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Causes of the War on Terrorism

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Those, who still remember Marxism, could paraphrase the Communist Manifesto as “A specter is haunting Europe – the specter of terrorism”. However, this catchphrase refers to the whole planet, not merely Europe. Indeed, the international community starts discussing terror ardently, ascribing any small-scale military confrontations or skirmishes to it and simultaneously egging all the civilized countries on close ranks with one another in order to tackle terrorism one moment, and turns a blind eye to the most egregious manifestations of terrorism. On the issue of terrorism, there is still much intrigue, dabbling in politics, and subliminal reluctance to get at the roots of this phenomenon, as this would demand a much more responsible line on the part of international community in general and leaders of the developed countries in particular.

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Long before the international terrorism came into being, the incessant ideological polemics was in full swing between the Eastern Bloc and Western powers during the Cold War. The parties leveled arguments, propaganda stunts, slogans, and theoretical studies against each other. The situation has changed drastically at the front of contemporary antiterrorist campaigns. The armed outlaws oppose the civilization. However, they are not prompted by desire to enrich themselves. Their banditry is not economical, but rather political (in case of separatism) or ideological, when they terrorize political entities without laying down conditions and demands. At least, in the Middle East, there are millions of youngsters saturated with the smoldering hatred towards “civilization,” the society of consumers and people that have virtually repudiated religion, moral and other spiritual values of age. This region is indeed a hotbed of international, or rather global terrorism (Reich, 1998, p. 178). The U.S. government launched a gargantuan campaign to exorcise this specter of terrorism after the notorious September 11 attacks had occurred.

War on terrorism can facilitate the growth of terrorism. President George W. Bush was not the first American president to levy a war against international terrorist groups. According to Juergensmeyer (2003), “In the early 1980s, president Ronal Reagan put the term global terrorism into circulation”. The main international antiterrorist operation was conducted in 1986, when the U.S. Air Force (USAF) bombed the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s compound. The operation was a response to the terrorist act orchestrated by the Libyan intelligence service agents in a nightclub in the Western Berlin that was popular with the U.S. military personnel. However, Lieutenant Gaddafi that was considered a Soviet puppet by president Reagan, only galvanized activities of its intelligence units, which managed to blow up Pan Am airliner in 1988 (Clarke, 2004, p. 59). Moreover, the Libyans organized a range of terrorist attacks on the U.S. overseas diplomatic outfits and hijacked a few American planes. In 1989, the Libyan intelligence service hired a band of radical Chicagoans to machine-gun the airliners at the Chicago airport.

Muammar Gaddafi had much less anything to do with Islamists, which declared Jihad against the U.S. The first American large-scale operation against the Islamist terrorist group was conducted in 1998 by the incumbent president Bill Clinton. During this operation, American cruise missiles hit the bin Laden’s (he had undertaken a myriad of terrorist acts against American entities by that time) compound in Afghanistan. At the same time, the USAF shelled a chemical facility in the immediate proximity of Khartoum in Sudan, which was accused of supporting terrorists (bin Laden and his colleagues from al Qaeda) and developing chemical weapons. These acts, however, had not clipped the wings of al Qaeda, which continued to plague the “infidel nations”.

Despite the colossal measures taken, the majority of international organizations, which are deemed terrorist by the U.S. Department of State (DoS), still operate in the U.S. According to Davis (2005), “Around $4 billion were furtively canvassed in the U.S. to bankroll the Islamist terrorist organizations”. This wherewithal was gathered under the disguise of financial assistance to refugees, children, and students from the Muslim countries. Further on, extremists from Kashmir, Afghanistan, and Palestine took possession of this ill-gotten money. Despite the fact that financial resources of structures closely tied with the terrorists were frozen in the U.S., the bulk of terrorist organizations are not in dire financial straits nowadays.

