The terrorist attacks on September 11 left a shocked America in hither to unchartered territory. A traumatised nation woke up to the fact that it had come under devastating under from an unknown enemy. For all the pontificating since by academics, journalists and security organisations the exact motivation of the bombers is not truly known, nor is the leadership behind the group – this makes coming to terms with the tragedy even more difficult for American leaders and their people alike.
What has happened is that the US government has looked towards the Middle East as not only as the region from which the terrorists came but also as the region most likely to generate future attacks, and also as the region that will satisfy the desire for revenge felt by many within the US administration. Edward Said is one of many commentators to suggest that the US has reacted without any clear strategy towards the Middle East, stating: “No answers are provided, except the vague suggestion that the Middle East and Islam are what “we” are up against and that terrorism must be destroyed.” (p108, Said Edward, From Oslo to Iraq and the RoadMap, Bloomsbury Publishing, London 2001).
This dissertation analyses US foreign policy towards the Middle Eastin the wake of the 9/11 attacks and whether US intervention in the region has been appropriate. Using largely a security methodology, the dissertation will look at the rationale behind the military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Chapter two will look at American foreign policy in the Middle East prior to 9/11 and how some of its previous actions have impacted on policies post-9/11. The US has been heavily involved in the Middle East since World War II and this chapter will examine how policies over previous decades may have firstly contributed towards the 9/11 attacks and secondly shaped US policy in the intervening period.
Chapter three examines the possible motivations for the attacks on 9/11. The question ‘why do they hate us so much?’ is one that has been asked across America since 9/11 and this chapter will attempt to examine to motivations of the attackers and groups such as Al Qaeda whilst assessing how much of an understanding there is in America for the hostility felt towards it in the Middle East.
Chapter four examines the reaction to the attacks in the US. Like any elected government, the Bush administration must take heed of the electorate when formulating policy, and for the government at the time of the attacks, a response in line with public opinion was vital to its future electoral prospects. The options open to the Bush administration immediately after 9/11 are discussed here.
Chapter 5 looks at the US military intervention in Afghanistan, the first target of policy makers and thus the American military machine in the aftermath of the attacks on New York and the Pentagon. This chapter analyses whether Afghanistan was a legitimate target, a knee jerk reaction to be seen to be doing something to punish the attackers or simple opportunism as part of a wider ranging US strategy to expand its influence in the oil rich region of Central Asia?
Chapter Six discusses the US invasion of Iraq and again assesses whether the military intervention was a justified operation against a state that was actively sponsoring state terrorism and developing into a threat to regional and global security, or was part of US plans to control Iraq’s vast oil fields.
Chapter Seven looks at other aspects of American foreign policy in the region since 9/11 including its role in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and its increasingly belligerent attitude towards Iran. Chapter eight is the conclusion.
Chapter Two – Foreign Policy in the Middle East prior to 9/11
Prior to 9/11, the US had maintained a high level of involvement in the Middle East for over half a century. In more recent years its involvement had been linked to a fight against terrorism – successive governments had argued that terrorism from the Middle East was a threat to US national security but before 9/11 this was largely seen as an exaggeration. No clear strategy to deal with terrorism emanating from the Middle East was in place. In 1998 Richard Davis of the General Accounts Office had commented that “there does not seem to be any overall strategy on how we are spending money on counter-terrorism”(p194, Zunes Stephen, Tinderbox – US Middle East Policy and the Toots of Terrorism, Zed Books Ltd, London 2003) and there was other evidence to suggest that combating terrorism was not the highest priority for the Bush Government: it had opposed the establishment of an International Criminal Court; it had walked out of a conference intended to strengthen the 1972 Biological and Toxic Weapons Commission; it had refused to join other nations in strengthening regulations against tax havens and money laundering; and it had continued to supply small arms to the third world and opposed UN plans to regulate the sale of such weapons (p194 Zunes 2003).
Prior to the more modern era where the Middle East has been linked with terrorism, US interest in the region largely developed in the period between the two world wars. US oil companies began to discover oil in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain and US policy makers began to realise that future economic prosperity would depend greatly on maintaining cheap and reliable oil supplies from the region. By the early years of World War II, oil was also been produced by American companies in Kuwait and US officials had come to understand that the Middle East’s vast capacity to produce oil made it a “stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in the world” (Foreign Relation of the United States vol 8, p45 Government Printing Office, Washington 1945).
Oil remained a focal point of US policy in the Middle East for the remainder of the 20th century, often to the detriment of the way it was viewed by the people of the region. Eisenhower was warned his National Security Council in 1958 that much of the hatred poring towards the US from ordinary Arabs was a result of the perception held by many that the US would happily support corrupt and brutal regimes across the country, at the expense of the political and economic progress of indigenous populations, to protect its own oil interests. This was a perception that has changed little since.
Iran, Israel and Iraq were the nations that preoccupied the US more than other in the region prior to 9/11 and have remained vitally important as the US reassesses its strategies post-9/11. Iran was initially an ally of the US. It had been identified as somewhere of “vital strategic interest” (p53 Lesch Peter, The Middle East and the United States Third Edition – A Historical and Political Reassessment, Westview Press, Colorado 2003) by US officials in the late 1940sprimarily because of the access it could provide to the vast oil fields in the Persian Gulf. Initial relations between the two nations were warm as the US provided teachers, architects and administrators in the post-war years and impressed Iranians with ideas of freedom and democracy. However, in the early 1950s, the popular Iranian Prime Minister Mussadiq fell afoul of US policy makers due to his perceived warmth towards the Soviet Union and actions to nationalise the Iranian oil fields. A CIA backed plot had Mussadiq removed to be replaced by a Prime Minister more amenable to the interests of the US and the repressive regime of the Shah. Whilst the Shah was happy to work with the US, the move did irreparable damage to long-term relations between the two countries – US writer James A Bill states: “the American intervention of August 1953 was a momentous event in Iranian-American relations. It left a running wound that bled for twenty-five years and contaminated relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran following the revolution of 1978/79” (Sheldon Richman, Policy Analysis – Ancient History: US Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention, Cato Policy Analysis 159).
Support for the brutal regime of the Shah damaged the standing of the US not only with the oppressed Iranian population but also with people across the entire Middle East. In return for extensive military aid –the US sold over $20 billion of weaponry to Iran in the 1970s (p66Zunes 2003) – the US was able to maintain its control over supplies, but this situation soon changed following the Islamic revolution of1979.The new regime quickly took up an anti-American stance and the US was forced to look for other allies in the region. There was occasional dealing between the two nations in the 1980s – the US was willing to arm both sides in the Iran-Iraq war in the hope of seeing the mutual destruction of each other’s military capability. This again was a strategy that convinced most in the Middle East that the US had general disregard for the lives of those in the region when set against promoting its own strategic interests.
Since 9/11, the US administration has routinely labelled Iran as argue terrorist stated. However, this was a stance that was initially driven forward by the Clinton administration of the 1990s. In 1995Clinton has passed an executive order banning any US individuals or companies from trading with Iran and authorised $18 million to be spent on undermining the Islamic regime (p70, Zunes 2003). The language of US officials in relation towards Iran also became noticeably more aggressive – phrases such as ‘rogue’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘outlaw’ were commonly used. Clear evidence of Iranian involvement with international terrorism has been hard to come by, despite a general acceptance that Iran has at least been involved in the funding of some extremist Islamic groups. The US put pressure of the Saudis to implicate Iran in the 1996 bombing in Dhahran that killed 19 American soldiers, but clear link could not be established (p73 Zunes 2003).
US foreign policy in Israel has been a cornerstone of its strategy in the Middle East since the establishment of the Jewish state. Its longstanding support for Israel and the perception across the Middle East that the US favours Israel whilst ignoring the plight of the Palestinians has been a source of great anger across the Middle East and linked to a number of terrorist actions. Some understanding of the historical US relationship with Israel is required in analysing its policies in the Middle East after 9/11.
