Unending War on Terror

Millions dead costing trillions of dollars

The admission by the White House that two western hostages were killed by an errant drone strike in Pakistan serves as only an ugly little footnote to what has been nearly fifteen years of undeclared war waged by Washington against a large part of the world. The New York Times notes that “…most individuals killed [by drones] are not on a kill list, and the government does not know their names,” adding that “the proliferating mistakes have given drones a sinister reputation in Pakistan and Yemen and have provoked a powerful anti-American backlash in the Muslim world.”

The most recent ex-judicial killings come on the heels of a report by the highly respected Nobel prize winning Physicians for Social Responsibility that reveals that more than 1.3 million people were killed during the first ten years post 9/11 as part of the so-called “global war on terror” (GWOT) in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone. The GWOT has been euphemized by the current Administration as “overseas contingency operations,” which has a nicer sound and does not appear to be so preemptive or premeditated. The relabeling also suggests that the process is both responsive and occasional, which it is not as it has been the driving component of American foreign policy since 2001 until the present day.

The report by the physicians received only limited coverage in the U.S. media. As one might reasonably add Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen to the carnage and update the numbers on Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan for all areas where the U.S. in engaged militarily the current total might easily exceed two million or more. The report stresses that the estimate of the dead is “conservative” based on the most reliable sources, suggesting that there are large numbers of deaths that have been reported but could not be confirmed.

To be sure not all of those millions of potential war on terror victims were killed by American bullets or bombs but their deaths are the consequence of ill-advised military interventions and operations to destabilize and replace existing governments, starting with the Taliban and continuing in the present with operations directed against Syria. Iran is the next intended target, one should reasonably presume.

American deaths represent only a tiny percentage of the overall toll, even if one includes the victims of 9/11, less than 10,000 total, which in no way should suggest that it diminishes the impact of those losses on individual families and communities. And the cost in dollars has also been devastating. Economist Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University has estimated that Iraq alone will cost over five trillion dollars before all the debts and legacy expenses relating to it are paid and that does not include the current re-engagement in that country by the U.S. military.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the killing of more than a million people and the spending of trillions of dollars has not made terrorism go away. On the contrary, it now threatens to take over the Arab heartland and metastasize into Europe and the United States after some of ISIS’s own volunteer “wounded warriors” return home. That is because the policies driving the American interventions have been effectively and consistently based on a number of misconceptions, most notably that it is possible to use force to remake in one’s own image ancient cultures that possess their own values and ways of doing things.

The unrelenting expansion of Washington’s military role is consequently little more than a simplistic response to many diverse overseas developments that are poorly understood, most of which are not actually genuine threats to the United States. This is demonstrated by the White House decision to extend the U.S. terrorism fight to the entire continent of Africa and also by the militarization of the ill-conceived campaign against Ebola, which was described as a “national security threat.”

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