Some analysts argue that the war on terrorism is doomed to failure. They opine that phenomenon of terrorism dates back to the ancient Greece, while all the attempts of both ancient and contemporary states to eradicate it never reached the fruition (Rogers, 2004, p. 211). History of the ancient world provides only one exception when the Mongol invaders managed to root out the religious terrorist organization of the Ismailis (Rogers, 2004, p. 231). However, the Mongols decimated a few countries at the same time. It is interesting that the Ismaili movement was resuscitated later as compared to the annihilated nations. According to Wright (2007), “A number of political scientists argue that military action against terrorists is counterproductive”, i.e. it stimulates the growth of terrorism. For instance, despite the large-scale military operations conducted in Palestine, Israel has not managed to prevent new acts of terrorism. Columbia, India and Russia hurtled against the similar problems. On the other hand, American antiterrorist efforts at the dawn of the 21st century in the Middle East turned out to be much more productive.

The hierarchy of the structures responsible for antiterrorist policy is the following:

  • National Security Council
    • Deputy National Security Advisor for Combating Terrorism;
    • Principals Committee on Counter-terrorism and National Preparedness;
    • National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-Terrorism;
  • Homeland Security Council;
  • National Counterterrorism Center;
  • Terrorist Screening Center;
  • Department of Homeland Security;
  • Central Intelligence Agency;
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and
  • Military structures

a)      Joint Interagency Coordination Groups;

b)      U.S. Central Command;

c)      Joint Interagency Task Force.

Since the early 1970s, each president’s administration had to face a challenge of coordinating the efforts of the federal structures in the struggle against terrorism. Each president tried to develop his own way of tackling terrorism. According to Stern (2004), “Political homicide of the Israeli sportsmen, also known as the Munich massacre, which took place during the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, triggered the era of international terrorism”. It was then that the authorities realized that negotiations with terrorists, cooperation of intelligence agencies and involvement in international law are the interconnected elements of the counterterrorist strategy. Concerted efforts on the part of the Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) constitute an essential element of the effective counterterrorist strategy.

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The very counterterrorist strategy started taking initial shape and content during the presidencies of Nixon and Ford, when the coordinating responsibilities were delegated to the governmental committee under the aegis of the Secretary of State. Task force dealing primarily with the security issues on air transport and reforming of the visa regime started operating in the framework of this committee (Clarke, 2004, p. 197). On the international level, coordination of fight against terrorism was implemented through the OAS (Organization of American States), which was aimed at combating terrorism leveled against diplomats, as well as in the framework of Interpol. However, terrorism had not reached the critical level at that time, and the problem of coordinating antiterrorist clampdowns remained in the backyard of political agenda.

Radical changes in the state of affairs took place during Carter’s incumbency, when the governmental counterterrorism committee was abolished (Davis, 2005, p. 203). The DoS, FBI, and National Security Council assumed responsibility for coordinating antiterrorist efforts both within the U.S. and abroad. However, it was President Reagan that declared fight against terrorism as his top foreign-policy priority. According to the White House, terrorists backed by the Soviet Union and its satellites unleashed an unmitigated war not only against the U.S., but the whole civilized world. In order to counteract this threat, the U.S. had to fall back on all of its diplomatic, economic, legal, military, reconnoitering, and informational resources and capabilities. For the best combination of benefits, the constant and rational coordination of all governmental structures’ efforts was necessary. To this end, a special interdepartmental committee that would deal with organization of information exchange, adoption of correct approaches to the matter, and preparation of materials for the National Security Council was founded.

During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the U.S. and Great Britain carried out a covert operation code-named “Faraday” against the USSR (Barfield, 2010, p. 174). The UK Special Air Service and the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency units were the impelling force of this operation. The campaign was aimed at:

  • Institutionalization of training camps (on the territory of Pakistan and Scotland);
  • Dispatching of American and British saboteurs in the vicinity of Kandahar, Bagram, and Kabul for the reconnoitering efforts;
  • Organization of the arms transfers;
  • Drilling the Afghan mujahideen and teaching them the tactics of sabotage and espionage work.