Successive US administrations have maintained economic, military and diplomatic support for Israel, and despite occasional differences, particularly regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the relationship can certainly be described as special within the realm of international relations. Jimmy Carter for example stated in 1977: “we have a special relationship with Israel. It’s crucial that no one in our country or around the world ever doubt that our number one commitment in the Middle East is to protect the right of Israel to exist, to exist in peace and to exist permanently. It’s a special relationship” (p233, Lesch 2003). The level of assistance at times has-been extraordinary. The level of US subsidy in years prior to 9/11 had been around $3 billion in military and economic grants (p110 Chomsky Naom, The Fateful Triangle – The United States, Israel and the Palestinians, Pluto Press Ltd, London 1999) that in addition to other assistance had totalled around $500 billion a year (p110 Chomsky 1999).This must be taken into context with the poverty experienced by the populations of other Middle Eastern states – Israel receives this level of aid despite having a GNP higher than the combined GNP of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip (p98 Chomsky1999).
The US stance in the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has played a prominent part in its foreign policy after 9/11 as it had to prior to the terrorist attacks. Again, its policies in this sphere have generally instigated anger and resentment across the Middle East as the US been consistently siding with the Israelis and rejecting any all-party peace plans or settlement put forward by other governments that do not tie in with its own strategies for the region. The huge programmes of weapons sales to Israel caused great anger in the Middle East. Writing only days after 9/11, Robert Fisk wrote: “America’s name is literally stamped onto the missiles fired by Israel into Palestinians buildings in Gaza and the West Bank. Only four weeks ago I identified one of them as an AGM 114-D air to ground rocket made by Boeing and Lockheed-Martin at their factory in – of all places –Florida, the state where some of the suiciders trained to fly” (Fisk Robert, Independent on Sunday, September 16 2001). America has undoubtedly seen Israel as vital to its interests in the Middle East –it is an ally that has help quell nationalism across the regions and allows the US to maintain access to and control of oil. However, its relationship with Israel has been at a price when set against the resentment it has brought.
Iraq is the third of the Middle East states at the core of US foreign policy in the latter half of the 20th century. The recent US intervention in Iraq has its roots in the relations between the two nations over the previous two decades. Looking back to the 1980s, the US had a reasonably positive relationship with Saddam Hussein. Serving as an example of the US’ pragmatism in terms of it Middle East policies, the US had been happy to supply arms to the Iraqi dictator during the Iran-Iraq war, regardless of the appalling record in overriding democracy and human rights of the Iraqi dictator. Whilstpost-9/11 the US roundly condemned Saddam’s regime, twenty years earlier it had been able to ignore Iraq’s use of chemical weapons against Iran and its own Kurdish population and had continued to send economic aid and agricultural subsidies into Iraq, much of which was converted into money for military spending (p76 Zunes 2003). Such policies cast aspersions on the American policies in Iraq following9/11 – As Zunes writes: “this history of appeasement raised serious questions regarding the sincerity of both the strategic and moral concerns subsequently raised by US officials about both the nature of the Iraqi regime and the threat against its neighbours” (P76 Zunes2003).
The Gulf War of 1991, sparked by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait triggered a series of events that can be closely linked to the 9/11 attacks. Whilst other Arab nations favoured diplomatic pressure to ensure an Iraqi withdrawal, the US was quick to install its own troops in Saudi Arabia, insisting that the Saudis may well be the next targets of Iraqi aggression, despite the lack of evidence for this. As well as making military conflict almost inevitable, this move has further far-reaching consequences as it involved the deployment of US troops on Saudi soil see as holy by many Muslims. Osama Bin Laden has been quoted several times stating that his primary objective is the removal of infidel troops from Saudi territory – this foreign policy decision may have been as crucial as any other in triggering the 9/11 attacks.
The war itself hardened opinion against the US in the Arab and Islamic world. The massive military superiority of US forces and the perceived slaughter of reluctant Iraqi conscripts by the American military machine soon saw Saddam’s aggression in Kuwait forgotten and enabled him to portray himself as a relative hero fighting American imperialist aggression. The war was hypocritical and duplicitous, manufactured by the US to further its own oil interests rather than to protect Kuwaiti sovereignty or uphold international law.
Sanctions imposed on Iraq that followed the war were seen across the Middle East as further evidence of American disregard for Muslim lives. Certainly, the damage done to the Iraqi people by the harsh sanctions regime is immense. Some of the evidence collected on the effects of sanctions explains the anger felt towards the US:
- Iraq’s regression over the previous decade was the worst of 193countries surveyed by a 2003 UNICEF report (p126 Chomsky 2003)
- A 1999 UNICEF report found that the mortality rate for children under five had more than doubled since the imposition of sanctions (p91 Zunes2003)
- Estimates of the total number killed due to malnutrition and preventable disease as a direct consequence of war damage and sanctions have ranged from a quarter of a million to over one million, the majority of whom have been children. (p91 Zunes 2003)
In addition, the diseases such as cholera and typhoid, which had previously been eliminated from Iraq, were reintroduced. The importation of ambulances and other emergency vehicles was banned, and the sanctions regime further prevented Iraqi hospitals from purchasing spare parts for equipment such as incubators and kidney dialysis machines. These circumstances, in addition to the continued bombing of Iraq during the 1990s continued to add to resentment towards the US. Ordinary Iraqis felt great anger towards the US, something that may well have played a part in the difficulties the US has experienced with the general population in the post 9/11 invasion of Iraq.
Another crucial element of US policy in Iraq which affected its decisions in dealing with Iraq after 9/11 was the decision to allow Saddam to stay in power end even put down an uprising by his own people. The decision was made to protect US interests in the region in the absence of a suitable military junta being available to rule Iraq firmly. Chomsky argues that the Washington view appeared to be “whatever the sins of the Iraqi leader, he offered the west and the regions a better hope for the region’s stability than did those who had suffered his repression” (p141Chomsky 2003).
Overall US policy in the Middle East prior to 9/11 had been based on a desire to maintain its influence in the regions and above all to keep control of its oils supply. Israel apart, the US strategy did little to endear itself to the indigenous populations of the region.
As America came to terms with the 9/11 attacks one of the most striking realisations was the sheer unprecedented nature of the attacks. Whilst the US had been directly and indirectly involved in killing civilians elsewhere in the world over the previous half century, 9/11 was the first time that its own civilians had come under violent attack on their own soil by an outside force. The US was not used to such a situation and its relative shock and anger at the situation goes someway to explaining the quick decisions it made to launch military strikes at first Afghanistan and later Iraq.
It has generally been accepted that the operation was planned funded to some degree by Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. It should be noted however that initially there was been little conclusive evidence of this. Despite an incredibly extensive intelligence investigation, there was little direct evidence about the bombers as the US planned its response to the attacks. Chomsky points out that Robert Mueller, director of the FBI, testified to Congress in 2002 that he ‘believed ‘the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though planned and implemented elsewhere (p121 Chomsky 2001).
What though were the motivations for those that carried out the bombings? Certainly a hatred for the US, fuelled to a large extent by its policies in the Middle East was a contributing factor. Whilst some commentators have linked 9/11 to an attack on globalisation or as direct response to the Gulf War or the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the most likely reasons are those put forward by writer Robert Fisk. Fisk has interviewed Bin Laden on several occasions and argues that the terrorist attack on the US was inspired predominantly by the deployment of US troops onto holy land in Saudi Arabia. Fisk suggests that as the mujahadeen had fought a holy war to drive the Russians out of Afghanistan, so they were now fighting to have US troops move out of Saudi Arabia. This is an argument supported by Chomsky who quotes Bin Laden from 1998 stating: “the call to wage war against America was made (when it sent) tens of thousands of troops to the land of the two Holy Mosques over and above…its support of the oppressive, corrupt and tyrannical regime that is in control. These are the reasons for the singling out of America as a target. (Fisk Robert, Independent on Sunday, September 16, 2001) Fisk offers other suggestions as to motivations for the attacks. One is that Bin Laden’s long term aim is to overthrow all the American supported regimes in the middle East, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia included, and that 9/11 was in effect a trap to lure the US into a massive retaliation against Muslim populations that would in turn persuade Muslim populations to rise up against their own corrupt leaders and the US influence in the region.
The ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and perceived American support for Israel is another theory put forward in explaining the 9/11 attacks. Certainly, America’s links with Israel have caused resentment in the Middle East and notably since 9/11 there have been attempts by the US to get the peace process back on track. Again, Fisk supports this theory that US action in Israel and across the Middle East may have contributed to the 9/11 attacks and that this needs to be understood by the US if it is to move forward and prevent further attacks. Fisk writes: “No the Israelis are not to blame for what happened. The culprits were Arabs not Israelis. But America’s failure to act with honour in the Middle East, its promiscuous sale of missiles to those who use them against civilians, its blithe disregard for the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqi children under sanctions of which Washington is the principal supporter – all these are intimately related to the society that produced the Arabs who plunged America into an apocalypse of fire last week” (Fisk, Independent on Sunday, September 16, 2001).
There are other suggested motivations for the attacks on 9/11 and an analysis of these is equally applicable in assessing the options for US foreign policy after 9/11. Certainly, the level of anti-American sentiment in the Middle East has increased since 2001 and US policymakers would be wise to take account of this feeling before planning future interventions. Chomsky suggests that the attacks were not retribution for any one action or policy that the US has undertaken in the Middle East, but rather a reaction to decades of intervention in the area that has been detrimental to ordinary Muslims. Assessing the attacks against the background of US policy in the Middle East he argues that “the likely perpetrators are a category of their own, but uncontroversial they draw support from a bitterness and anger at US policies in the region, extending those of earlier European masters (p13 Chomsky 1999).
The 9/11 attacks lifted foreign policy issues and national security to a level of importance with the American public not seen since the Vietnam War. Public opinion was something that the Government had to consider in devising its strategies for foreign policy and security.
Certainly, the threat of terrorism is influential on public attitudes in the US, particularly in relation to the use of force. A survey taken by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press in May 2004found that 88 per cent of Americans now rate “taking measures to protect the US from terrorist attacks” as a top foreign policy priority. In a similar vein, despite some reservations about the war In Iraq that had begun by the time of the survey 60 per cent of respondents believed that the use of military force can be used against countries that pose a serious threat to US national security but have not yet attacked.
Such public attitudes to security impress upon the Government a requirement to be proactive in terms of security. The feeling of the US public appears to be largely that intervention abroad can be justified under the broad scope of ‘preventing another 9/11’
There are some contradictions in public attitudes. Whilst there is support for proactive intervention abroad if deemed necessary, public disquiet with the war in Iraq hints at public criticism to the way that the Bush administration has conducted foreign policy. 59 per cent of those surveyed between July 8-18, 2004 found fault with the Bush administration for being too quick to use force rather than making concerted effort to find diplomatic situations. This tied in with finding that 49 per cent against 37 per cent believe that US foreign policy should strongly consider the interests of US allies, rather than be based mostly on the national interests of the United States. have been further criticisms of the way that the Government has handled the intervention in Iraq. For example, a survey completed in August 2004 saw 52 per cent disapprove of the way that the US was managing the transfer of sovereignty to the new Iraqi government. 58per cent also suggested that President Bush does not have a clear plan for bringing the situation in Iraq to a successful conclusion.
There is also evidence however that the American public wishes to see some hard-line authoritarian measures both in domestic and overseas policy. 49 per cent against 29 per cent are worried that the Government has listened to concerns about civil liberties rather than taken the necessary steps to protect the country. The poll also states that whilst 53 per cent of Americans believe that torture should rarely or never be used to gain information from suspected terrorists, a sizeable minority, 53 per cent, thinks that torture can at least sometimes be justified.
Attitudes between supporters of the two major political parties also some differences in security issues. Notably it is supporters of Bush’s Republican Party that actively encourage a firmer line in security issues. For example, since the 9/11 attacks a growing number of Democrats (51 per cent) and Independents have come round to the view that US wrongdoings with other countries may provide the motivation from the attacks whilst Republicans reject this view by a resounding 76per cent. Views on global standing also show the divergence of opinion in American society. 80 per cent of Democrats and 74 per cent of independents state that other countries less respect the US than in the past, yet only 47 per cent of Republicans believe that the US has lost respect. What is clear that from within its own ranks, the Republican Government has a strong support for intervention in the Middle East or indeed anywhere in the world if it believes it necessary. The Bush administration has used its hard-line in foreign policy as an electoral strong point and is aware that, with the correct type of marketing to the American people, future interventions abroad can be vote winners in addition to a means to serve security of strategic purposes.
