Is it truly the end of the War on Terror?

Nasser bin Nasser
Nasser bin Nasser (Photo: Jordan News)
This week marked the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which threw the world and the Middle East in particular into a prolonged period of conflict and instability. There was a tremendous amount of solidarity with the United States and support for their legitimate right to retaliate against Al-Qaeda after the attacks. However, the consensus was that the attacks, and terrorism in general, were an affront to humanity. That support changed considerably as time went by.اضافة اعلان

The turning point of when support began to wane may very well have been the war in Iraq and the deception that went into launching it. As we now know, the main pretext for the war, that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, was fabricated by a combination of political opportunists and business interests. Support decreased considerably once the campaign morphed into an ill-defined objective, broadly referred to as the War on Terror, whose unintended consequences included rolling back public freedoms and the rule of law. In addition, the failed outcome of nation-building efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq undoubtedly contributed to dwindling support. From a regional perspective, the way the destruction of Iraq pushed the country out of the orbit of the Arab world and into that of Iran was challenging to accept.

In many ways, President Biden’s decision to withdraw US troops from Iraq and Afghanistan effectively formalizes the end of the War on Terror. However, the decision was a long time coming considering that there have been no significant attacks on US soil since 9/11 and that each US president since then has vowed to end the “forever wars” that were born out of it. It seems like it was just as ill-defined and impalpable an objective for US presidents as it was for the rest of the world. As a result, victory measures for the War on Terror became as elusive as victory measures in the War on Drugs and other slogans against thematic adversaries. The end of the War on Terror was also primarily a result of the reordering of US priorities, mainly focusing on a future confrontation with China and reaching some level of accommodation with Iran. Formerly, US strategists seemed to recognize the drain these wars have had on the US military, specifically how they could detract from the country’s ability to counter China. Additionally, a US withdrawal from the firing range of Iranian missiles in countries neighboring Iran (Iraq, Afghanistan and Qatar) simultaneously denies Iran leverage during their negotiations and is generally considered a goodwill gesture.

Considering that the threat posed by terrorism is still real, it is yet unclear what the US pivot to Asia means for the region’s security situation. The US is unlikely to openly commit troops in future counterterrorism efforts unless they could directly threaten them. Instead, they will likely prefer to commit to other forms of support such as training, working covertly through other non-state actors, deploying unmanned systems, or even more worryingly, autonomous ones in support of regional-led efforts. These efforts could accelerate the region’s progress towards greater self-reliance in security and defense, making the region less dependent on outside security guarantors. In an ideal situation, it could lead to a doubling down on efforts to address root causes of terrorism, stemming from the recognition that terrorism thrives where governance and politics have failed. Perhaps all this means is that the War on Terror is not over after all but merely entering a new and entirely different phase.

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