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Meaning and scope of the War on Terror as a response to the events of September 11th 2001

After the September 11th attacks, the USA under the leadership of the then presidents George W. Bush embarked on a terror-eradication campaign. The campaign was targeted mainly to the Middle East where it is believed to be the heartbeat of the Al-Qaeda terror group. Al-Qaeda is the group that was responsible for the attacks on the pentagon and the world trade center. This essay will look deeper into the meaning of the term, war in terror, based on the meaning given by the US presidents and by dissecting the practical measure of the term. Additionally, the essay will look at the scope of the war on terror by analyzing the objectives set, the achievements so far, the war on a global perspective as well as the financial aspect of the war.

The war on terror is synonymous with the unfortunate events of September 11th 2001 (Jackson, 2005). It is after the attacks that the phrase ‘war on terror’ was born. The US president George W. Bush first used the phrase. According to Bush administration and the western media, war on terror meant a global military, legal, political, and ideological campaign. The campaign targeted eliminating the Al-Qaeda as the immediate goal, and any other militant groups in general (Bruce, 2008). The target was the middle east in particular Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this definition was based on the primary objective of eliminating Al-Qaeda, which was assumed to be achieved fast. This was not to be and the terror network soon proved to be a global phenomenon.

The term was therefore diverged to include the global perspective, hence the birth of the term global war in terror. This involved the inclusion of other states like the UK, NATO, and other non-NATO countries (Michael, 2003, pp. 71). The war on terror meant the use of military force to cut out terror forces. In USA, security measures were taken to a completely new level including the armament of planes and the entire security of the country. Therefore, it became impossible to plan and propagate any terror activities on the US soil. The option was to target US friendly nations as well as consulates (Jackson, 2005).

In one way, this contributed to the extension of the war on terror to global perspective and lead to a completely new phenomenon. As it was hard identify any possible terrorist, there developed the generalization that every Muslim could be a terrorist. The obvious result was; Muslim’s and especially those of Arabic decent were exposed to thorough and sometimes inhumane checks in airports and entry points in general. Between 2001 and 2007, it was no news for controversial and persons with suspicious backgrounds to be denied visas to the USA.

After the 9/11 attacks, the terrorists responsible were identified to be members of the Al Qaeda group. The group was under the leadership of the Osama bin laden, made up of Sunni militants, based and coordinating its activities in Afghanistan. The war on terror was aimed at flushing out this militant group and from its hideouts. The operation had four primary objectives: to defeat the terrorists, to cut any state support, cut their strength (including cutting on their finances), and defend the homeland and internal interest (Michael, 2010, pp. 355). To make sure that all support for the group was identified and stopped, many continued to search for links with any other middle east enemies.

According to George W. Bush, Iran was one of these enemies as put in is 2002 state of the union address (David, 2005, pp. 599). This was even after thousands of Iranians had marched to show condemnation of the attacks in the streets of Tehran. In addition, the government of Iran had cooperated fully after the US government launched the afghan invasion in 2001. The brought up two differing opinion; first, the actions of Iranians to show empathy for the attacks was a political strategy meant to shadow the truth or second, the identification of Iran as an ally of terrorists was founded on the long-term unfriendliness between the two nations.

Iraq is the other state that was under intensive investigations. American officials searched to links between Iraq and Al Qaeda. This search was done under the extensive strategies that are now widely discredited. Latter, they invaded Iraq and forced Saddam Hussein out of power. He was to be later arrested, tried and sentenced to death by hanging (Jackson, 2005). However, today the main objective of US removing Hussein out of power remains highly controversial. As they were not able to find any links between Iraq and Al Qaeda, and the nuclear claims extended were not substantiated, the only reason Hussein was removed is the longstanding enmity between him and the US. US remained under threat so long as Hussein was in power (David, 2005, pp. 600).

It is inarguable that the initial stages of the war on terror operation in the middle east were marred with confusion. It was impossible to know where to look, who to arrest as a terrorists or who was innocent. The reason being, the middle east is a diverse region. There are various religious groups, ethnicities, nationalities, conflicting goals, and historical cases of aggravated tension. In such a complex setting, it was hard for the US to sort out who was a terrorist.

this was further aggravated by the fact that, there has always been an unhealthy middle east- American relationship. It is no doubt that the US is not welcome in the majority of Arab middle east nations (Bruce, 2008). The three states in question; Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq being the top three in this list. In Iran for instance, the US is referred to as the “Great Satan”. This is because of the crimes America extended to Shah, an old Iranian monarch ousted in 1979.

