national security morphed into Homeland Security.
The threatened hyperpower rushed to manufacture a fearful civil liberty
shredder, the Patriot Act, approved by Bush on October 2001, and
enshrined as permanent in March 2006.
For Washington, 9/11 was never about blowback. It happened because of a dysfunctional
system displaying failure of imagination. After the fact, world
public opinion never ceased to be massaged by an army of message force
multipliers, from defense specialists to security experts.
And an array of Code Oranges, elevated security concerns and specifics-free
warnings kept the US masses on its toes.
Faster than the speed of rumor, Humint, Sigint, Imint (human, signals
and imagery intelligence), backed up by Techint and CI (technical
and counter intelligence) merged into a swarm of psyops (usually relying
on bad humint). But for all its technical wizardry, the US government botched
the elusive goal of Total Information Awareness (TIA) - a megalomaniac,
Dr Strangelove-style project by the Pentagon's DARPA (Defense Advanced Research
After the end of the USSR, a flimsy al-Qaeda had been elevated to the
status of global bogeyman. That was in reference to al-Qa'eda al-Askariyya
("the military base"), an obscure outfit whose existence was officially
acknowledged on February 23, 1998 as part of a World Islamic Front to fight Jews
and Christians, founded at a meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan.
Bin Laden always characterized al-Qaeda as a training-and-fighting, loose
network - as much as he exhorted the cavalry of Islam to do battle. Bin
Laden was essentially a fundamentalist Wahhabi who felt a duty to fight jahiliyya
("ignorance") - understood as much in Egyptian fundamentalist Sayyid Qutb's
sense (as infidel Arab regimes), as in the ignorance predominant before the
arrival of Islam in the 7th century.
Instead of being bombed to the stone age, Pakistan under then-president
Pervez Musharraf (or "Busharraf") joined GWOT. In a planetary screenplay, jihadis
- or Islamo-fascists - were universally depicted as the bad guys, while
the mujahideen had been the good guys when still promoted as freedom
fighters during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban were duly bombed out of power. Bin Laden and Ayman
al-Zawahiri escaped from Tora Bora to a black void. And then the dark
side became the new normal.
Burn, trillions, burn
Bush's Iraq adventure - sold to the world by Curveball, aka phony Iraqi
defector Rafid Ahmed Alwan - was the first war in history entirely paid by
credit card. By 2008, Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes calculated the
Afghanistan/Iraq wars were costing up to $5 trillion - and counting. Direct US
government spending alone was roughly $2 trillion, and counting - $17,000 for
every US household.
Back in 2002, real power in Washington revolved around the Office of Special
Plans - that Soviet-sounding unit bent to prove there was a direct link
between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Everybody else would be off-message - also as
in critics of the war after the fall of Baghdad in April 2003.
For the neo-cons - who knew absolutely nothing about Iraq - what counted was
the positive domino theory; invading Iraq would set up a wave of
democracy all across the Arab world. Arabs would finally become model
The Bush-Dick Cheney junta may have enshrined pre-emptive war (justified
by international law only when there's an imminent danger). That was the Bush
doctrine, announced in January 2002. But after Shock and Awe,
the Iraq muqawama ("resistance") had other ideas.
Sunni Iraqis rallied around "resistance" instead of "national liberation", as
the Americans preferred the innocuous insurgency, whose connotations
avoid the reality of revolt, revolution and civil war.
Soon martyrdom operations - what the West calls suicide bombing, and
what used to be known in Arabic as amaliyya intihariyya ("suicidal
mission") - were the law of the land. Every newscast was dripping with improvised
explosive devices (IEDs) - later developed into VBIEDs, vehicle-borne
IEDs; radiological dispersal devices (aka dirty bombs); and explosively
formed penetrators. There was no safe haven for anybody (a
tautology, since a haven must be safe).
The hyperpower was now ruled by a ticking bomb principle - according to
which the US could not afford to play by the rules anymore. Yet there
was always a scarcity of actionable information. Thus the constant
tweaking of the rules of engagement; the US Marines, for instance,
followed shout, show, shove, shoot - where "shoot" almost always trumped
the other three.
Tweaking the rules inevitably led to an alternative set of procedures ;
controversial interrogation techniques, enhanced interrogation techniques,
harsh interrogation techniques and even dark art deployed
against alleged enemy combatants (the pre-9/11 distinction between enemy
and unlawful combatant had totally vanished).
It was imperative to send scores of enemy combatants or high value terrorist
suspects to the Baghdad Correctional Facility - aka Torture
Central Abu Ghraib, where biscuits (Behavioral Science Consultation
Teams, trained in Fort Bragg's SERE - Survival, Evasion, Resistance and
Escape - school) would conduct interrogation.
Biscuits were introduced into the famous detention facility Guantanamo
by Major General Geoffrey "we gotta Gitmo-ize" Miller and then -
successfully - transported to Abu Ghraib. Gitmo-ize meant the gory spectacle of
forced nudity, hooding, men shackled in painful stress positions, dog
attacks, walling and waterboarding - a remix of the Vietnam-era pump
and dump (pump them for information and then dump their bodies).
