The most spectacular attack ever carried out took place on September 11, 2001 with grotesquely ridiculous means and a classic modus operandi. It left nearly three thousand dead in New York City while the Pentagon was also struck. These were major symbols and consequences were guaranteed to be considerable. The majority of the terrorists were Saudi nationals. It has been forgotten since then that shortly after the attack, the staff of the Saudi embassy left the United States and that Saudi assets were withdrawn from US banks. The attacks had a terrifying psychological effect. And for US public opinion, they were traumatic.
September 11 allowed the Neocons, led by Paul Wolfowitz and supported by Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to impose their views on President George W. Bush.1 Shortly thereafter, Paul Wolfowitz designated Iraq as the target. As of September 20, the “War on Terror” was declared before becoming the “Global War on Terrorism,” and the Patriot Act was issued in October of the same year.
Al-Qaeda’s goal was to reconstitute the community of believers, return to the real or supposed purity of Islam at its beginnings, restore the caliphate, and in the shorter term, eliminate corrupt and/or impious regimes such as that of Saudi Arabia whose territory “had been soiled” by the presence of US troops and Egypt.
Jihadism, whatever its version, breaks with all other violent movements by the fact that it has nothing to negotiate.
Mullah Omar refused to hand Osama bin Laden over to the United States, so a punitive air expedition was conducted in Afghanistan with participation on the ground of a few dozen US and British special forces. On the ground, the war was sub-contracted to the Northern Alliance made up of Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Hazaras, Commander Massoud having been opportunely the victim of an Islamist attack coordinated from Belgium two days before September 11. Against US advice, the Northern Alliance seized Kabul. In the Pashtun part, in the south, the United States made deals with tribal war chiefs of fluctuating loyalties, something that allowed the Taliban and al-Qaeda staff to exfiltrate to Pakistan.
Kabul, and only Kabul, and its surrounding area were made safe by less than twenty thousand US and British troops. The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was established at the end of 2001; it included about thirty countries, and eighteen months later comprised five thousand five hundred men.
After a series of negotiations, the leader chosen by the United States, Hamid Karzai, was placed at the head of the country. He would remain there more than a dozen years with a very mediocre record. Gorge W. Bush mentioned once that a Marshall Plan would be set up in Afghanistan; it was never again to be heard about. Considering this business settled, Afghanistan being, in their view, a minor theater, the Neocons turned to their core project: the plan to reshape the “Greater Middle East,” aimed at producing a regime change in Teheran. Meanwhile in Washington, an “axis of evil” had been designated, made up of Iraq, Iran, and North Korea. One can definitely wonder in what way they formed an axis …
Held as victorious, the war in Afghanistan with Hamid Karzai placed in power would be, in fact, a collateral victim of the Iraq War. This latter was actively prepared in people’s minds on the diplomatic and political fronts through intensive propaganda spread by the United States, and in Great Britain by Tony Blair (did he not declare that Iraq had the means to strike Europe within forty-five minutes?) claiming the presence in Iraq of weapons of mass destruction that would not be found, and supposed contacts in Prague between the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda, when in fact al-Qaeda would come to Iraq as a consequence of this “war of choice.”
The Iraq War, contrary to that in Afghanistan, did not get UN approval, and Germany and France, contrary to Great Britain, refused to take part in this imperial project.
The fall of the Soviet Union (1989-1991) had left the United States with no rival. US hegemony, particularly on the military level, seemed absolute. In fact, the United States stated the law, applied it, and sought to have it applied with or without United Nations approval.