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 Projects Agency).
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 Americans.
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 Geneva conventions.
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 nation).
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 history …
… 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 wasn’t.
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).