US officials were talking of military intervention in Afghanistan within days of 9/11. The primary reason given for this was that Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda group was the force behind the attacks on America, and that supported by the Taliban government, Bin Laden’s group had been able to set up training camps and direct terrorist operations from Afghanistan. The US however was unwilling or unable to provide any evidence of this before launching a massive bombing campaign against Afghanistan
The country had played an important role in US foreign policy for a number of decades. US policy in the Afghanistan between 1979 and 1991had been largely dominated by a fear of the Iranian revolution and about worries about Soviet domination of oil fields in the region. The US had given considerable backing to mujahadeen fighters who had fought against the Soviet invasion. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson spoke in1998 about US policy in central Asia: “this is about our energy security which depends on diversifying our sources of gas and oil worldwide. It is also about preventing strategic inroads by those who don’t share our values” (p30 Scott Dale). The same sentiments would be applicable in 2001 – in the mid-1990s US oil companies had concluded a$8 billion thirty-year contract with Azerbaijan to develop in Caspian oil fields as well as developing less secure oil investments in countries such as Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan (p5 Dale Scott Peter –Drugs, Oil and War – The United States in Afghanistan, Columbia and Indochina, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Maryland 2003). With many of the Central Asian states facing internal armed opposition to governments growing rich from oil deals, there has been a growing pressure for the US Government to make the region secure – Afghanistan is strategically placed to ensure that the US can do this.
The US had also had issues historically with Afghanistan over the country’s production of heroin. In the late 1990s, Afghanistan had been the world number one producer of heroin yet there had been evidence that the Taliban Government was cracking down on this. Jane’s Intelligence Review had reported in October 2001 that “the ban imposed by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar in July 2000…resulted in some 70per cent of the world’s illicit opium production being virtually wiped out at a stroke” (p33 Dale Scott 2003). Following the 9/11 attacks the US may have been tempted to link the war on terror with the war on drugs, but this may have caused some embarrassment – as the US began totally itself with the Northern Alliance to overthrow the Taliban it became aware that the Alliance had just trebled opium production in the areas that it controlled (p31 Dale Scott 2003). Dale Scott notes that opium production has risen again sharply since the Taliban has been overthrown and argues that “the US was not waging a war on drugs in short, but a war helped by drugs (p31 Dale Scott 2003)
Prior to 9/11, the US government’s relation with the Taliban regime had been mixed. An American and Saudi group of oil companies had developed plans to build gas and oil pipelines from Central Asia, through Afghanistan to Pakistan and other Asian markets. The Taliban emerged as the most likely force to be able to see through the venture and strong lobbying by the oil companies had persuaded US Government to gibe tacit backing to commercial dealings with the Taliban. However, the growing hard-line fundamentalism of the regime, particularly towards women drew criticism in the US. The bombing of US embassies in East Africa in 1998was a turning point and something that impacted on American decision-making post 9/11 – the bombings were traced back to Osama Bin Laden, by then based in Afghanistan. As Lesch states: “For harbouring the alleged perpetrators of these attacks, and hosting training facilities for believed terrorists, the Taliban became the United States number one culprit and target. This was forcefully demonstrated by the cruise missile attacks on these camps in August 1998” (p454 Lesch 2003). By the time of the terrorist attacks in New York, Afghanistan was already well established as a possible target for future military intervention.
The 9/11 attacks left the US first and foremost to be seen to doing something about whoever was behind the attacks. Although the finger of suspicion pointed at Afghanistan there was little immediate direct evidence of this. The US Government took up a position that levered it into a position to be able to take military action against a wide number of possible targets. It was a strategy defined partly for US security interest and partly to help in the securing of longer-term strategic goals. As Zunes writes of the open ended mandate given by Congress in interpreting what is a terrorist group: “given that President Bush has declared that any government harbouring terrorists will be treated as terrorists themselves, this broad definition raises the prospect of US military intervention against any number of countries simply because they resist American political demands” (p196,Zunes 2003).
Once the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had been identified