In addition, oil, which is the mail trade commodity of the middle east, is a controversial issue (Raphael, 2004). It has become a political tool rather than a free trade commodity. As the western rely on it, an independent middle east can control the western; this is why the US needs friendly administration in the states of the middle east (Isikoff, & Corn, 2006). With these confusions, it was impossible to achieve the objectives of the war on terror as fast as anticipated. War on terror remained from 2001 throughout the remaining part of president Bush administration. During this period, new challenged could emerge and it was upon the US to solve them.

One challenge that arose in Iraq for instance is the resetting of the Iraq force and the future if the nation. These too were problems arising in Afghanistan. With these problems, it was clear the war on terror was not a “one day event” as majority of Americans had been made to believe. There was also the continued loss of American lives through killed soldiers. At home, there also arose the issue of caring for war veterans and those families whose members were killed in the war.

At the end of the day, the US had to spend more than anticipated on the war on terror. In Afghanistan alone, the US spent between 4 and 6 trillion dollars (Joseph & Linda, 2012). The figure is not definite because of the unknown costs of conducting current and future war operations, microeconomic impacts, and costs of caring for war veterans. This in addition to the almost doubling costs spend in Iraq, it can only be concluded that, the American treasury was seriously hit by the war on terror. One would be tempted to think, without the war on terror, would oil prices have skyrocketed instantly? The other question is; without war on terror, would the American federal debt be so high? According to Joseph & Linda (2012), the answer is no.

The war on terror would also contribute to the instability in the Middle East. For instance, an attack on the Middle East would mean involvement of Israel (Isikoff & Corn, 2006). As Israel is in the colleague-nation list of the US, it would be a strategic place to launch operations from. In return, Iran terrorists would target Israel in retaliation. This means an Iran-Israel confrontation, mainly in the Palestinian occupied territories. In 2006, an FBI report showed that Pakistan was also part of the 9/11 attacks through a financier. This meant inclusion of Pakistan in the list of enemy states. This means one thing, the scope of war on terror was simply a complex process that it was practically hard to determine is the war would have been worn.

With the assumption of office of president Obama in 2008, war on terror campaign took a new direction. First, president Obama scraped the term “global war on terror” to “overseas contingency” (Nancy, 2011, pp 85). The objective of the president was to capture Osama bin Laden who had remained elusive to President Bush and end the war. Even though vigilance in US remains top gear, the war on terror campaign in the Middle East is on a gradual process to stop it and take all American soldiers back home.

In conclusion, war on terror has made remarkable steps among them, to capture Osama Bin laden and bring to justice, Saddam Hussein. However, the arguments of the war remain controversial, as the claims that the US used to launch attacks to some of the countries like Iraq have been unsubstantiated.


Amy, Z. & Jonathan, C. (June 24, 2009). The Global War on Terror: A Narrative in Need of a Rewrite. Ethics & International Affairs, Volume 23.2

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David, J.K. (2005). Countering Global Insurgency, Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 4, pp. 599–600

Isikoff, M. & Corn, D. (2006) Hubris: The Inside Story of Spin, Scandal, and the Selling of the Iraq War. New York: Crown Publishers

Ivo, H.D. & James, M.L. (2003). America Unbound: The Bush Revolution in Foreign Policy, Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution

Jackson, R. (2005). Writing the War on Terrorism: Language, Politics and Counter-Terrorism. Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press

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Michael, J. (April 2010). Terrorist Financing and the Internet, Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 33:4 353-363

Nancy, M. (2011). Obama and the global war on terror. vol. 53 no. 2 84-93

Philip, B. (2008). Terror and Consent: The Wars of the Twenty-First Century, New York: Knopf

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Richard, F. (2003). The Great Terror War. New York: Olive Branch Press, pp. xviii-xiv.

Robert, L.P. (2004). Knowledge as Power: Science, Military Dominance, and U.S. Security, International Security, vol. 29, no. 1, p. 124.

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