At 11am on September 11, 2001 the Bush administration had already declared that al-Qaeda was responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. At 9:30pm a War Cabinet was formed comprising of top intelligence and military advisers. And at 11pm, at the end of its historic meeting at the White House, the “War on Terror” was officially announced.
For those who have never read Orwell, his comment that, “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous” may sound more real than fiction 17 years after 9/11 and the launching of the western world's War on Terror. And yet, the worldwide Orwellian surveillance state formed and justified by the threat of terrorism that has stripped everyone of their right to privacy, is not the only cost that has had to be borne because of it.
According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute, America's War on Terror from September 12, 2001 through fiscal year 2018 cost its taxpayers a whopping USD 5.6 trillion. On average, that's at least USD 23,386 per taxpayer.
In terms of debt, the War on Terror added USD 2.1 trillion, or more than 10 percent to the US debt. And according to the US Department of Defence's “Cost of War” report in 2017, the US had spent USD 250 million per day for 16 years on “defence” since 9/11.
All this, however, is only America's dollar costs of the war.
It does not consider the complete and total destruction of Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria and so on and so forth. It does not account for the millions of homes destroyed, people displaced, and lives lost and ruined because of war. And it also does not include the cost of the continuing worldwide destabilisation caused as a result of the War on Terror itself.
Which is why, the true cost of the War on Terror is, in reality, incalculable. After all, how can you assign dollar values to the larger human costs and the hundreds of thousands of lives lost? How can you even begin to estimate a cost in terms of the number of children whose futures have been ruined because of such conflicts?
According to legendary journalist Tom Engelhardt, in January 2018, “America's war on terror…[had] spread to 76 countries across the globe.” That is roughly 39 percent of the planet, as identified by the Cost of War Project.
Fifteen years after the invasion of Iraq, which led to more than eight years of occupation of that country, it has been estimated that around 4,500 Americans have lost their lives in Iraq alone. While most western mainstream estimates put the number of Iraqi civilians killed at somewhere between 100,000 and 165,000, even they are forced to admit that the number may actually be closer to one million when those who died indirectly because of the war are factored in.
Now, keeping in mind that the number of casualties in the majority of the 76 countries that America's War on Terror has spread to is much lower, just try to come up with an estimate of how many have died because of it. At best, it is a futile exercise, and at worst, it is equivalent to the gravest of crimes committed since the end of the Second World War.
Yet, for the most part, the so-called War on Terror is far from over as it continues to terrorise millions of people around the world even today. For example, 10 years after the initial invasion of Iraq, the US “had to” send in more troops to Iraq and Syria to deal with the Islamic State (IS). Whereas at the time of the Iraq invasion, the IS did not even exist even though now it supposedly poses the greatest threat of terrorism to the world in its entirety—and the fight against IS continues.
As even American military experts have had to concede, IS would most likely never have come into being if it wasn't for the Iraq invasion. Thus, all of these “costs” are simply a blowback for America's War on Terror.
Yet, what is often forgotten is that the rise of al-Qaeda and, therefore, the 9/11 attacks themselves were blowbacks for America's funding of the Mujahideen (that eventually turned into al-Qaeda) in Afghanistan to drive out the Soviet Union. And while some may see that as noble, what should also be remembered is that it was US President Jimmy Carter's National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who had lured the Soviet Union into Afghanistan in the first place, to overstretch itself, as he himself had later admitted in an interview with Le Nouvel Observateur in 1998.
What that shows is that just like US policymakers never learned from funding the Mujahideen when 9/11 happened, they haven't learnt from the events of 9/11 either—to not intervene in other countries in order to avoid such terrible consequences later on. And while it is ordinary people that suffer from these consequences, arms manufacturers and war contractors continue to make windfall profits as poverty, inequality and starvation rage across our war-torn planet.
And this is where things get really Orwellian.
As George Orwell wrote way back in 1949, in his book 1984: “The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance…In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over either Eurasia or East Asia, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
Considering that, perhaps the only way to achieve what US President Donald Trump says he wants to, which is to “Make America great again”, is to “Make Orwell fiction again”, rather than our everyday reality. And, with that in mind, to end the perpetual state of war that the world has been mired in for 17 long years, because of the War on Terror.
Eresh Omar Jamal is a member of the editorial team at The Daily Star. His Twitter handle is: @EreshOmarJamal