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US 'war on terror' and its enduring fallouts overshadow summit

By YU FENG | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2021-12-08 07:08


US President Joe Biden will host a "Summit for Democracy", via video link, on Thursday and Friday for leaders of government, civil society and the private sector.

Which begs the question: Is the United States qualified to hold such a meeting? Is it the guardian of democracy?

Longest US war ends in chaos

The last US military flight leaving Kabul airport on Aug 31, 2021, marked the end of Washington's longest war-the "global war on terror"-which former president George W. Bush launched to avenge the Sept 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, US-led NATO forces invaded Afghanistan with the aim of overthrowing the Taliban regime and spreading "democracy" in that country. Extending the "global war on terror", the US, without the sanction of the United Nations Security Council, invaded Iraq in 2003, claiming Saddam Hussein had "developed and used weapons of mass destruction" and "harbored and supported terrorists" and therefore posed a threat to the US and had to be ousted. Washington also launched initiatives to train foreign government forces to combat terrorism in more than 80 countries.

Yet when the US hurriedly and chaotically withdrew its last forces from Afghanistan on Aug 31 after nearly 20 years of occupation, what it left behind was a trail of devastation and deaths, and human suffering with the Taliban back in power and peace and democracy nowhere in sight.

In his defense for the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden said: "There's nothing low-grade or low-risk or low-cost about any war." True, the "global war on terror" has cost the US an astronomical amount of money and resources.

Astronomical cost of 'war on terror'

According to the Costs of War Project of the Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs at Brown University, the Afghanistan war cost $2.31 trillion (not including the funds the US government needs to pay for the lifetime care of the veterans of this war). Yet the figure is just part of the overall US government expenditure on the "war on terror". As for the human cost, about 176,000 people were killed directly in the Afghanistan war-the figure for Iraq is even higher, between 275,000 and 306,000.

It was the people in Afghan, Iraq and other countries who suffered the most because of the "war on terror". They have faced war, famine and death. Among those killed in the Afghanistan war were 66,000 national military and police personnel, and 47,245 civilians-the figures don't include those who died of war-related diseases. And many middle-class Afghans had to flee their homes to start a new life in foreign land while constantly facing racist attacks.

Apart from the high cost and heavy casualties, the "war on terror" also exacerbated racial discrimination, with minority groups, especially Muslims, being the main targets, and fueled white supremacism in the US.

According to a report of New America, discrimination and hate crimes against Arab Americans and other Muslims increased after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and peaked during the 2016 presidential election campaign and continued through Donald Trump's presidency. Muslims in the US have been threatened, beaten up, even murdered simply because of their race and religion, and mosques vandalized every now and then.

During the Trump administration, the ban on the entry of people from Muslim-majority Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen into the US was used as a license to legally discriminate against Muslims, which further fueled anti-Muslim sentiments and white supremacism.

According to an August 2021 survey by Pew Institute, 72 percent of the Republican respondents said Islam was more likely than other religions to encourage violence. And 75 percent of the Muslim respondents said there was "a lot" of discrimination against them.

But how did the "global war on terror", particularly the US' wars in Afghanistan and Iraq cause social divisions at home?

Systematic discrimination against minority groups

There was systematic discrimination against Muslims after the 9/11 attacks. Muslim communities were put under surveillance by the FBI, and Muslim people were arrested on even the slightest suspicion.

The Barack Obama administration launched the Countering Violent Extremism program under which additional attention was paid to Muslim individuals with signs of religiosity and political activism, which institutionalized the false belief among many Americans that all Muslims are potential terrorists and inherently violent. This was a clear case of serious human rights violations.

Besides, the media coverage of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the extremist organizations helped consolidate many American people's belief that there is an inherent link between Muslims and terrorism. Worse, the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were hailed by US politicians as wars to liberate Afghanistan women and democratize Iraq, enhancing the sense of superiority of white Americans.

Thanks to the huge amounts of US resources and energy spent on fighting the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and continuing the "war on terror" in other countries, coupled with the 2008 global financial crisis, white Americans, once the dominant power in the US, were frustrated by their economic deterioration and cultural marginalization. And they vented their frustration and anger on soft targets, especially Muslims and African Americans.

US in the grip of racism pandemic

This caused the pandemic of racism to spread throughout the US, with the white supremacists targeting Muslims, as well as African Americans and Asians. The fast spreading disease of white nationalism led to severe racial conflicts and social disruption.

No wonder the US, along with some other parts of the world, has seen a drastic increase in race crimes, brutal police violence against minority communities, including Asians, during the COVID-19 pandemic, and deteriorating human rights conditions.

These are the fallouts of the "global war on terror", which the US has to face now. The "war on terror" may have ended with the US forces' withdrawal from Afghanistan, yet the effects of its fallouts will continue to exact a high price. If the Biden administration really wants to "bring America back together", it will have to solve these issues by taking timely and appropriate measures.

Holding summits for "democracy" without solving these real problems will not help the US achieve anything.

The author is a researcher in American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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