Twenty Years of the War on Terror
A citizen journalist marks a grim anniversary.
Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, by Scott Horton (The Libertarian Institute: 2021), 330 pages.
We’re approaching the 20th anniversary of the Global War on Terror when the George W. Bush administration made the decision to ruin the 21st century. Trillions of dollars spent, a permanent and expanding war bureaucracy on our shores, upwards of a million civilians dead, tens of millions more displaced, entire regions of the globe destabilized, and the American people no safer than they were on September 10.
When the immensity of the nefariousness is laid bare, a normal man is tempted, in the words of satirical cynic H.L. Mencken, “to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” That is the conclusion when one finishes Scott Horton’s Enough Already: Time to End the War on Terrorism, which stands as the most irrefutably argued and damning indictment of modern U.S. foreign policy yet written.
Published on the anniversary of Operation Desert Storm, its release date is a distressing reminder that, with a brief respite from 2011 to 2014, the United States has been bombing Iraq continuously for 30 years. Add Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and a dozen other countries, and the cascade of errors (and worse) can overwhelm the reader.
Indefatigable localist writer and TAC luminary Bill Kauffman once called the unasked question of American foreign policy, “What does this war mean for my block, my neighborhood, my town?” Horton’s answer, as biting as it is accurate, is that the American people have gained nothing from the War on Terrorism “beyond, perhaps, increasingly necessary technological advancements in the manufacture of prosthetic limbs.”
The schizophrenic demeanor of Uncle Sam is summarized succinctly:
The U.S. backed the Arab-Afghan mercenaries and terrorists and then fought them; backed Saddam Hussein and then fought him; backed the Taliban and then fought them; worked for Sadr, then fought him; fought al Qaeda in Iraq, backed them, and then fought them again; worked with Gaddafi, Assad and the Houthis against al Qaeda, and then fought all of them too—for al Qaeda. Does that sound right to you?
According to majorities of Republicans, Democrats, veterans, and every other polled demographic, that does not sound right. If there is one through-line in Enough Already, it is the contempt that the managerial elite hold for the average American and his antiquated loyalty to fellow citizens.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, should the focus of the United States have been apprehending Osama bin Laden and those responsible? “I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him,” President Bush said, after his obstinance allowed the terrorist leader to escape from Tora Bora. “I truly am not that concerned about him.”
Should the U.S. military be used as a tool to knock off secular dictators, inversely advancing the strategic goals of either the Islamic Republic of Iran or Sunni jihadists? Yes, according to every think tank report produced in Washington or Tel Aviv in the 1990s and 2000s.
Should the American government provide training, weapons, and money to terrorists sworn loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri, the butcher of New York City, in the most treasonous operation since the Rosenbergs? Try to ask the late Senator John McCain, who took selfies with the Northern Storm Brigade in Syria just years after their members were shooting American servicemen in Iraq. Or Foreign Affairs, the flagship journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, which published numerous articles with innocuous titles like “Accepting al Qaeda.”
Horton represents the pinnacle of citizen journalism, a man outside major media institutions who feels more comfortable at a skatepark than a newsroom. When the Washington Post op-ed page was disseminating disinformation about WMDs in Iraq, Horton was debunking “aluminum tubes” to any stranger who transited his taxicab on the way to the Austin airport.
The disparity between Horton’s history of U.S. foreign policy and the narrative perpetuated by the corporate press is depicted in an exchange between the author and Charlie Savage, “probably the second or third least-worst reporter at the Times.” When confronted about his publication’s circulation of a false report about Russian bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan, Savage counseled Horton, “I think you have overlearned the lessons of the pre-Iraq War reporting failures—almost 20 years ago now—and see that dynamic as the norm rather than the aberration that it was.”
May all sensible Americans “overlearn” the lessons of the Iraq war! According to Horton, the lessons are: “These wars are already lost. There is no victory or stable peace to be had in any of them. If the U.S. must stay until its goals have been accomplished, then that is not opposition or skepticism, but a blank writ for another two decades of war.”
The path towards absolution is clear. Sweep aside the insufferable patricians who scorn our nation. Stop invading other countries. End the drone war. Abandon the quest for universal empire. Bring our troops home. And be satisfied with the advice of that great statesman of Idaho, William Borah, who told us to “hold fast to those political principles and foreign policies which others call provincialism but which we call Americanism.”
Hunter DeRensis is communications director for BringOurTroopsHome.US and a regular contributor to The American Conservative.