Since 9/11, the United States and its allies’ military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan and domestic counter-terrorism efforts has come at a tremendous cost to the civilian populations on both sides of the conflict. The Watson Institute of International and Domestic Affairs at Brown University estimates that the wars cost $4.79 trillion to the taxpayers in the United States and United Kingdom up to 2016. The Institute estimates that approximately 210,000 civilians have died since 2015.
Adding to this are the lives lost of servicemen and women, the financial costs to the countries where the wars are still ongoing, the humanitarian crisis sparked by outpouring of refugees from the war zones, and the civil liberty infringements on the US population as part of the domestic anti-terrorism efforts along with myriad other collateral losses.
The overall cost of “War on Terror” becomes almost unquantifiable and yet, no consensus exists on whether these efforts actually had the desired (or at least stated) effect. Are these efforts stemming the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and making the world a safer place? Or these conflicts have further amplified and emboldened network of terrorists? These terrorist organizations have stooped to ever more outstanding depravities to capture international attention and notoriety. For instance, Isis and their agents in Western Europe and Boko Haram in Nigeria has proven that people in many Middle eastern, Asian, African and Western countries are no more insulated from terror attacks than they were before 9/11.
If overtly military foreign policy, militarized borders and more draconian methods of surveillance and control on the home front has not had the desired effect on, what can?
- Stop participating in terror
Noam Chomsky, the world’s foremost public intellectual on the topic of US foreign policy, offers a purposefully simple solution as a point of departure for such an inquiry. The way to stop international terrorism is to “stop participating in it”. There is a case to be made that by embarking upon and sustaining wars that have resulted in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths, the United States government and army has perpetrated the most deadly campaign of “terror” of the 21st century. The result of disposing of Taliban in Afghanistan, Sadam Hussein
(which had nothing to do with terrorism) in Iraq, and eliminating top leadership of Al Qaida and associated groupings has embittered local populations.
The detention, torture and concentration of jihadis in American prison system in Iraq is widely deemed as the site of genesis for ISIS.
- Reinvest in- and reconcile with the societies that US wars have laid to waste
Instead of walking the trodden path, that is persistent military approach to eliminate the terror groups in the middle east, direct US investment in development projects can present an opportunity for atonement. Such development projects can cater to small businesses, infrastructure, safer communities, education, entrepreneurship and other opportunities for local populations. This can present window of reconciliation between Western powers and the communities which harbor terrorism networks. Radicalization thrives in environments where young people are poorly educated and have little options at improving their lot through stable livelihoods. For young people, these alternatives to radicalization are crucial and United States and its allies have the resources to be catalysts in creating these alternatives.
- Create an environment of tolerance and integration at home
The example of a string of terror attacks in Western Europe perpetrated by citizens and residents of the countries exploded the myth that terror is an external threat, only. In an increasingly globalized world, nation states need to accept that plurality – religious, cultural and ideological diversity is the new reality of all developed countries. National identities must coalesce around the principle of this diversity and inclusion, or risk alienating a sector of its population from identifying with that identity. This can be done through cultural sensitization in schools, zero tolerance for white nationalism and old-world bigotry, integration of Muslims into all facets of Western society and well-organized voter blocs and civil society on the left of the political spectrum.
The United States and its allies approach to root out international terrorism has failed. In many respects the conventional ‘War on Terror’ has had the effect of aggravating the radicalism that it sought to cease. Diplomacy, trust, acceptance of globalization and inclusivity – not war and coercion – should be the new premises from which a new ‘War on Terror’ must be waged.