As a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan reflecting on my time in service, I’m not sure why the United States continues to fight the War on Terror.
The horrible terrorist acts on 9/11 were not because of religion as many continue to claim, but the fact that violent occupations lead to violent responses. In 1998 and 2002, Osama bin Laden declared that the U.S. policy of supporting corrupt regimes in the Middle East and killing scores of civilians in Iraq through sanctions was the reason he would attack America.
Americans would not tolerate foreigners creating pain and suffering on our people, so why should we expect others to tolerate American foreign policy that has caused so many problems abroad? Robert Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, showed that 95 percent of all suicide bombings are not motivated by religion or ethnicity, but to repel a foreign occupation.
American foreign intervention has historically led to numerous negative unintended consequences around the world. In 1953, the CIA overthrew a democratically elected government in Iran and installed a pro-U.S. dictator for the benefit of Western oil countries. By 1979, the people of Iran had enough and overthrew the shah, but another government was installed that repressed the people even more. Christopher Coyne, a professor of economics at George Mason University, found an overwhelming majority of countries in which the United States intervened in the past century haven’t even become as "free" as Iran is now.
Iran isn’t the only failure of note. The prime minister of "free" Iraq routinely arrests political opponents. Afghanistan, where drug lords (supported by the U.S. government) run the country, is more unsafe than ever, the government itself is incompetent and lacking legitimacy among the people, and the U.S.-backed government has been a major point of contention between longtime nuclear-weapon-armed rivals India and Pakistan. The drone-bombing campaign in Pakistan indiscriminately kills civilians. The U.S. government worked closely with the Muammar Qaddafi regime to rendition terror suspects in Libya among other types of aid, before working with the rebels (many of whom fought and killed Americans in Iraq).
These interventions have been far too costly in blood and treasure; 3,000 Americans died on 9/11, and another 5,500 have died "fighting for freedom" overseas. Thousands of Americans suffer from mental trauma or have become amputees because of these wars without end. More than 100,000 Iraqis and tens of thousands of Afghans have died. There is no way to know how much these wars will cost in the long run, but economist Joseph Stiglitz thinks it will be far beyond $3 trillion.
Ultimately, we have become less free because of the War on Terror. The Patriot Act has allowed the US government to spy on citizens. Americans sacrifice privacy at the airport, despite the Transportation Security Administration is mostly incapable of securing airports or detecting threats. The FBI created a massive network of agents provocateur to justify draconian antiterrorist laws. Veterans are murdered during no-knock SWAT raids absent any evidence of wrongdoing. Food cooperatives are being raided by government agents for the Very Serious Crime of selling raw milk.
The motivations for the War on Terror are nebulous at best. Many say this War on Terror is a war for oil and other natural resources. Others claim the War on Terror is simply to perpetuate the defense industry. Some contend it "spreads democracy" and keeps America safe. Whatever the purpose, the War on Terror has clearly been negative for millions here and abroad, and now is simply time to end it. The freedom Americans believe is being defended by troops overseas is being destroyed at home by their own government.
Drew Hjelm is a senior studying economics and management-information systems at the University of Iowa.