Every time you buy a movie ticket, pump a few litres of gas or earn a paycheque, your taxes are contributing to the $50 million or so we've been spending each month in Afghanistan. Since October 2001, when Canada first promised to send warships, planes and troops to join Operation Apollo, the cost of our war in that far-off, poverty-stricken land has totalled more than $3.3 billion. For this, you can thank 9/11. Or perhaps more accurately, the rich world's bellicose and panicky reaction to the airplane attacks on Manhattan's twin towers and the Pentagon in Washington. About 3,000 people died in those attacks seven years ago this week. Estimates vary, but it's likely that more than a million people have perished in the string of wars that 9/11 triggered---wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, Gaza and the West Bank, and in Somalia, where the US backed an Ethiopian invasion a couple of years ago. The sustained and bloody violence often goes by the name of the War on Terror declared by George W. Bush nine days after 9/11. "On September 11, enemies of freedom committed an act of war against our country," Bush told the US Congress. Not to worry, he added. He would exact sweet revenge. "Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen."
Bush's declaration of a permanent state of war was only the first in a series of steps that led the US and its allies to round up thousands of people, then torture and imprison them without charge or trial. Bush authorized massive, illegal surveillance against his own people as government spooks monitored phone calls, read emails and even kept track of the library books Americans borrowed. Bush also used 9/11 as an excuse to launch an illegal invasion of Iraq that will ultimately cost American taxpayers $3 trillion.
In his recent book Pornography of Power, American journalist Robert Scheer notes that the 9/11 hijackers used $3 box cutters to commandeer the passenger planes they employed as deadly weapons. The official 9/11 inquiry concluded that the attacks cost no more than $500,000 to pull off. Yet within days, Bush was demanding that the US Congress grant him an extra $20 billion in emergency spending. That was only the beginning. The subtitle of Scheer's book is How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America. He points to the massive military buildup now underway and an overall defence budget of more than half-a-trillion dollars (the US spends more on its military than the rest of the world combined), a $300-billion program for F-35 fighter jets, $65 billion for F-22s and $7 billion every year for submarines when al-Qaeda terrorists don't even own a rowboat.
The events of 9/11 also proved a godsend for defence hawks in Canada as both the federal Liberals and Tories added billions in new military spending. In 2005, for example, the Liberals proudly announced a $13-billion boost over five years. In 2006, the Tories added $1.1 billion over two years as part of their $5.3-billion five-year plan. They also allocated $15 billion spread over several years for military vehicles such as transport planes, heavy-lift helicopters, troop-carrier ships and trucks. Amid this flurry of competing announcements, it was hard to tell exactly how many new billions the military would get. But a study conducted for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives concluded last October that Canada's military spending had increased 27 percent since 9/11. By 2010, the increase will total 37 percent. This year's budget of $18.2 billion makes Canada the sixth highest military spender in NATO, the North Atlantic alliance that is helping the US pound the hell outof Afghanistan.
Much of that pounding comes from the air, sometimes in indiscriminate bombing raids that blow up innocent bystanders and also from the tens of thousands of cluster bomblets that continue to kill and maim for years to come. In his new book Descent Into Chaos, the veteran Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid argues in favour of the western military invasion, but also counts the cost. Four thousand Afghan civilians died in the first three months after 9/11. "The bombing caused massive dislocation as thousands fled their homes, the distribution of food aid to drought-stricken areas was halted and there were widespread revenge killings," Rashid writes. "Up to 20,000 Afghans may have died indirectly as a result of drought, hunger and displacement. In the months to come, US aircraft were to cause hundreds more civilian casualties by targeting the wrong villages." No one knows for sure how many Afghan civilians have died in the seven years since 9/11. Figures from the Associated Press news agency suggest that at least 600 died in the first six months of this year alone---a 30 percent increase over the same period in 2007. Some perished at the hands of US and NATO, while others were murdered by forces resisting Western occupation.
The war in Afghanistan was sold to taxpayers as one that would put Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network out of business. Canadian general Rick Hillier vowed that the war would target these "detestable murderers and scumbags." Hillier has since retired to a tranquil university post in Newfoundland while, by all accounts, al-Qaeda is more active than ever. A report released in July by Washington's RAND National Defense Research Institute concludes that the network has been involved in more attacks since 9/11 than it launched before the twin towers fell. These attacks have involved a broad range of targets in Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
RAND is far from a radical lefty organization. In fact, its Research Institute is funded by the US government and does frequent studies for the US Secretary of Defense and for various branches of the US military. So, it's noteworthy that RAND is calling on the US to rethink its War on Terror. "Our analysis suggests that there is no battlefield solution to terrorism," the report says. "Military force usually has the opposite effect from what is intended: It is often over-used, alienates the local population by its heavy-handed nature, and provides a window of opportunity for terrorist-group recruitment." The report calls on the US to view terrorists as criminals, not holy warriors and to focus most of its efforts on policing and intelligence gathering instead of bombs and bullets.
But that's unlikely to happen. Both John McCain and Barack Obama are promising more bombs and bullets if they're elected president. Both are following the US tradition of championing military force, not peaceful diplomacy, as the blunt instrument of American foreign policy. America's 9/11 for example, was preceded by at least two others sponsored by the US. On September 11, 1973, the US backed a military coup in Chile to overthrow Salvador Allende who led the country's socialist government. As Naomi Klein points out in her book The Shock Doctrine, Chile's 9/11 was especially violent. "In all, more than 3,200 people were disappeared or executed, at least 80,000 were imprisoned and 200,000 fled the country for political reasons." The military coup and the dictatorship that followed ended 41 continuous years of democracy in Chile.
And with US support, the impoverished country of Haiti experienced its own 9/11. On September 11, 1988, hundreds of thugs hired by Haiti's US-backed military regime stormed the crowded church run by Jean-Bertrand Aristide, a charismatic priest who preached social justice. At least a dozen members of the congregation were killed and the church destroyed, but Aristide himself was spirited to safety by his supporters. Not to worry. In 2004, the US "rescued" Haiti from Aristide with military help from France and Canada when it forced the democratically elected president onboard an American jet and flew him to Africa. That latest American adventure was one of more than 50 similar interventions in the affairs of foreign countries since the end of the Second World War. The American 9/11 showed that the US citizens themselves are no longer immune from the kind of international violence that the US itself routinely sponsors or inflicts.
"Violence begets more violence, war begets further wars, more enemies, and more suffering." Those are the words of Ursula Franklin, the distinguished Canadian scientist, activist and pacifist. "War does not work, not even for the warriors," Franklin wrote in the Toronto Starshortly before 9/11's first anniversary. She warned that "war and war measures are fundamentally dysfunctional instruments of problem-solving." Franklin argued that instead of seeing 9/11 as an act of war, it would have been wiser to view it as a political earthquake since social and political structures are as inherently unstable as geological ones. "Geological fissures and human terrorists are created in a context of forces that can be understood and---at times---mitigated. Neither can be eliminated by bombing."
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