Regionsasia-pacificAsians Sceptical of the 'War on Terror'

Asians Sceptical of the ‘War on Terror’

By Kalinga Seneviratne
IDN-InDepth NewsReport

SINGAPORE (IDN) – Numerous editorials and commentaries have been written on the “war on terror” unleashed by the United States ten years ago when the World Trade Centre and Pentagon were attacked. While most of the Anglo-American media seem to echo the message from the Pentagon that they are winning the war on terror, after Osama Bin Laden was killed, not many Asian newspapers are willing to buy that story.

“The US action, first against Afghanistan and then against Iraq, ushered in an era of blatant unilateralism where the UN was exploited to sanctify the political objective of the lone super power,” observes Bangladesh’s Daily Star in a commentary, adding, “the trend has unfortunately continued as one notices in the case of Libya”.

War on Terror/ Photo: IDN
War on Terror/ Photo: IDN

“If by success one claims that there has been no major attack in mainland USA since then, then that is success of sorts. But an apparently safer America only does not naturally make for a safer world,” argues the Daily Star, adding: “Instead of curbing terrorism last ten years have witnessed rise of Islamic extremism in places where it was not seen before.”

It says that smaller religious groups have become more ideologically allied with the al-Qaeda with an anti-US sentiment, and while these extremists are in the minority, the majority of the Islamic world has been conspicuous by its silence. As a result, the centre of gravity of terrorism may be moving from the Middle East to South Asia, laments the Bangladeshi daily.


If we are to judge the success of America’s “war on terror” in terms of making the world a safer place to live, Thailand’s Bangkok Post argues in an editorial that the US policy has been counterproductive. Though improved communications and intelligence gathering may have thwarted a number of planned attacks, the Americans are unable to win their war in Afghanistan.

In fact, the paper points out that President Bush refused to negotiate with the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001 to hand over Bin Laden to a third country, but, today the Obama administration seems to be doing exactly that to pave the way for them to get out of Afghanistan. “It looks as if the only way to bring an end to the war in Afghanistan is by negotiating with the Taliban,” notes the Bangkok Post.

It also points out that “the social upheaval, suspension of civil rights and tens of thousands of civilian deaths in the prosecution of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan” should be a good lesson for everyone to learn that “conventional warfare should only be considered as a last resort and definitely not used as a pretext to pursue other agendas”.

Columnist Anurag Acharya writing in the Nepali Times argues that America isn’t more secure because it hasn’t bothered to look at the underlying causes of terrorism. The cost of waging a worldwide war on terror has essentially bankrupted America and contributed to its current political paralysis.

“Gone are the days when the United States could deploy its military anywhere in the world and not worry about the consequences,” he observes, adding: “If the US has monopolised violence as a means of compliance for this long, the rise of the non-state actors has ended that monopoly. And if the powerful states have misused globalisation to intrude upon lives of people in distant lands, their adversaries have developed a similar capacity to strike back globally.”

“It doesn’t matter if American cruise missiles are guided if its foreign policy is misguided,” says Acharya.

Compromise instead of Hard-line Positions

Rina Jimezez-David writing in the Philippines Daily Inquirer laments that 9/11 has unleashed events where proxy wars have been exported to countries like the Philippines. “On a day like this, it is difficult to talk of peace and imagine an alternative state of things as they are,” she says. “And yet, it is precisely in remembering 9/11 that we are called upon to devise altered states of living: cooperation instead of conflict, understanding in lieu of grandstanding, compromise instead of hard-line positions.”

Liu Weidong, a researcher with the Institute of American Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences writing in the China Daily observes that the “war on terror”, which started on October 7, 2001with the launching of war on Afghanistan) has dragged on longer than the First World War (July 28, 1914 to November 11, 1918) and the Second World War (1 September 1, 1939 to September 2, 1945) together.

“The US might appear to have gained an advantage over the terrorists, but actually there is now a deadlock,” he argues. “New terrorism masterminds are constantly emerging. They wage ‘brain wars’ with modern communication methods to cultivate ‘Trojan horses’ inside Western countries.”

Liu points out that Bin Laden told the media (ten years ago) that he hoped the 9/11 attacks would destroy the US‘s economic growth. “It seems they succeeded to some extent,” he argues. “President Obama said this year that the US‘s 10-year anti-terrorism war has cost US$1 trillion, while a study by Brown University in the US puts the actual expenditure at around US$3.7 to 4.4 trillion.”

Losers and Winners

Dean of the Lee Kwan Yew School of Public Policy, Professor Kishore Mahbubani writing in Singapore’s Straits Times notes that the impact of 9/11 a decade later can be summarized in three short phrases – America lost a decade, China gained a decade and the world lost a great opportunity to bring humanity together.

“The past decade has been one of the best China has enjoyed,” he argues. “In the past 10 years, China’s economy has grown by almost 10 percent a year. Its trade with the rest of the world exploded. In 2008, it accumulated the largest amount of foreign reserves.”

“Did China benefit from the disastrous US foreign policies?” he asked. “The simple answer is yes.”

“While the US was busy fighting wars and increasing its defense expenditures, China was busy signing Free Trade Agreements. It gained goodwill all around the world,” points out Prof  Mahbubani. “When it convened the China-Africa summit in 2006, virtually all the African leaders attended.”

American to Chinese Cousin

In a somewhat sarcastic article published as a letter from an American to his Chinese cousin back home, the Shanghai Daily points out how America has lost its treasured values in the past decade.

“To live in America these days, I’m sad to say, is to accept a new set of norms,” the writer declared. “First and foremost is the erosion of civil liberties. Mass deportation of undocumented immigrants who toil on our land has become the new norm. Never mind that they leave husbands, wives, and children behind whose lives have been shattered.”

“Documented immigrants too face unfair treatment. Conviction of a crime – sometimes a misdemeanor – could make a person eligible for deportation,” the letter went on, giving the example of a classic case, where a construction worker urinating in the street was arrested for indecent exposure and was sent back to Cambodia, a country he does not remember since he fled as a little boy. He left behind a wife and several children in the United States.

“But the erosion of rights is not limited only to immigrants; it extends to all citizens,” the letter points out. “It erodes slowly but surely at the core. Nowhere is this more obvious than at American airports, where talk of dissent, even in a casual conversation, might well be cause for deportation.”

“In such a new America, one checks one’s tongue, one checks up on one’s neighbor, and one’s neighbor does the same. While America once stood for freedom and democracy, it is not clear what the nation stands for these days,” said the American cousin to his Chinese counterpart. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 15, 2011]

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