In furtherance of psychological warfare and propaganda, the U.S. created 11 wireless transmitters of the “Radio Free Kabul” in the immediate vicinity of the Pakistan-Afghan border on the territory of the former state (Reich, 1998, p. 83). In 1985, on initiative of the American senator Gordon Humphrey and with the financial support of the U.S. governmental structures, radio station “Free Afghanistan” was created in Munich (Clarke, 2004, p. 248). Initially, it broadcasted six hours per week only, but the quote doubled in a few years. It went on the air in aboriginal Afghan languages.

On 16 September, 1983, the Afghan government declared two U.S. diplomats in Kabul persona non grata, namely second secretary Jefferson and attaché Kinley (Barfield, 2010, p 146). The exculpatory evidence of their involvement in gathering intelligence on the activities of Afghan authorities, as well as bankrolling antigovernment underground activities and proliferation of antigovernment leaflets was adduced at the press conference. In the early 1980s, American magazine “Soldier of Fortune” published a series of interviews with leaders of the Afghan guerillas, in which they proposed volunteers from all around the world to join them.

In addition to the surreptitious campaign (described above) initiated by the hard-line National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, the U.S.’s involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war manifested itself also in the ardent attempts of the “beacon of democracy” to throw the diplomatic equivalent of a cream pie at the Soviet Union’s leadership. The first and heaviest piece of this pie hit the USSR in January 1980, when the U.S. took the initiative to make a speech at the UN Security Council meeting. This meeting qualified the demarche of the USSR as an unlawful use of the Armed Forces beyond its boundaries and a military intervention. According to Barfield (2010), “The Soviet Union vetoed the UN Security Council Resolution and was supported by five other members of the Security Council”. At the Special Session of the UN General Assembly held on 14 January 1980, the UN Security Council Resolution was approved by 108 votes, designating downright and complete diplomatic debacle of the USSR. Only semicolonial and evidently sycophantic countries backed the USSR. Western powers and the Third World countries, including Arab and Muslim, came out in a unified front, which voted in favor of the UN Security Council Resolution. Even Iraq, which prospered on the back of military and technical assistance from the Soviet Union for a long time, turned away from its one-time patron. The withdrawal of the Soviet combatant forces from Afghanistan marked the end of the Cold War. In the aftermath of this war, the threat of terrorism lost its intensity and priority, while American counterterrorism bodies were reorganized. According to Ikenerry (2001), “The Cold War reinforced cohesion among the advanced industrial democracies”. With the end of the Cold War, the U.S. prevailed over its ardent geopolitical rival in the first place, and had to face the unknown reality in the second. The U.S. system of suppressing terrorism remained at rest, but not at peace during the 1990s.

Wealthy and prospering Islamists never lacked gusto to persuade its coreligionists that Christian civilization is a bitter enemy of Islam. For example, since Ayatollah Khomeini captured power in Iran in 1978 and established Islamic theocratic regime, the belligerent radicals started resorting to Islam as a means of mobilizing supporters for the struggle against democratic countries. Die-hard Islamists entertained unremitting disdain towards the rest of the world, to which they referred as infidels without a right to live. According to Rogers (2004), “When the September 11 attacks captured the headlines in the Middle East, a great amount of people took to the streets in the majority of Palestinian cities”. The demonstrators marching through the streets congratulated one another on the American tragedy. Similar mass meetings took place in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon, where demonstrators burned the American president in effigy. The Islamic world was festooned with the portraits of bin Laden and 12 kamikazes that were considered martyrs. Juergensmeyer (2003) states, “Islamists tend to think that they are unique and suggest that the whole world should profess Islam”.  

It would make sense to mention the Islamic fundamentalist political movement Taliban in this regard. The Taliban emerged in Afghanistan. They besieged Kabul and promised to liberate the civilian population from the ravages of war, as well as to delegate the authorities to the legally elected government. In 1995, the militants of the Islamist movement took a few Russian pilots prisoners and expressed the readiness to exchange them for the former activists of the Saur Revolution, who fled to the USSR (Stern, 2004, p. 198). Nobody perceived the Taliban seriously at that time, while their demands seemed dubious. Taliban is a group of emerging adults, future clergymen, which should have started learning the Koran, but picked up the guns instead. In order to establish new order in Afghanistan, they transmogrified from a small-scale group into enormous force. Their ideas and praxis attracted a plethora of sympathizers from the refugee camps. 