Excesses of course were not caused by George "you have to treat these detainees
like dogs" Miller's policies, but by a few bad apples. And damn those quaint
The world was also introduced to extraordinary rendition - aka state
kidnapping and deportation - via a flotilla of Central Intelligence Agency
(CIA) ghost planes. The practice of outsourcing torture was in
fact contract killing handed over to the security agencies of Egypt, Jordan,
Syria, Libya, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and rough ally Uzbekistan,
much adept at boiling of body parts and electroshocks on genitals.
Blackwater - later renamed Xe - became the Holy Grail of the mercenary-evangelical
complex, making a killing in Iraq, as well as hordes of defense
contractors and private security contractors - aka mercenaries.
Apologists of the August 2002 torture memo wildly cheered American
troops who subscribed to the torture crowd, while smirking over torture
lite. For Dick "Angler" Cheney, waterboarding was a "no-brainer", a
"dunk in the water".
But then Iraq became a quagmire. The Bush-Cheney junta chose to dodge a
Babel of war assessments and a benchmark hell in Iraq by
ordering a surge, while building Fortress Baghdad - aka the US
Embassy, the largest in the world.
And then the war in Afghanistan, like a bat out of hell, came out of a
prolonged coma with a vengeance, and morphed into an American/European war
against Pashtuns, first-class warriors who have defeated every empire in sight.
The recipe for a Western "victory" was yet another surge.
Our way or the highway
The Pentagon's Long War couldn't do it; people in Northern Africa did it. The Arab
Spring defeated 9/11, and defeated al-Qaeda. It even defeated Osama bin
Laden before the Abbottabad raid (essentially a targeted assassination
performed by a commando after the invasion of the aerial space of a sovereign
But just as the Arab Spring also seemed to have defeated the fallacy of that
Holy Triad - Islamophobia, the clash of civilizations and the end of
... Everything turned kinetic, via Operation Odyssey Dawn.
Washington, London and Paris decided to ditch international law as it was in
effect since the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia. R2P - "responsibility to
protect" civilians - had its ballistic baptism, the perfect humanitarian
cover for the defense of Atlanticist economic and strategic interests. With the
added benefit of Nobel Peace Prize winner and multiple war developer Barack
Obama presiding over the metamorphosis of NATO into a global Robocop - with or
without a UN green light. The West's got a brand new bag; a global militia.
Iraq - bypassing the United Nations - was about regime change. Libya -
with UN blessing - was also about regime change, even though Obama swore it
Ten years after 9/11, The Long War metamorphosed into fourth-generation warfare
- theoretically "new" asymmetric warfare cum counter-insurgency. Welcome
to the CIA as a paramilitary militia. Welcome to Dronistan - General Atomics
MQ-1 Predators targeting militants and indulging in the odd collateral
damage - as in terminating Pashtun weddings.
And welcome to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), developed by
former Iraq surge hero and current CIA director General David Petraeus as "an
almost industrial-scale counter-terrorism killing machine", as defined by
Petraeus minion John Nagl.
The JSOC is what in Latin America in the 1970s was known as a death squad, but
now under the Pentagon direct aegis; masters of kill/capture, based on a
flimsy legal or blatantly extra-legal premise, going after a target
assassination list that even includes American citizens.
Will the circle be unbroken? Of course not; Obama's American Way of War -
now boasting virtually zero casualties, as in Libya - has the same
objectives as Bush's.
The Pentagon will leave Afghanistan and Iraq over its dead collective body. The
Pentagon will set up an Africom base in Libya. Amid a deluge of known
unknowns, unknown unknowns, these are the real birth pangs of a new
Middle East. What really matters is the Pentagon's obsession in
controlling the whole arc of instability. Remember fiery Washington
neo-con rhetoric between the early 2002 axis of evil speech and the
March 2003 invasion of Iraq; real men go to Tehran. The Playstation King
of Jordan and the arch-counter-revolutionary King of Saudi Arabia will keep
harping about the existential threat of the Shi'ite crescent.
Furious and/or dejected hearts and minds all across the arc of
instability will remain alienated. All manner of blowback will prevail.
For instance, one just has to time how long will it take for Libya to be raped
by NATO powers. Blowback? Bring them on, the CIA/Pentagon would brag. It
will be a cakewalk.
So what rough beast, its hour come out at last, will be slouching towards ...
Kabul? Baghdad? Tripoli? Riyadh? ... to be born? There's no endgame in
sight; that's the real meaning of Mission Accomplished. Ten years after
9/11, the road to war is a mission that goes on forever.
1. Hats off to the late, great Fred Halliday of the Barcelona Institute for
International Studies, compiler of Shock and Awed: a dictionary of the war on
terror (University of California Press, 2010).