us soldiers A US soldier stands guard duty near a burning oil well in Iraq, April 2003. Photo: Wikipedia

The world is now almost unrecognisably more agonised, unstable and dangerous, writes Chris Nineham

This Sunday is the fifteenth anniversary of the shocking tragedies of 9/11, attacks which killed thousands in the symbolic centres of US power. Everyone will recall the day with a sense of horror. But it is important that as we remember the terrible events of that day we also consider the way that the west’s response has transformed the globe in the years since. Over the fifteen years that have followed the world has become almost unrecognisably more agonised, unstable and dangerous. War has spread across whole regions of the globe, populations have been plunged into horror as states have failed, hundreds of thousands have died and millions have been forced to flee. 

Few can be completely unaware of the catastrophic consequences of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Much has been written about the casualties, the destruction and the terrible social impact in both countries.  Less is said about the two countries’ continuing agony. A UN report from July concludes that the level of violence in Afghanistan is higher than at any time since the UN started making records in 2009. The year’s combat victims include 1,509 children. The US has just sent over one thousand extra troops to Afghanistan, taking the ‘post-occupation’ force to nearly ten thousand. Iraq too is still reeling. A parallel UN report for Iraq earlier this year documented what it called ‘staggering levels of casualties’ and an epidemic of displacement in a country that has been a war zone ever since western boots hit the ground in 2003.  

While they have spread such unimaginable misery, the wars have been spectacularly counterproductive in their stated aims; to make the world a safer place and to bring an end to terror. During the fifteen years of Western interventions, Islamic terrorist networks have emerged from small pockets of Central Asia to span a 7,000 kilometre arc stretching from Pakistan to Nigeria. They have flourished in the destruction, sectarianism and hate generated by the western bombings, invasions and occupations. They have become a threat in a growing number of Western countries. 

Attempts to delink this chaos from the history of interventions founder on the facts. Without exception, the unlucky countries which have been the prime targets of the Western military, Afghanistan and Iraq, Libya and Syria are not just in meltdown, but have become epicentres of Islamic State and Al Qaeda activity and organisation. 

All this has to be rehearsed again, fifteen years on, because, despite the overwhelming evidence, despite Chilcot’s devastating conclusions, despite damning security service testimony and the voices from those on the ground, our political and media establishment still contrive to be in denial about the woeful effect of the War on Terror. To this day we are told that not to have intervened would have been tantamount to doing nothing, as if bombing and shelling were the only foreign policy options available. We are told it was necessary – if illegal – to remove Saddam Hussein and Colonel Gaddafi, whatever the terrible cost, and we are told today that it is equally imperative that the West acts to remove Assad in Syria.

And this is the reason why so much evidence is ignored and so few lessons are learnt. Despite everything, our leaders remain committed to an aggressive foreign policy, a policy not in fact driven by humanitarian or democratic concerns but by the cold calculus of western power projection. Whenever a new intervention is launched we are told that this time the cause is just and the outcome will be different. Over Syria, parliament was asked to vote for war first in 2013 to rid Syria of Assad. The second time in 2015 parliament was persuaded to vote to bomb on the other side to defeat ISIS. This time the war started as a civil conflict, but it soon became subsumed into a wider regional struggle, and the effect of Western intervention was to inflame the war and to internationalise it.  Most of the major players in the Middle East are now engaged in Syria on one side or the other and for the first time for generations Russia and the US are in active combat in the same theatre of war. Not only have the Western powers helped to escalate the war, their entirely self-serving insistence on the exclusion of any Assad representatives from peace talks in 2012 helped scupper the Geneva peace process and prolonged the Syrians’ misery. The deal now being proposed by the opposition is, in fact, very similar to the one vetoed by the Western powers four years ago. 

In the run up to the Iraq War millions of people saw through the warmakers’ bogus humanitarianism and understood the invasion for what it was; more than anything a war for oil. As the crisis in the Middle East deepens and we approach a new and alarming US presidential election, that critical attitude needs to be rekindled. Post-Chilcot, and with a leader of the opposition with a very different foreign policy vision, we have the chance to push for real change. It is a chance we cannot afford to miss.

Chris Nineham

Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.

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