After the London Bridge attack: the war on terror was always about initiating aggressive wars

Ritual condemnations will not help to address how interwoven terror has become with western foreign policy objectives. It is time to reflect more deeply on the roots of terrorism.

Piers Robinson
7 June 2017

Armed Police officer looks through his weapon on London Bridge as the attack broke out. Dominic Lipinski/PA Images. All rights reserved.At this stage in the ‘game’, 16 years since 9/11 ushered in the US-led ‘war on terror’– with multiple attacks now occurring across Europe and multiple wars across the MENA region – it is time for everyone in the west to start to reflect far more deeply on these matters. Whilst the attacks should be condemned, and sympathies expressed for the bereaved, these ritual condemnations, however important, will not help address the ways in which terrorism has become interwoven with western foreign policy objectives and those of its allies in the Middle East. Simplistic and politicised representations pitting ‘Islamic fundamentalist terrorism’ against ‘the west’ are wholly inadequate and are belied by facts. 

So what do we now know? First, and perhaps most remarkably, the foundational event of the ‘war on terror’, the 9/11 attacks, do not appear to have kicked off a thorough and uncompromising strategy to deal with Al Qaeda. In fact, within days of 9/11, the British embassy in Washington was reporting that the “ ‘regime-change hawks in Washington [were] arguing that a coalition put together for one purpose (against international terrorism) could be used to clear up other problems in the region” (see Chilcot, 3.1 p.324).

Within weeks Blair and Bush were discussing multiple regime change operations in countries unconnected with the kind of terrorism understood to be behind Al Qaeda and 9/11.

Within weeks Blair and Bush were discussing multiple regime change operations in countries unconnected with the kind of terrorism understood to be behind Al Qaeda and 9/11, including Iraq, Syria and Iran. On September 20, 2001, Blair cautioned Bush that we should “take our time to see whether we could build up the case against Iraq or other countries” before acting (Chilcot, 31, 327) and, in December of 2001, argued with Bush that, “if toppling Saddam is a prime objective, it is far easier to do it with Syria and Iran in favour or acquiescing rather than hitting all three at once".

Remarkably, again, these conversations corroborate the revelation from retired US General Wesley Clark (former Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO ) that the Bush administration was seeking to topple seven countries in five years: 

He picked up a piece of paper, he said I just got this down from upstairs, from the Secretary of Defence’s office today, and he said this is a memo that describes how we are gonna take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and finishing off Iran. 

The reasonable conclusion to draw from this information is that, from the start, the so-called ‘war on terror’ – sold to western publics as a war against terrorism – was just as much, if not more, about geostrategic opportunism and initiating aggressive wars. 

Second, the highly destructive and on-going war in Syria has come to highlight the powerful inconsistencies in the foreign policies of western governments and their proclaimed priority of fighting terrorism. Here, the US priority of toppling Assad has involved support, intentional or unintentional, for a variety of groups, many of which are linked, in one way or another, to extremist ideologies. 

A leaked US intelligence report noted that “the Salafist, The Muslim Brotherhood, and Al Qaeda in Iraq are the major forces driving the insurgency in Syria. The West, Gulf countries, and Turkey support the opposition.” In 2016, an email written by Hilary Clinton, and published by Wikileaks, stated that key allies of the West, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, were “providing clandestine financial and logistical support to ISIL and other radical Sunni groups in the region”.

From the start, the so-called ‘war on terror’ – sold to western publics as a war against terrorism – was just as much, if not more, about geostrategic opportunism and initiating aggressive wars.

Sir Richard Dearlove, former Head of MI6, in a 2014 Royal United Services Institute talk, stated that Saudi Arabia is “deeply attracted to any militancy which can effectively challenge Shiadom” before describing how he believed a “blind eye” had been turned towards support for ISIS. ISIS, he said, “have become the shock troops in the long-awaited war between Sunni and Shia Islam currently being fought out in Syria, and now to an extent in Iraq”. The picture that emerges from this is the involvement of the West and its key allies in the Middle East region with helping, in one way or another, and either by design or by accident, to fuel extremism. Many, many more questions need to be asked with regard to these activities.

Third, the recent attacks in Manchester, UK, have triggered remarkable revelations with regards to the possible relationship between the alleged attacker, Salman Abedi, and British security services. As Mark Curtis and Nafeez Ahmed have recently reported, Abedi was a member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG), once affiliated with Al Qaeda, and that British intelligence services facilitated some members of this group in travelling to Libya to help overthrow of Qadafi in 2011. 

They state: “UK covert action in Libya in 2011 included approval of and support to Qatar’s arming and backing of opposition forces, which included support to hardline Islamist groups; this fuelled jihadism in Libya”. British journalist Peter Oborne quotes former MI6 officer Alastair Crooke: 

“It is not right that, on the one hand, domestic police services are straining every sinew to protect our societies by fighting terrorism, while, on the other hand, elements in our and America’s security services have been arming and training jihadists and colluding in terrorism” 

As John Pilger recently noted, these revelations point clearly toward the ‘Faustian alliance’ between British foreign policy and extreme Islam which stretches as far back as the Second World War. Many more questions are now begged by these revelations. 

This is a dismal record. Exploiting 9/11 and a ‘war on terror’ “to clear up other problems in the region”, co-operating with allies bent on exploiting jihadists as ‘shock troops’ in a Sunni-Shia regional war, and facilitating jihadists whose goals align with our foreign policy objectives but who end up carrying out miserable attacks against western civilians, in this case a group of children at a pop concert or people on a night out in London. None of this points towards a reality consistent with official narratives, promoted ad nauseam since 9/11, that the west is fighting a ‘war on terrorism’ and in which the west is simply the innocent victim of extremists groups who ‘hate our freedoms’. 

The official narrative is starting to look more and more like a propaganda campaign designed to mobilise western publics and maintain political support for various foreign policy objectives.

Indeed, the official narrative is starting to look more and more like a propaganda campaign designed to mobilise western publics and maintain political support for various foreign policy objectives. The question begged, put bluntly, is to what extent western populations have been manipulated into supporting a war on terrorism which is as much about geo-strategic opportunism, aggressive wars and exploiting jihadism, as it is about tackling terrorism. If we are to move beyond the ritualistic cycle of terror attack-condemnation-military response-terror attack, we all need to start engaging with facts that are, quite frankly, incompatible with what Western governments have been saying for the last 16 years. It is time to come to terms with, and bring to an end, Western involvement in terrorism.      

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData