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On five occasions so far, the column has featured the " SWISH reports ": the latest strategic assessments of the performance of leading players in the war al-Qaida, the US state department, and the British government delivered by the South Waziristan Institute of Strategic Hermeneutics. Within four months of the September attacks, the Taliban regime had been eliminated — or at least had melted away, to rethink and regroup — and George W Bush had scaled a rhetorical peak in meeting the perceived new threats to the United States and to global security.
Iraq was already in the military sights for regime termination, with Iran not far behind. That had already started to dissipate by the early part of , as it became apparent that the war on terror's deeper agenda was largely driven by the desire to facilitate what the more fervent neo-conservative supporters of the Bush administration were calling a "new American century". The Washington view was that it was essential to maintain control of the world.
Israel: past, present and future
Its model was impelled by a unilateralist stance owing much to a central tenet of the neocon outlook : what is good for the White House is good for the world. In the operations in Afghanistan, al-Qaida was disrupted and the Taliban regime was terminated. There have been numerous detentions across the world and many elements of the al-Qaida leadership have been killed or detained. A second regime, in Iraq, was eliminated — on the questionable grounds of possessing weapons of mass destruction or being linked to terrorist organisations.
The US occupiers are currently facing a hugely difficult insurgency involving levels of violence higher than at any time since March There is now the prospect of a war with Iran. The human cost of the global war on terror has been immense. In the past five years there have been, at the very least, around 50, civilians killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.
These are very conservative estimates; the actually casualty figures are probably very much higher. Among them must also be included at least , serious injuries, with many thousands of people maimed for life. At any one time, about 15, individuals are being held in detention; overall, fewer than a thousand have been brought to any sort of trial and then convicted. Many hundreds have remained in prison for more than four years. Prisoner abuse — including rendition, torture and deaths in custody — has been persistent and extensive. Many countries around the world have introduced tough new anti-terrorism laws; governments consistently point to threats and plots as justification for these harsher measures, many of which are in effect directed at minority Muslim communities.
The Iraq insurgency is proving extremely difficult for the US to contain, far less defeat.
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In response to their predicament, US forces there tend repeatedly to use their overwhelming advantages in firepower, usually in urban environments, in a way that produces large numbers of civilian casualties. The current strategy in Iraq is to increase the use of helicopter gunships and strike aircraft, with inevitable results in increased collateral damage. The civilian casualties in Iraq losses are increasing rapidly.
The Iraqi ministry of health reported 3, deaths in July, nearly double the number for January; this brought the total of violent deaths to well over 17, so far this year. While much of this is due to sectarian violence, attacks on US forces and Iraqi security units have also increased substantially for example, 2, roadside bombs were planted in July compared with 1, in January.
Across the wider region, the growth of satellite TV news channels such as al-Jazeera is resulting in widespread knowledge of the impact of counterinsurgency operations, far more broadly than is represented in the western media. This is supplemented by skilful use of the web, videos and DVDs by groups linked to the wider al-Qaida movement.
Coverage of Iraq, in particular, has greatly added to a bitter mood of anti-Americanism. The recent violence in Lebanon reinforces this trend, as well as confirming the portrayal of Israel as mainly a US surrogate in the region. In one of the most extraordinary developments, Iraq is now becoming a focus of the global war on terror in that young jihadis from a number of countries including Afghanistan are now using it as a combat training-zone.
Call for papers – The First World War: Past, Present, and Future
This is an effective recruiting tool for the wider jihadi movement. Meanwhile, Afghanistan is destabilising in the face of renewed Taliban activities. This is despite hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on eradication programmes. Furthermore, an increasing proportion of the raw opium is now refined into heroin and morphine within Afghanistan, adding hugely to the revenues accruing to the Taliban, warlords and other elements. As the Taliban offensive intensifies, the government across the border in Pakistan remains unable or unwilling to control paramilitary activity in its western districts bordering Afghanistan.
Some might argue that the disastrous sequence of events in Iraq and Afghanistan might be a price worth paying for the disruption of al-Qaida, especially as the price is being paid by people in the middle east and southwest Asia rather than in the United States and its coalition partners. It is true that the al-Qaida movement lost some of its leaders and also faced geographical disruption during In practice, though, it has been transformed into a much more diffuse yet still potent entity with a multitude of connections, parallel paths and capabilities.
It or its affiliates have perpetrated at least thirty major attacks in that time: they include Karachi three times , Islamabad, Bali twice , Jakarta twice , Istanbul twice , London, Madrid, Sinai three times , Riyadh, Tunis, Casablanca, Mombasa and many others. Al-Qaida is now best characterised as more of a shared idea or outlook than a defined organisation. The sheer number of attacks across the world suggests that it is a movement which at least is maintaining — if not actually increasing — its level of activity.
Its support-base is most certainly growing. Moreover, far from being a nihilistic phenomenon it is better described as an unusual transnational revolutionary movement rooted in a quasi-religious ideology which promotes a number of clear-cut aims. These are conceived in terms of a twenty to thirty year strategy whose starting-point is around The long-term aim, calculated over a timespan of fifty to a hundred years, is the establishment of an Islamist caliphate.
Al-Qaida's survival and the manifest disasters of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan mean that an objective assessment of the past five years might well conclude that the effects of Bush's global war on terror in relation to its impact on the al-Qaida movement and the wider mood of anti-Americanism, have been deeply and persistently counterproductive. In addition to his weekly openDemocracy column, Paul Rogers writes an international security monthly briefing for the Oxford Research Group; for details, click here.
Does this mean that there is a possibility of a real change in policy?