September 11, Terror War, and Blowback

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Endless Terror and the Infinite Terror War

As the U.S. continued its bombing campaign in October and threatened to expand its campaign against terrorism to states like Iraq, worries began to circulate that the U.S. military intervention might create more problems than it would solve. When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld likened the war on terror to the Cold War, which lasted more than fifty years, the spectre of endless war was invoked which is perhaps what the Pentagon had in mind when they first named their military intervention "operation infinite justice." While war throughout the new millennium would keep America's troops fully employed and the Pentagon budget ever escalating, it would keep U.S. citizens in a state of fear from terrorist retaliation, for endless war would no doubt generate endless terror.

Indeed, hysteria and fear reigned throughout the U.S. after it was reported that the Bush administration believed that a significant terrorist response to their military intervention was certain. Reports of an isolated anthrax attack in Florida mushroomed when it was reported that a second case appeared in Florida, and that the source was a building that housed the National Enquirer and other tabloids which had relentlessly demonized bin Laden, his network, and the Taliban. Reports circulated that a Middle Eastern intern who had worked in the building left an email, while another reported indicated that the Sun tabloid had received a "weird love letter to Jennifer Lopez" with a "soapy, powdery substance" and a Star of David charm in the letter, evoking the specter of an anthrax infected postal system that could attack anyone.

Throughout the day of October 9, hysteria in the United States escalated. People were calling the police in when powdery substance appeared in letters and offices, while frantic tabloid representatives tried to assure the public that buying their papers would not expose them to anthrax. There was a run on anthrax antibiotics in Florida and elsewhere and bioterrorism threats closed an IRS Center in Kentucky and a subway in Washington, D.C.8
Meanwhile, it was appearing that things were not going well on the war front. Although the US could claim to control Afghanistan's airspace, this did not amount to much and reports of collateral damage were beginning to circulate, including the death of four UN workers killed by the US bombing. Most ominously, throughout the world there were regional reports of potential worrisome responses to the U.S. military adventure. Pakistan was scarred by riots and there were fears of upheaval and perhaps a long-simmering explosion of tensions with neighboring India. While British and U.S. TV networks had been engaging in relentless war propaganda for the first several days of the bombing, on October 9 both BBC TV in Britain and ABC TV in the U.S. were remarkably critical, citing civilian damage and the killing of UN workers in Afghanistan bombing, the anthryax scare and hysteria in US, refugee problem in Afghanistan, and protests in the Arab world, while citing problems with the food deliveries that were supposed to legitimate the intervention and construct it as a humanitaritarian operation that would benefit the Afghan people. However, UN and other aid workers in Afghanistan appeared on television indicating that the U.S. military intervention had made it impossible for aid agencies to continue their food delivery, that the food dropped by the U.S. was totally inadequate, and that dropping food in mine-laden Afghanistan was highly dangerous to the people.

Worries were also circulating about how the U.S. could afford its intervention and the impact on the global economy. In October it was reported that there would be no surplus for 2001, that the U.S. would once again plunge into deficit spending as it had during the earlier Reagan-Bush years, and that the entire global economy was in peril because of the turmoil. In response to calls for government spending to help avoid deep recession, the Bush administration responded with a call for a $70 billion additional tax cuts, most of which would be capital gains tax cut for the rich, proving again that the Bush administration was largely a criminal enterprise organized to rob the federal treasury of money for its most wealthy contributors and supporters (see Kellner 2001).

Finally, it appeared probable that, based on its past fifty year history, the U.S. military would not solve the problem of terrorism and would probably make it worse. The U.S. military had failed to defeat communism in major interventions in Korea and Vietnam; in interventions in Lebanon and Somalia in the 1980s and 1990s it had retreated in disgrace after some of its troops were killed and although the $3 trillion Gulf war had chased Iraq out of Kuwait, it left dictator Saddam Hussein intact while creating Arab enemies that continue to torment the U.S. Thus, in assessing the major enemies of civilization and humanity in the new millennium, we need to equally oppose terrorism, fascism, and militarist while seeking new global solutions to global problems like terrorism.

Against Terrorism, Fascism, and Militarism

In conclusion, I want to argue that one should be equally against terrorism, fascism, and militarism as three of the great evils of the past century. Indeed, in arguing that the events of September 11 can be read as blowback against specific U.S. policies by specific individuals, groups, and administrations, I am not, of course, wishing to blame the victims, nor do I associate myself with those who inventory U.S. crimes over the past several decades and see the events of September 11 as a payback for these misdeeds. Moreover, I believe that some analyses that see the events as a logical response to U.S. policy and that call for changes in U.S. policy as the solution to the events are too rationalistic both in regard to the perpetrators of the events and logical solutions to the problem.

First of all, the alleged terrorists appear to be highly fanatical and religious in their ideology and actions, of a sort hard to comprehend by Western categories. In their drive for an apocalyptic Jihad, they believe that their goals will be furthered by creating chaos, especially war between radical Islam and the West. Obviously, dialogue is not possible with such groups, but equally as certain an overreactive military response that caused a large number of innocent civilian deaths in a Muslim country could trigger precisely such an apocalyptic explosion of violence as was dreamed of by the fanatic terrorists. It would seem that such a retaliatory response was desired by the group that carried out the terrorist attacks on the U.S. and thus to overreact militarily would be to fall into their trap and play their game -- with highly dangerous consequences.