Different powers appeared regarding the Taliban as an apt instrument to attain their objectives. Initially, the movement enjoyed the support of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. Taliban leaders are the champions of the extreme fundamentalism. They subscribe to the harsh Islamic norms, arguing that the Sharia law is a paramount doctrine for the Muslims. The lack of beard in men is regarded as cooperation with the enemies of Islam (Reich, 1998, p. 134). The Taliban considered drug trafficking to be an important issue that had to be tackled with urgency, but soon found out that it was impossible to wage a war in the country deprived of other resources. Despite the formal ban of drugs, they still bring the Taliban a great amount of money for war. The civil war has been eroding Afghanistan from within for a long time. Northern Afghanistan was not willing to subordinate to the Pashtuns. Northern tribes aspired to establish equality of all ethnicities in the country, while their opposition wanted to maintain the status quo. However, the Taliban had gradually gained control of the bulk of Afghan territory.

Afghanistan reminded the whole globe about its existence on September 11, 2001. The Taliban harbored Osama bin Laden and his fellow terrorists, as well as other Islamist militants. Consequently, international Islamist organizations that know nothing of any boundaries sprang up on the international arena. They spilled over into the adjacent Kirgizia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan etc. Moreover, the Muslim Brotherhood came into being on the terrains of the Middle East (Reich, 1998, p. 168). Due to the suspicions of the alleged terrorist activities, this Islamic movement was considered a terrorist organization by the U.S. until 2011, when the Brotherhood’s political clout solidified the 2011 Egyptian Revolution and the U.S. breathed a new life into its diplomatic relation with the movement. Meanwhile, the Taliban kept trying to line up alongside the militants from Chechnya and Dagestan. The Taliban proclaimed creation of the ecumenical Islamic state and extirpation of the infidels to be its overriding aim. Bearing in mind close ties of the Taliban with the terrorist organizations like al Qaeda, let alone its terrorist activities, the deteriorating state of affairs demanded immediate reaction on the part of international community spearheaded by the U.S.

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After the September 11 attacks, the history of al Qaeda was a subject of considerable revision. The ties of American administration with the Islamist terrorist network sank into oblivion. According to Clarke (2004), “Large-scale war in the Middle East and Asia Minor against international terrorism was levied in 2001”. The CIA acknowledges, with a taciturn nod, that al Qaeda was an integral part of the American reconnaissance network during the Cold War. Rise of the Taliban to power in 1996 is partly a result of the American assistance to the Mujahideen, radical Islamist group engaged in the war against the USSR in the 1980s. This argument holds true to some extent, but allegations that the U.S. framed up the September 11 attacks to justify its premeditated invasion of Afghanistan, as well as other conspiracy theories, are the byproducts of foreign propaganda. Hostile nations refer to the U.S. as a nation of gullible, paranoid slaves that became a prey to its own government.

The September 11 attacks compelled the White House to establish the Homeland Security Council, a new body designed to advice and assist president in working out a strategy of homeland security, as well as become an important instrument to coordinate the efforts of the executive branches involved in the security issues (Davis, 2005, p. 120). The Bush’s administration opened a new vacancy – the Homeland Security Advisor. At the same time, the National Security Council remained responsible for coordinating antiterrorist efforts abroad. The Department of Homeland Security was soon founded in order to unite “beneath the same ceiling” the overwhelming majority of agencies, committees and other coordinating centers responsible for the homeland security (Davis, 2005, p. 125).

