America’s prestige has been irreparably tarnished, its credentials diminished, and is now in global retreat as hungry powers rise to challenge it. It only has itself to blame.

For many Muslims around the world, it is fair to say that the so-called “War on Terror” – launched by the United States in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks – has been a generation-defining experience. 

Often the subject of heavily securitised and racialised Islamophobic discourses, Muslims have been at the business end of intense Western civilisational violence for two decades now, and all in the name of fighting terrorism. 

The US led NATO and much of Europe into invasions, making cross-border extrajudicial drone strikes the norm, and created an entire industry that seeks to justify violence against Muslims, wherever they may be around the world.

It did not matter that millions of Muslims lived in the West either, as they were either renditioned to black sites, placed in offshore prison camps like Guantanamo Bay, or face unbearable levels of discrimination within the societies they called home that were now turned against them. 

All of this was facilitated by politicians who, of course, preached about democratic ideals, human rights, and equality for all.

Despite it all, despite all the violence, the discrimination, the pain, suffering, and misery, and after two decades of empirical evidence to draw on, we can now confidently declare that the “War on Terror” achieved nothing but abject defeat for its main sponsor, the United States, and led it into global retreat and growing irrelevance.

The twin tragedies of Afghanistan and Iraq

In a somewhat grimly symbolic turn of events, the United States aimed its ire for Al Qaeda’s destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center at two countries, creating the twin tragedies of the invasion, destruction and occupation first of Afghanistan in 2001 and then Iraq shortly after in 2003.

In Afghanistan, the rationale was that the Taliban were harbouring Al Qaeda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, whom the George Bush administration demanded be immediately handed over by Kabul with no preconditions. 

Afghanistan under the Taliban was indeed home to bin Laden, and they offered to either place him on trial themselves or else extradite him to another Muslim country to face justice. The US response was swift and devastating, with special forces deployments weeks after 9/11 and full-scale bombing in early October.

Rather than bringing “democracy and human rights”, the US brought death, corruption, and decades of war. Not even two months after the 9/11 attacks, US ally and warlord, Abdul Rashid Dostum, racked up a body count close to the terror attack that served as the justification for invasion. 

Thousands of prisoners of war were forced into container trucks and were left to suffocate inside them, with Dostum and his Afghan Northern Alliance fighters providing “air holes” by shooting into the containers. As many as 2,000 were killed in one of the first major atrocities of the “War on Terror” era.

Naturally, the White House blocked any war crime investigations into Dostum’s actions, largely because he was a CIA asset and was willing to serve the American Empire. Despite all the talk about championing human rights and the rule of law, the US has shown itself to be extremely pragmatic in when and where it applies those standards. 

Dostum became one of the most powerful actors in Afghanistan until the Taliban ousted him and all other American clients just last month, and largely because the reality of US commitment to rights and rule of law in Afghanistan was exposed to be a farce as it fostered nothing but a massively corrupt regime.

Although Iraq had nothing to do with the 9/11 terror attacks, it was the next country to be placed in America’s crosshairs. Bush wanted to finish the job his father started in 1991, destroying what was left of Iraq as a sovereign nation after more than a decade of crippling sanctions that were infamous for having murdered half a million children in the first few years alone. 

Such was the devastation wrought on Iraq that a recently released report by airstrike monitoring organisation, Airwars, has revealed that more Iraqi civilians have been killed by US actions than any other nationality. 

Like Afghanistan, Iraq was similarly denied democracy and was instead granted a full-blown kleptocracy and a revolving door system of sectarian politics where the same political opportunists change seats and positions in government, all while robbing the country blind and running a gangster state dominated by sectarian Shia militias backed and supported by political players. 

This state-sponsored terror has led to the rise of Daesh, the use of sectarian cleansing campaigns to displace Sunnis and engineer demographics, and has also as recently as 2019 caused a predominantly Shia Arab-led protest movement to form against neighbouring Shia Iran’s shadowy control over Iraqi affairs.

US global retreat shows it lost the war 

While the war in Afghanistan has ended with the US in retreat and the Taliban back and stronger than ever, US involvement with its client state in Iraq has yet to end. 

However, not only has Iran “won” in terms of who wields most influence in Baghdad, but the Green Zone regime that Washington installed there is still at significant risk of collapse in the same way the Ashraf Ghani regime in Kabul unravelled before our very eyes.

This has all left the United States in an embarrassing position. Not only did it lose its longest war in Afghanistan, but its Frankenstein’s monster of a democracy in Iraq is a recognised failure that, almost two decades after the fall of former dictator Saddam Hussein, still cannot provide basic services to its people and moves from one scandal to another almost as fast as the media can print headlines.

The United States has spent trillions on the “War on Terror”, yet has never been weaker. It undermined its own credentials as a bastion for democracy, particularly when it repeatedly shelved human rights to justify “enhanced interrogation” techniques (read: torture). It imprisoned innocent people in Guantanamo Bay, a prison it has repeatedly promised to close yet still remains open, a stain on the face of an America that tries to present itself as being “fundamentally a force for good” in the world.

To fight the “War on Terror”, the United States and its allies used mass terror. They devastated entire nations, pardoned their own war criminals while attempting to sit in judgment over others, tortured countless people, and pioneered the use of drones to conduct extrajudicial assassinations that, more often than not, kill more civilians than it does legitimate targets of war.

The devastating impact this has had on the post-Cold War world order cannot be understated. America’s prestige has been irreparably tarnished, its credentials diminished, and it is now in global retreat as hungry powers rise to challenge it on a regional level like Iran in the Middle East and on an international level like China, another superpower that utilises the “War on Terror” discourse to persecute its own minorities.

Although the United States is still the world’s foremost superpower, there can be no doubt that its decline and its international isolation is directly linked to its failure in the “War on Terror” and its performance since 9/11. 

It started the war as an unmatched power, and it has now ended it being challenged on all fronts by state and non-state actors, its nose bloodied and its eyes blackened from the repeated defeats it has suffered since. 

In an increasingly multipolar world, that is not a good look to be showing your rivals, and America only has itself to blame.

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