Many critics and theorists of September 11 also exaggerate the rationality of the West and fail to grasp the striking irrationality and primitive barbarism involved in the immediate response to the horror by Western politicians, intellectuals, and media representatives -- some of which I documented in an earlier section of this analysis. To carry out the military retaliatory response called for by high officials in the Bush Administration, crazed intellectuals, and many ordinary citizens, repeated endlessly in the media with almost no counterdiscourse, would risk apocalypse of the most frightening kind. Large-scale bombing of Afghanistan could trigger an unheaval in Pakistan with conceivable turmoil in Saudi Arabia and other Moslem countries, as well as a dangerous escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, already at a state of white hot intensity, whose expansion could engulf the Middle East in flames.

Thus, while it is reasonable to deem international terrorism a deadly threat on a global scale and to take resolute action against terrorism, what is required is an intelligent multifacted response. This would require a diplomatic consensus that a global campaign against terrorism is necessary that requires arrest of members of terrorist networks, regulation of financial institutions that allow funds to flow to terrorists, national security measures to protect citizens against terrorism, and a global criminalization of terrorist networks that sets international, national, and local institutions against the terrorist threat. Some of these measures have already begun and the conditions are present to develop an effective and resolute global campaign against terrorism. There is a danger, however, that excessive military action would split a potential coalition, create perhaps uncontrollable chaos, and destroy the global economy. We are living in a very dangerous period and must be extremely careful in how we respond to the events of September 11.

Thus, I would argue for a global campaign against terrorism and not war or large-scale military action. Terrorists should be criminalized and international and national institutions should go after terrorist networks and those who support them with appropriate legal, financial, judicial, and political instruments. Before the Bush administration military intervention through the world into potential chaos and collapse, an intelligent campaign was indeed underway that had arrested many participants and supporters of the bin Laden and other terror networks, that had alerted publics throughout the world to the dangers of terrorism, and that had created the conditions of possibility for a global campaign against terror.

I would also suggest that another lesson of September 11 is that it is now totally appropriate to be completely against terrorism, to use the term in the arsenal of critical social theory, and to declare it unacceptable and indefensible in the modern world. There was a time when it was argued that one person's "terrorism" was another person's "national liberation movement," or "freedom fighter," and that the term was thus an ideological concept not to be used by politically and theoretically correct discourse -- a position that Reuters continues to follow according to one report.

    In terms of modern/postmodern epistemological debates, I am not arguing for absolutism or universalism. There were times in history when "terrorism" was an arguably defensible tactic used by those engaged in struggles against fascism as in World War II, or in national liberation struggles, that were arguably defensible, as in the American or various Third World revolutions against oppressive European empire and colonialism. In the current situation, however, when terrorism is a clear and present danger to innocent civilians throughout the world, it seems unacceptable to advocate, carry out, or defend terrorism against civilian populations because of the lethality of modern weapons, the immorality of indiscriminate crime, and the explosiveness of the present situation when terror on one side could unleash genocidal, even species-cidal, terror as a retaliatory response.

    It is therefore neither the time for terrorism or military retaliation, but for a global campaign against terrorism that deploys all legal, political, and morally defensible means to destroy the network of terrorists responsible for the September 11 events. Such a global response would put terrorist groups on warning that their activity is not acceptable and will be strongly opposed, and that thus construes "terrorism" as a moral and political malevolence not to be accepted or defended.

    To terrorism, I would append that progressives should be now, as previously, against fascism. The supposed perpetrators of the September 11 events were allegedly both terrorists and fascistic Islamic fundamentalists who support a theocratic state that would abrogate human rights and employ torture and murder in the name of supposedly higher theological values. In the contemporary world, such fascism should opposed and more democratic and progressive modern values and democratic politics should be defended.

    I would be reluctant to defend, however, U.S. military interventionism in Afghanistan on the grounds that the problem of terrorism is largely a global problem that requires a global solution through global institutions and not unilateral military action, and that the US military intervention is likely to make the situation worse and evoke endless terrorist response. Thus, while I would support a global campaign against terrorism, especially al Qaeda network, that could include military action under UN or other global auspices, I would not trust U.S. unilateral military action for reasons laid out in this study of U.S. failures in the region and sustained history of supporting the most reactionary social forces. Moreover, one of the stakes of the current crisis and globalization itself is whether the U.S. empire will come to dominate the world, or whether globalization will constitute a more democratic, cosmopolitan, pluralistic, and just world, without domination by hegemonic states or corporations. Now more than ever global institutions are needed to deal with global problems and those who see positive potential in globalization should renounce all national solutions to the problem of terrorism and seek global ones. Consequently, while politicians like Bill Clinton and Colin Powell have deemed terrorism "the dark side of globalization" it can also be seen as an unacceptable response to misguided and destructive imperial national policies which themselves must be transformed if a world without terror is possible.


Fukuyama, Francis (1992) The End of History. New York:

Huntington, Samuel (1996) The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Touchstone Books.

Johnson, Chalmers (2000) Blowback. The Costs and Consequences of American Empire. New York: Henry Holt.

Kellner, Douglas (2001) Grand Theft 2000. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield.

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