It’s amazing how we can become numb to circumstances with the passing of time. The U.S.-led War on Terror is nearing its twentieth year with no clear end in sight. Indeed, to many average people in the West, the perpetual violence of the War on Terrorism has become normal, and we have become indifferent.
America bombing and invading the Middle East has become a dark cliché. Nobody bats an eye. There are so many facets, so many groups, and countries involved, and so many interconnected moving parts that it’s perfectly understandable to throw your hands up and accept this whole dizzying headache as just the way things are and always will be, forever.
Scott Horton’s new book, Enough Already: Time to End the War On Terrorism, provides a comprehensive and approachable perspective on the wars that have amplified terror and suffering across several regions of the world and argues definitively for their immediate end. He comes from the U.S. perspective, but his book pulls no punches in underscoring how much this whole endeavor has affected Europe as well.
The Road Toward September 11
In the book, Horton connects the dots across all of the crucial aspects of the decades-spanning fiasco and its disastrous consequences starting at the cusp of the 1980s with the buildup of American military presence in the Persian Gulf under the Carter Doctrine, the Iranian Revolution against the U.S.-backed Shah, the arming and funding of Saddam Hussein’s military efforts during the Iran-Iraq War, and the support for the Mujahideen guerillas in the Soviet-Afghan War.
He sifts through the Nineties when the U.S. government paved the road toward September 11 with the Gulf War and sanctions on Iraq enforced by continued military forces in Saudi Arabia. Following their experience opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, under the leadership of Osama Bin Laden, went on to carry out successive global terrorist attacks in grievance against the lasting U.S. presence in the region.
In Europe at the time, the U.S. demonstrated its unhinged strategic approach by backing Al-Qaeda-affiliated fighters in the Balkans during the Bosnian War and then in Kosovo against the Russian-aligned Serbs of the disintegrating Yugoslavia, as well as supporting the foreign Mujahideen fighting Russian forces in Chechnya in the North Caucasus.
September 11, 2001, was the tipping point that ushered in the current War on Terror era. As the U.S. deployed forces to Afghanistan and later Iraq, European coalition allies joined them. They provided military and intelligence support. Twenty years later, the war has expanded to yet more countries.
Blowback in Europe
Horton makes sure to touch upon the consequences for Europe, which have taken the form of sporadic terrorist attacks largely motivated by the involvement of European governments in the War on Terror, as well as the European refugee crisis which in many ways resulted from Western interventions in the Middle East and North Africa in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring.
Europeans may recall the Al-Qaeda-inspired 2004 Madrid train bombings and the 2005 London bombings, or the Charlie Hebdo attack and more recent ISIS-inspired events that began in 2015 including the coordinated Paris attacks, the Nice truck attack, and the Manchester Arena bombing. Yet the particular connections to groups and aspects of the War on Terror can be difficult to comprehend and fit into the bigger picture.
Horton cuts through the narratives blaming Islam as a faith prone to extremism and lays bare the anti-imperialist, anti-occupation sentiments of the attackers that stem directly from Western government involvement in those regions. Paradoxically, direct Western government involvement in the name of quelling jihadist terrorism is a primary motivation of terrorist groups in the first place.
The height of the European refugee crisis, which started in 2015, followed destabilization campaigns in Libya and Syria by the U.S. and Western allies and coincided with the fight against ISIS that resulted from that very destabilization. Horton highlights that the U.S. and its coalition allies including the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands, France, and Belgium launched more than 30,000 airstrikes on both Iraq and Syria from 2014 through 2017 in which up to 13,000 civilians were killed. Those attempting to reach the Balkans and beyond via Turkey during that time left behind homelands shattered by this collision of violence.
From North Africa and the Sahel region, refugees fleeing ensuing horror of the French and American wars in Libya and Mali that spread into Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tunisia have faced the danger of drowning in the Mediterranean being sold in actual slave markets in Libya in their efforts to reach Europe.
Millions of refugees from the War on Terror have migrated to Europe and the stresses of integration have formed the basis for societal tensions and resentments that have played a part in shifting European politics. Horton describes how the movements opposing the European Union and the international liberal order, democratic backsliding, and right-populism have emerged with significant representation in national governments and at the EU level.
The wars are not just an American affliction. They have had a significant impact on Europe. The implications of President Joe Biden’s assertion to Europe that ‘America is back’ remains to be seen. If it would mean a continuation of the decades-long status quo, Europeans should repeat the statement proclaimed by Scott Horton: “Twenty years is enough already. It is time to cancel the failed War on Terrorism.”
On paper, the Europeans rolled back their brutal imperial projects decades ago. It’s time to stop helping the U.S. with theirs. For anyone who wants a crash course on this vitally important issue, Enough Already: Time to End the War On Terrorism serves as an impenetrable and up-to-date resource.
Weimin Chen is a research assistant at the Austrian Economics Center and is a manager and project/events coordinator at the International Student Center’s Arts for Peace Initiative in New York City.