Zbigniew Brzezinski argues that the war on terrorism has spawned the cult of fear in the U.S. He opines that subordination of American political agenda to the war on terror after the September 11 attacks had very severe repercussions for the American democracy, mentality, and political stance in the world. Ci-devant president Carter’s ex-advisor tends to think that the very phrase “the war on terrorism” does not make sense. It indicates neither geographical context, nor implicit enemies. Terrorism is not a foe; it is rather the etiquette of warfare – the policy of intimidation by means of slaying unarmed civilians. The Obama’s administration has recently voiced desire to leave the notorious term “the war on terrorism” on the scrapheap of history and supersede it with the bureaucratic phrase “overseas contingency operations”.

Zbigniew Brzezinski (2012), contends that “the U.S. government fuels paranoia at every power level”. Certain vested interests, such as entertainment businesses and television networks, had been deliberately fanning hysteria. Atmosphere begotten by the war on terrorism caused political and legal persecution of the Arab Americans (which are law-abiding citizens, as a rule). Social discrimination in regard to the Muslims travelling on planes is another unpremeditated side effect of this war. At the same time, reputation of the U.S. as a coordinator of forming constructive interracial and interreligious relations was severely affected. In the sphere of civil rights and liberties, the situation is even more deplorable. The culture of fear bred intolerance, suspicion, and legal procedures that morph American legal system into a travesty of justice. According to Brzezinski (2012), “The presumption of innocence is disregarded oftentimes”. By and large, discrimination of the Muslims in the U.S. and Islamophobia partake of the anti-Semite campaigns in the wake and maelstrom of the Second World War.  

Simultaneously, the war on terrorism has badly affected international image of the U.S. Similarities between the atrocities in respect to the Iraqis on the part of American troops and the Israeli attitude towards Palestinians fomented the hatred of the U.S. in the Arab world. The Muslims do not remonstrate at the idea of the war on terrorism as much as they lambast at the idea of harassment of their compatriots abroad.

The September 11 attacks could give rise to the real global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. Global alliance of moderate politicians with the participation of Muslims would be much more productive as compared to the demagogical discourse about the predominantly unilateral war on terrorism. It is important to entangle the Muslims into the campaign aimed at eradicating certain terrorist networks and containing political conflicts conducive to the outbreak of terrorism. Only full of aplomb and credibility, can America promote veritable international security, which would leave no geopolitical space for terrorism.

In the financial context, fight against terrorism cost the U.S. authorities at least $2 trillion (according to the conservative estimates), including expenses on the military campaigns abroad and consolidation of homeland security (Brzezinski, 2012). The war on terrorism was not confined to Afghanistan only. In 2003, the U.S. embarked on a quest for chemical weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was the second wave of the war on terrorism. The American Marines have not found the weapons, but determined the political crisis by assassinating the consummate dictator Saddam Hussein instead. In May 2011, the bullet hit Osama bin Laden, the main villain behind the September 11 attacks, in his Pakistani compound. This event has been considered the major achievement of the war on terrorism so far.

The stipulated withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan scheduled for 2014 shall become the last stage of the “global war on terrorism”. Of course, this does not mean that the problem has been tackled or terrorism wiped out from the face of the world. This is rather another pregnant pause in the course of everlasting fight against terrorism. Speaking of the achievements, the American quest for justice in the Middle East has not yielded a very rich harvest, though the results are tangible. The most notorious terrorist has been extirpated, and the tension in Afghanistan has been dialed down. Creation of the additional jobs is the sole economic benefit spawned by the rise in military expenditures. However, this benefit is of utmost importance for Barack Obama, for the soaring unemployment rates give him a huge headache. On the other hand, the overhaul of the American defense industry is one of the major imponderables. The U.S. still has to iron out the kinks in its military-industrial structures. The withdrawal from Afghanistan could have dangerous spillover effects, but it will not definitely be as ignominious as the Soviet withdrawal of 1989. It is not a rush decision, but it is rather prudent statecraft. This withdrawal will definitely transform the global configuration of global relations. The U.S. will probably have to drive home its global leadership claims in the Middle East, but the door for diplomacy has not yet closed. 

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