Continuity of War

It is perceived as a truism that 9/11 changed the world. Yet while the savagery and shock value of those attacks cannot be denied it is worth asking whether the world, or to be more precise, US/NATO foreign policy changed as a result of the attacks.
Such a question is not only worthwhile, it is perhaps urgent, especially as we are still embroiled in two wars: Iraq and Afghanisthan which are commonly justified in light of the 9/11 attacks. Indeed Noah Feldman in a 2003 Ted talk stated, “No-9/11, no war in Iraq”.

It might therefore be useful to examine the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan prior to 9/11.

Between the first Gulf War in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 Iraq was held under sanctions and the enforcement of No-Fly-Zones involved the regular bombing by Britain, the US and France (France withdrew support after the extension of the No-Fly-Zones beyond their original remit) of Iraqi military and infrastructure.

Far more deadly were the sanctions which led the United Nation Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq to resign his post in 1998 with the subsequent explanation:

“ I often have to explain why I resigned from the United Nations after a 30 year career, why I took on the all powerful states of the UN Security Council; and why after five years I continue to serve the well being of the people of Iraq. In reality there was no choice, and there remains no choice. You all would have done the same had you been occupying my seat as head of the UN Humanitarian Program in Iraq.
I was driven to resignation because I refused to continue to take Security Council orders, the same Security Council that had imposed and sustained genocidal sanctions on the innocent of Iraq. I did not want to be complicit. I wanted to be free to speak out publicly about this crime.
And above all, my innate sense of justice was and still is outraged by the violence that UN sanctions have brought upon, and continues to bring upon, the lives of children, families – the extended families, the loved ones of Iraq. There is no justification for killing the young people of Iraq, not the aged, not the sick, not the rich, not the poor.
Some will tell you that the leadership is punishing the Iraqi people. That is not my perception, or experience from living in Baghdad. And were that to be the case – how can that possibly justify further punishment, in fact collective punishment, by the United Nations? I don’t think so. And international law has no provision for the disproportionate and murderous consequences of the ongoing UN embargo – for well over 12 long years.[5]
A Unicef from the period of the “Oil for Food” program showed a doubling of the child mortality rate (
Even if one dismisses Denis Halliday’s statement as “melodramatic” (I do not) and blames deaths from sanctions on Saddam Hussein (Saddam is responsible for his own actions, we are responsible for ours,and the sanctions were our decisions, not Saddam’s), a situation of siege in the Medieval sense of cutting of external supplies as well as a continued bombing campaign can hardly be defined as “peace”.

To put it another way, were a foreign power preventing the delivery of food and medicines to the UK or United States while simultaneously bombing air-defence and aircraft in those nation’s own airspace how would we define it? As peace or as war?
At one of the 2003 protests against the invasion of Iraq I remember being struck by the fact that even the protesters were speaking of an imminent war rather than the escalation of a conflict which had been going on for more than a decade.
For many it is seen as George W Bush’s war, but much of the early stages of the conflict were carried out under Bill Clinton. There are parallels with “Bush’s” Missile Defence policy, which actually shows examples of ongoing research from 1977. Essentially Saddam was defanged before being overthrown.

Afghanistan has also had the misfortune of ongoing warfare and interference by the Superpowers. In August 1979 the State Department “the United States’ larger interest…would be served by the demise of the Taraki-Amin regime, despite whatever setbacks this might mean for future social and economic reforms in Afghanistan.” In 1980 the Soviets invaded and began, as former CIA veteran describes it, “their Vietnam”: of course it was the Afghans’ Vietnam too.

First the Mujaheddin against the Soviets backed by both Democrat Jimmy Carter and Republican Ronald Reagan. John K. Cooley’s book “Unholy Wars: Afghanisthan, America and International Terrorism” gives a pretty detailed account of some of these activities which are also mentioned here:

I remember clearly first reading of the Taliban in The Guardian during the 1990’s. As someone of Iranian origin I was shocked by the thought of a regime so oppressive that it drove millions to flee into Iran for sanctuary.

In the early 1998 the Taliban were negotiating with US firms while fighting a civil war

1990’s Clinton was bombing Afghanisthan (and Sudan) with Cruise missiles, but the public was more interested in where he put his cigars.

Clinton declared his War on Terrorism

As with Iraq, sanctions were enforced, though the country was by this time so poor there was little they could have afforded to buy anyway:

Early in 2001 the Taliban and Northern Alliance prepared for renewed conflict (at that time backed by Iran and Russia):

Gino Strada, Italian war surgeon and of the foundersfounders of the medical charity Emergency (working in Afghanisthan from the 1990’s) wrote his thoughts from the days immediately following September the 11th 2001:

‘When CNN, at midnight Italian time, airs nighttime BAGLIORI from the sky of Kabul, the TV journalist asks live, “Has the American response already begun?”
For more than twenty years there have been explosions nearly every night in Kabul, but he ignores this because CNN never showed them to him.

In twenty years, nearly two-million Afghans were able to quietly die from bombs or mines, from cold or famine. Two-million dead are a minor detail which can be ignored by CNN, for many years they have not been worth media coverage. This time however, they are interested in what happens in Afghanisthan.”

With the official war in its tenth year in Afghanisthan, and the official war in Iraq having passed its eighth, and with unofficial, undeclared, and to the majority of our press uninteresting wars being fought across the globe, isn’t it time to stop repeating the same myth about the world changing after 9/11?

Notes: While researching for this piece I found that Kate Hudson of CND had written a similar piece which can be viewed here: