In the days after 9/11, my colleague and I wrote a short article outlining A Long Term Strategy for American Security detailing ways the U.S. could respond to this crisis. But without any real public deliberation or contemplation, the U.S. rolled out the Global War on Terror playbook that instead of bringing security, has brought an expanded list of reasons to grieve and things to think about on this anniversary.
1. The U.S. response to 9/11 has cost thousands more people their lives.
First, we have to think about the thousands who have died in the last decade as a direct result of the narrow choices the U.S. government made in how to respond to the 9/11 crisis. Instead of grieving the 3,000 who died that day, today we have to grieve the deaths of about 30,000 Afghan civilians, about 100,000 Iraqi civilians, and thousands more people killed in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other parts of the War on Terror. We also grieve the loss of humanitarian workers in these wars, including some of my own friends who died in Afghanistan during humanitarian work. We grieve the lives of thousands of soldiers from the U.S. and other countries who have been killed and those who bear psychological and physical scars fighting in these wars.
2. The global economic crisis is in part due to the U.S. response to 9/11.
We also have to grieve the economic crisis that is due in part to the costs of these wars carried out in response to 9/11. Of course, there is no price too great to pay for safety. But in reality, there is little relationship between safety and the amount spent on U.S. security. More money has not bought Americans more security. Official statistics confirm that over $1 trillion dollars have already been spent in these wars. The costs may exceed $4 trillion dollars when we include all related costs such as interest on the related debt and the lifetime care of wounded veterans. We have to grieve the expansion of the military-industrial complex where profits go to large defense corporations with thousands of lobbyists rather than the soldiers themselves. We have to grieve that the U.S. spends more on its military than nearly all of the rest of the world’s countries combined. And all this adds up to misery for millions of people in the U.S. and abroad who suffer economic hardships because needed resources have gone to fighting wars rather than to education, healthcare, crime prevention and job creation programs.
3. The U.S. is still on a path of “Domination” not “Partnership” in the family of nations.
Everyone understood the U.S. had to respond to the attacks on 9/11. But the choice between U.S. global domination and the range of options for the U.S. to be leaders and partners in the family of nations was not laid out for the American people to consider. Too often in forums in Washington D.C., I hear policymakers and military personnel talk about U.S. national interests and global domination in the same sentence, with an underlying assumption that U.S. global domination is in the average American’s national interest. Real security comes from acting as partners in an interdependent world where a famine in Somalia, an outbreak of disease in Asia, or a financial crisis in one part of the world impacts global security. We live in a global community. When the U.S. takes actions in its own self-interests, without considering the safety and interests of others, everyone loses. Real security in a post-9/11 world requires the U.S. to act as a partner in the family of nations to support global human security. Ordinary Americans do not benefit from the U.S. projecting global domination without regard to the human security of people in other countries.
Newt Gingrich critiqued the Bush administration’s war in Iraq saying, “The real key is not how many enemy do I kill. The real key is how many allies do I grow.” Former President Bill Clinton added, “If you live in a world where you cannot kill, occupy, or imprison all your actual or potential adversaries, you have to try to build a world with more friends and fewer terrorists.” The U.S. still invests too few resources in growing allies.
4. Americans lost their freedom to ask the legitimate question, “Why Do They Hate Us?”
In the weeks after 9/11, the covers of major magazines like Newsweek and Time asked, “Why do they hate us?” But soon these magazine covers abandoned this question and instead began laying out an agenda of how “they” in the Muslim world should change. We all knew the Al Qaeda attacks were illegitimate. But it became impossible to ask the question of whether Al Qaeda had any legitimate grievances against the U.S. Colleagues in Latin America and Africa told me while they were sorry for Al Qaeda’s actions they were not surprised that an group would lash out at the U.S. for what they thought were globally shared grievances against U.S. trade policies and military interventions.
We can denounce Al Qaeda’s methods but we are foolish to ignore their grievances, which are shared by millions of people in all parts of the world. In Osama bin Laden’s “Letter to America,” published in the British Guardian newspaper, the Al Qaeda leader lists its grievances against the U.S. as including U.S. policy in the Israel and Palestine, its sale of weapons for profit to dictators in the Middle East and promotion of an immoral culture that exploits women. These are not grievances solely of Al Qaeda. U.S. military leaders today know that U.S. policy toward Israel continues to fuel anti-American sentiments in many countries around the world. While it may be impossible and futile to try to negotiate solutions to these problems with Al Qaeda itself, these problems do have solutions that can be developed with more rational and legitimate leadership.
5. The U.S.’s Global War on Terror has made the world less safe, more hostile.
Instead of reducing threats on the U.S., the War on Terror has made the world a less safe place for everyone. Former CIA chief in Afghanistan Graham Fuller states, “Both wars have made the Middle East and the world much more dangerous for Americans and for any American presence overseas. It’s creating much greater hostility towards the U.S. and creating a whole lot more people that would be happy to kill Americans or join in some kind of terrorist operation.” Today, security experts confirm there are more Al Qaeda members and more groups like Al Qaeda than there were in 2001.
Bin Laden’s Letter to America claims that Al Qaeda conducted the 9/11 attacks because the U.S. was not willing to negotiate and only understood the “language of violence.” History tells us negotiation is the only way to solve a war of ideas. It is a fantasy to think that these grievances can be extinguished with a heavier military presence in the world. The Global War on Terror’s brute force has not brought the U.S. security. Instead, it has planted a thousand seeds of hatred in the minds of new generations suffering from problems that demand diplomatic solutions.
6. The U.S. is still not investing in a realistic security strategy.
Ten years out from 9/11 tragedy, Congress is out of touch with the majority of Americans who believe that violence can be prevented and problems can be solved with negotiation. Reams of research prove that communities and nations that invest in prevention experience less violence. But those who profit from war steer U.S. spending toward weapons that are powerless to create a safer world.
Real security comes from robust diplomacy paired with economic trade and development strategies that benefit all people, not just those who are wealthy. Real security grows from the ground up in participatory democracies where all people have a voice. For too long, the U.S. has supported dictators and corrupt regimes because of narrowly defined, short term economic interests rather than investing in human security strategies that solve problems that benefit ordinary people at home and abroad.
The U.S. spends relatively less than most other developed countries on foreign assistance aimed at addressing the root causes of global problems. And the U.S. does not have enough diplomats trained in principled negotiation to find real solutions to the root causes of these conflicts. Now Congress is threatening to cut the State Department and USAID’s budget even in a time when the military budget is expanding and military leaders tell Congress the U.S. needs more diplomats and development specialists. According to the U.S. Counterinsurgency Manual, there are more people playing in U.S. military marching bands than there are U.S. Foreign Service Officers. When the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
An ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure. Security is not a win/lose game in today’s small global community. We either all win. Or we all lose.