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It is almost twenty years to the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001. On that day, the world was changed forever. When the first plane hit one of the Twin Towers, it was clear that millions of us were witnessing, from our homes, schools or jobs, a turning point in our lives. Then came the second impact. It was clear: the United States was under attack and, with it, all of us in the West were under attack. They declared war on us. This was our war.
Not since global conflicts began had the United States been hit as lethally, as costly and as painfully as the attacks of September 11, 2001. And it was not a state, another power, that struck the blow. Neither the Soviet Union, nor the Nazis, nor the Japanese Empire had managed to strike at the heart of the United States, taking with them the lives of thousands of men, women and children. That morning the perpetrator of the tragedy was a paramilitary, tribal, almost cave-like organization, motivated by a highly complex ideological passion.
The rise of Al Qaeda ushered in a new era. Conflicts would no longer be the same, conventional, of armies against armies, but irregular. Of a state against ghosts and ideas. We would no longer know who the enemy really was, where he was and what he wanted. It could range from a Pakistani who matured between hatred for what is not like him and dogmatism; or a mentally unstable Briton who thanks to the internet enlisted in one of these organizations.
It was not money, political ambition or the desire for revenge that motivated this new enemy. Ideology and beliefs were enough for a man to wield a machine gun and enter a restaurant in a European capital to kill left and right, children, women or men. This, complex and passionate, was America’s new enemy. But all it took was a face and a name to start the war and send in the troops. Osama Bin Laden, bearded, a Saudi millionaire and leader of Al Qaeda, was the man who motivated the military incursion into Afghanistan on October 7, 2001.
The morning after 9/11, any action that sought to make the killers of more than 3,000 people pay was justified. Any decision, no matter how great the sacrifice, would find support if it meant imposing justice. In the United States and the western world, terror was condemned in unison and the narrative to arm the war was constructed.
20 years later, more than a trillion dollars (much more than the trip to the Moon, the Manhattan Project or the Marshall Plan) and the death of more than two thousand soldiers in combat, the war on terror is over. This August 30, with the departure of the last American soldier from Afghanistan, the longest conflict in which the United States has been engaged is sealed and, consequently, an era comes to an end. But it does not end well, at least for the good guys. The U.S. lost and the bad guys, in this case Islamic terrorism, celebrate victoriously, with blasts to the sky.
The images from Kabul are shocking. The last space controlled by the Americans before their withdrawal, the airport of the Afghan capital, was taken by the Taliban. Men in Marine uniforms walk into the hangar. They are not Americans. They also carry Marine weapons and inspect the Air Force helicopters that the U.S. left behind. They raise their fists as they chant: “Allahu Akbar!”. They celebrate, triumphant, the defeat of Washington. Of Washington and of the free world, it must be said.
A new era of war
Perhaps the idea of winning against this new enemy, which is multiplying and, as Oriana Fallaci rightly wrote, is everywhere, was always unrealistic. Not only in the Arab countries, but everywhere. “And the most battle-hardened,” says Fallaci, “are precisely in the West.”
Perhaps the war was lost from the moment it started. Maybe the idea of beating an ideology that spreads terror was never possible, at least with rifles and black hawks. But this could have been avoided. The humiliation, the cost again so great, the murder of 13 American soldiers, of so many allies and of what is to come! Because these butchers who have taken power in Afghanistan, the Taliban, the same ones who linked up with Al Qaeda to bring down the Twin Towers and who are not much different from ISIS, will not stop. They will once again display their barbaric and criminal nature, especially against women.
Sadly, the withdrawal of the last American soldier from Kabul did not mean the departure of the last American from a country that now wants him dead. In fact, hundreds of unarmed Americans were left in Afghanistan, at the mercy of ruthless and very cruel Islamic terrorism. That, of course, could have been avoided. So could the collapse of the Afghan Army and Government, which today the White House is so fond of blaming for the tragedy gripping the Middle East and Asia. Because the United States, which imported its military system, left the Afghans orphans by taking away the Area Force, on which the Marine Corps depended and on which the Afghan army also depended.
This humiliation could have been avoided and an alternative could have been found so that the United States, after twenty years and after investing so many people and so much money, would not lose the war on terror. But it is too late. In Kabul the terrorists celebrate and in Washington they are burying their soldiers.
Meanwhile, the enemies of the White House must feel emboldened, with China ready to take Taiwan and Russia to finish getting its claws into Ukraine. The docility and fragility of a power inevitably results in the strengthening of its enemies. And in this world the power, our power, had been the United States, and that was fine.
If a hegemon was necessary, let it be those who value democracy, human rights and freedoms. But the world will not be the same after this defeat. It has already changed, and perhaps forever. The future that looms is, unlike the 20th century, several decades dominated by the enemies of the West.