It’s been 22 years since the terrorist attacks in New York (the twin towers of the World Trade Center), Washington (Pentagon) and Pennsylvania. The symbols of the places and spaces attacked leave no doubt that there was thorough and atypical pre-planning that was not only aimed at causing the death of human beings, but at sending a message to the West and the United States that the entire economic model , financial and military was challenged.
For the West and the United States as the spearhead, the postulate of liberal democracy, free market, individual freedoms were the new sacrosanct that was consecrated as a triumphalist apotheosis after the implosion of the Soviet empire. In this way, there was nothing to question about the universalist character of these values and the messianic role that American neoconservatives and their followers in Europe and the world should play to propagate the new word and, if necessary, forcibly implement such values. For the United States, the world became a fiefdom and vassals had to obey the new commandments.
However, history has taught us that nothing is perfect, much less eternal. The history of humanity is full of examples of empires and leaders who perished, often dramatically. For the ideologues of the Western model, none of this could be applied to the new empire since all the supposed variables of fall or inflection were studied in think tanks and, therefore, would be easily avoided.
Today we know the contours of the transformation from an ally to enemy number one. Osama Bin Laden, a member of the Saudi aristocracy and who put all his financial and ideological assistance into implementing a strategy carefully designed in Washington and whose premise was to convince the Arabs and Muslims that the war in Afghanistan against the Soviet “atheists” was not only a just cause, but it is their war too. Therefore jihad fi sabili Allah, that is, striving for God, was a wajib/religious duty.
It didn’t take long for thousands of volunteer fighters called mujahiddin to arrive in Afghanistan in search of the victory of the Umma (global Muslim community) or the Shahada/martyrdom that would lead, according to them, to eternal glory in the heavenly world. For the Americans, this was a masterstroke, considering that they would not need to send American soldiers to the field, which could be interpreted as active participation against the Soviets, something that the Americans did not want to show.
More than that, Washington was still recovering from the trauma and humiliation of Vietnam and, therefore, any direct involvement would be counterproductive in public opinion. For the Saudis, financial and ideological involvement in the war in Afghanistan was not only a demonstration of service to the American protector, but also an opportunity to export their Wahhabi ideology, until then a pillar of the political and theocratic power of the al-Saud family, which would contribute to the regime’s projection of the desired position of regional power. This after years in which Saudi Arabia was marginalized by pan-Arabists like Nasser and by Syrian (Assad) and Iraqi (Saddam Hussein) Baathists. After the war in Afghanistan ended, with the defeat of the Soviets, a void was opened for the army of mujahidins who from now on want to bring the success of Kabul to the Umma and the world, universalizing hukm Allah/God’s law on earth.
The sky is the limit
These are the deep and distant forces that would increasingly lead religious militancy, accompanied by a kind of “aqida”, which is a theological concept of an unshakable belief that jihadists share among themselves, to believe that, after defeating the Soviet Union , nothing would stop them from defeating the United States.
In this fanciful narrative, in which all jihadists believe, that the victory against the Soviets was due to their own merit and not the result of the help of American weapons, there appears an appropriation and construction of an illusory belief that anything was possible. This is the founding myth that convinced al-Qaida and its mentor, Osama bin Laden, to try to take revenge on those they consider the cause of the dramas of Muslims, exploiters of their wealth, of the subordination and inertia of despotic and vassal regimes, as was the case of the Gulf monarchies.
Another trigger was the stationing of American troops in Saudi Arabia when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. The other major discord was created due to the double standards with which the West treated the Arabs and Muslims in the Palestinian issue. One can then perceive the ecstasy with which the attacks by Scud ballistic missiles against the State of Israel, fired by Iraq in 1991, were seen.
To infinite war for infinite peace
Perhaps at this moment when we are experiencing the construction of a new world order, with a matrix clearly challenging the hegemony not only of the United States but of the entire West, which managed to dominate, create and shape spaces and peoples in the last five centuries, it is opportune to return and reflect on some ideas from some of the best American essayists. These are names that, unfortunately, ended up becoming dissidents and silenced because they had the courage to point out the excesses of North American arrogance in recent decades. In this sense, Gore Vidal is probably the best of his generation for the lucidity with which he analyzed the political history of the United States, the assault against the country’s republic, whose maximum personification is the figure of Donald Trump and his shameless attempted coup d’état in January 6, 2021.
In a set of essays published shortly after September 11th (The Last Empire, Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace; Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta; and Imperial America), Vidal makes a kind of reflective crusade and tries to defend what was left of the idea of the American Republic. It is in this sense that we understand his denunciation of the Cheney-Bush junta, to overturn the lies that the American Empire lives by, revealing a counter-history that traces the origins of the current imperial ambitions of the United States since the experience of the Second World War, the post-war Truman doctrine until the Cheney-Bush period, which unhesitatingly declared the resort to infinite war.
Vidal questioned the true motives of this doctrine of preventive war, how in the name of war Afghanistan was turned into rubble to avenge the 3,000 killed on September 11, how Saddam Hussein and Iraq were replaced after the defeat of the Taliban, while “evidence” were invented to link Saddam to 9/11, the supposed existence of weapons of mass destruction. As a result of the invasion of Iraq, justified on the basis of a lie, millions were killed, including children and civilians, and the country’s historical heritage and vast oil wealth were plundered.
Gore Vidal foresaw the current crisis of a world once again at risk, precisely because of the promiscuous relations of American governments, both on the Democratic and Republican sides, of continuing to serve loyally to those who actually elected them – Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, McDonnell Douglas, General Electric, Mickey Mouse and so on.
Vidal explains how the American Republic became the American Empire, elucidates how the false narrative of saving the world from communism and today from terrorists, the Axis of Evil, rogue states and non-democrats was creating a surveillance state in the name of National Security, in addition to involvement in hundreds of secret and open wars, leading the United States to accumulate trillions of dollars in debt. Even worse was the sinister Timber Sycamore project, created from scratch by the CIA during the Barack Obama administration (2012) and financed by Saudi Arabia to form and arm a coalition of thousands of Jihadists with the aim of decapitating Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. In practical terms, the Sycamore program was the seed of the hideous Islamic State (Daesh). In this equation, the winners were the arms traders; the losers were citizens living in ghettos without access to education and employment.
The American defeat in Afghanistan and the humiliating escape of American soldiers and planes destroy the immaculate image of hyperpower. There comes a time when empires stop exerting energy and become symbolic – or existential, as they used to say in the 40s of the last century.
The current crisis with the war in Ukraine in the heart of Europe, the rivalry with China, the discussion about the limits of NATO expansion demonstrates the dilemma in which a symbolic empire finds itself when it lacks the mind, and the resources, to impose its hegemony over former client states. In the end, entropy ends up getting us all.
Times change, desires change!
Paraphrasing the French geopolitician Gérard Chaliand, we can say that today we live in a multipolar, uncertain world, full of conflicts and in full change. Multipolar because this world marks the end of post-Cold War Western hegemony. This hegemony is now being challenged by the rise of China and Turkey’s renewed influence on the international stage.
A conflictual era, due to the balance of power on the international stage, and especially the Sino-American rivalry.
Uncertain and in a phase of change, especially since the war in Ukraine has accentuated a fundamental trend: that of a division that pits the West against the rest of the world. A trend confirmed by the expansion of Brics. This confirms the growing power of this club and offers many countries a credible alternative to the G7. Considering this international context, we can ask ourselves, what geopolitical perspectives do the future have? Could China replace the United States as the world’s leading power? Is Sino-American rivalry inevitable? How is the war in Ukraine likely to evolve and who can win it?
Let us return to the “wild nature of this world”, remembering the Hippocratic oath, which orders doctors: “Above all, do no harm”. Hippocrates also wrote, moved and shaken: “Life is short, but art is long, opportunity is fleeting, experiment is dangerous, judgment is difficult.”
* Mohammed Nadir is Coordinator of the Arab Studies Laboratory at the Federal University of ABC (UFABC) and Coordinator of the Africa GT at the Observatory of Foreign Policy and International Insertion of Brazil (OPEB-UFABC).
**This is an opinion piece. The author’s view does not necessarily express the editorial line of the newspaper Brasil de Fato.
Editing: Thales Schmidt