The minefields of liberty

The US’s failure to restore democracy in Afghanistan was validated by the haphazard manner in which it decided to pull out of Kabul in 2021.
The towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke shortly after being struck by hijacked commercial aircraft.
The towers of the World Trade Center pour smoke shortly after being struck by hijacked commercial aircraft.Reuters

NEW DELHI: In the backdrop of the 9/11 anniversary, it seems appropriate to observe how the American template of geopolitics has shaped up 21 years after the September 11 attacks.

The targeted assault in 2001 by al-Qaeda had hit at the nerve centre of the American financial capital.

What that act of terrorism set into motion, changed the face of the world as we know it today, with far reaching repercussions that have not found closure yet.

Plunging the US headlong into the War on Terror, the 9/11 attacks precipitated a new era of warfare.

The American military, buoyed by the leadership of President George W Bush Jr opted for an ill-conceived response, with multiple targets and no clear endgame in sight. It led to the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the former on account of alternative intelligence that erroneously suggested Baghdad possessed weapons of mass destruction; and the latter on account of Kabul being the hideout of 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden. The era marked a new low point for American foreign policy as allegations of human rights abuses marked the hunt for bin Laden.

The infamous prison Abu Ghraib, a detention centre became an embarrassment for the government, as footage of US soldiers resorting to torture (water-boarding) and humiliation to extract critical information from prisoners went viral.

The invasion of Iraq sent the nation down a path of destruction, giving rise to splinter terror groups who made a dash to capture not just the country, but neighbouring Syria as well, with the most extreme of them emerging to the forefront – ISIS. The humanitarian crisis resulting from the ongoing Syrian Civil War, had rebel factions holding on against President Bashar al-Assad’s murderous regime backed by Russia’s military might. The UN Human Rights Office estimates that over 3 lakh civilians have lost their lives in the Syrian conflict. While the US failed to recover any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it took over a decade to neutralise bin Laden, who was holed up in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

The fact that Washington’s ‘ally’ Islamabad was kept in the dark regarding Operation Geronimo confirmed that bin Laden’s hide-out was a well-guarded secret within the top brass of Pakistan’s military.

The US’s failure to restore democracy in Afghanistan was validated by the haphazard manner in which it decided to pull out of Kabul in 2021.

As the Taliban assumed control of the nation, it reversed two decades worth of reforms in social development, education, women empowerment and employment.

A year later, the US neutralised bin Laden’s successor and al-Qaeda de-facto chief Ayman al-Zawahiri in a drone attack in Afghanistan, bringing the War on Terror full circle.

Today, 21 years after 9/11, the geopolitical minefield has moved from the deserts of the Middle-East to Ukraine, where the US has refused to engage militarily, even as it renewed its rivalry with Russia, China, Iran and North Korea, redefining the Axis of Evil for a new generation. Championing democracy, the US has called out Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and China’s designs on Taiwan.

Speaker Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan, which made her the highest ranking US official to visit the island in over 25 years, triggered a series of retaliatory military exercises by Beijing, aimed at countering the Taiwan-US bonhomie.

And there is India, which is part of the Quad, a coalition of the US, Australia, and Japan, whose primary aim is to check Chinese expansionism in the region.

But, geopolitically, the biggest fallout of 9/11 is America’s fall from grace, as a superpower – to mere spectators, and occasional unwitting participants, in the global scheme of things.

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