“War on Terror” Term and Its History


The term ‘war on terror’ became a household name after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center in America. This term has been used to describe the George Bush administration war and attempt to protect the lives and interests of the American citizens and their close allies. Mention of the term ‘war on terror’ cajoles memories of the political, military, ideological and legal conflict that are directed against Islamic militias, Islamic terrorism and the various regimes that are affiliated with Islam.

Terrorism attacks go well beyond the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers. The only difference and perhaps what triggered the American government to start the so-called war on terror, was the fact that the attack took place in the very American soil.

According to the theory of liberalism, the behavior of a state hinges upon its preference as opposed to the capabilities it has at its disposal. Accordingly, the actions or preference that various states opts top pursue are different and are determined by such factors as the prevailing economic system, culture as well as the type of government (Genest 25). Besides the actual attacks carried out in the American soil, more terrorist attacks have been subjected to American sympathizers such as Israel. Hayden and colleagues (9) are of the opinion that the present day international terrorism traces its history way back in 1968 (on 22nd July). On this day, an El Al aircraft was hijacked by three terrorists affiliated with the PFLP (Popular Front for The Liberation of Palestine) movement. On board the plane were 10 members of the crew and 38 passengers. The plane which was en route to Tel Aviv from Rome was redirected to Algiers. Perhaps this was just the beginning of terrorists using more modern weapons to achieve their mission.

Apart from plane hijackings, the extremists groups have targeted American citizens by bombing their embassies and other social places. In April of 1983, the U.S embassy in Beirut, Lebanon was bombed killing 63 people. In October of the same year the US Marine Corps Barracks in Beirut were attacked killing 299 people. Years later, a military complex in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia was bombed in which 19 people were killed. On 7th August 1998, the US embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dare salaam, Tanzania were bombed causing 223 deaths (Hayden 9).

The culture of retaliation has created a wave of animosity between America and the Arabian countries. Hayden et al. (10) classifies the terrorists into two groups, the religious extremists and ethnic nationalists. However unlike the ethnic nationalists, the religious extremists are far much dangerous and pose the greatest threat to America. This is due to a few factors, one being the wide support they receive world wide and the global reach to their network. Secondly they are marked with a fanaticism that allows them to go to any lengths including committing suicide if just to achieve their objectives (McGeehan and Gall 23). Thirdly they exhibit little or no allegiance to nations or organization beyond their terror network. More importantly they ignore any international agreements and civil laws not even recognizing innocent civilians in their just causes of war.

Historical Background of the Attacks

Cold War with the Soviet Union

The cold war is believed to have started immediately after the Second World War (WW 2). This was a war mainly based on ideologies. While the western block led by America was for capitalism, the eastern block led by Russia, then known as the Soviet Union propagated for communism. Hogan (175) argues that the cold war was partly escalated by the struggle over Germany. Though Germany had been totally crushed during WW2, it still remained a potentially crucial European power. The side that managed to control its military and economic power would become the victor. This war over territorial power saw once united countries divide into parts. Germany was divided into West Germany which supported capitalism and American ideologies; on the other hand East Germany was pro Soviet Union.

Nevertheless, the cold war with the Soviet Union can be cited as the beginning of animosity between the Arab countries and America. Most of the Arab countries were allied to the Soviet Union as opposed to America. They considered the Soviet Union ideologies especially socialism favorable.

Hayden et al. (3) states that in 1979, more than 100,000 soviet troops crossed the border into Afghanistan. Perhaps this is what set the stage for the formation of terrorist groups all over the Arab countries. During Soviet settlement in Afghanistan, the Americans opted to offer support to the anti-soviet forces notably the Mujahedeen. However when the Soviet Union withdrew its interest in Afghanistan, America too withdrew. The departure of the top super powers created a vacuum which offered an ideal environment for the formation of Taliban and al-Qaeda extremist groups. Apparently these are the two insurgent groups that have terrorized America since time immemorial.

The first Persian Gulf War in 1991

This is described as the first major conflict after the end of cold war and subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union. Bulliet et al. (803) describes it as a war caused by local and bilateral problems. Saddam Hussein was indebted to Kuwait a sum he was unable to settle. He pleaded with the Kuwait’s royal family to reduce his debt without success. Saddam who was also greedy to take over the oil rich country and become a powerful world leader invaded Kuwait in 1990. Upon realization of this by America under the leadership of President George Bush, he convinced other nations to attack Iraq. They invaded Iraq in 1991, with Iraq proving incapable of defeating America and its allies.

Ironically, according to Finlan (7), Saddam Hussein had been a close ally to most of the western countries for many years. They had supplied him with weapons which were meant to stop the spread of Iranian fundamentalism but his ambitions went too far as to attack Kuwait.

This can be considered as the beginning of animosity between America and the Middle East countries. Despite the much pressure exerted by America, Saddam Hussein continued being the president of Iraq. To defeat him, America imposed sanctions against Iraq but this too didn’t work. The suffering of the Iraqi’s under the American sanctions gave birth to an aggravated populace which produced a terrorist generation. This is the same group that attacked America in the infamous 9/11 attack. In retaliation under the leadership of George Bush Jnr., America invaded Afghanistan and Iraq with the hope of wiping out terrorism.

Globalization during the 1990’s

The era of globalization can be said to have come with the era of massive industrialization across the world. More than anything else in this era, technology has proliferated, contributing to the creation of treacherous gadgets like missiles and bombs. However as much as globalization is good in ensuring development across countries it has done more harm than good.

Nevertheless, globalization cannot be fully disengaged from terrorism. The ever increasing technology is coming in handy in assisting terrorists to create weapons of mass destruction.

With the term ‘the world has become a global village’, for business, so has it become a global village for terrorist groups. Their network is widely spread to almost all countries in the world making it easy to launch attacks.

As Cronin (30) observes, the coincidence between the evolving changes of globalization and the inbuilt shortcomings of the Arab region cupped with the inadequate response by America to both ensures that terrorism continue to be the most serious threat to America and western interests in this century.

The attacks of 9/11 and America invasion of Afghanistan

On the morning of September 11 2001, Americans were busy with their daily business oblivion of what was about to befall them. Four American airlines had been hijacked by al-Qaida extremist group and what they caused can be termed as the greatest American loss in history.

This was not the first time for the al-Qaida extremists to be associated with these attacks. In 1993, the first world trade center attack killed six people, and in 1998, 224 people died in Africa after the al- Qaeda bombed the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. According to McGeehan et al. (662) al- Qaida under the leadership of Osama bin Laden declared holy war on America in 1998. This made him the most wanted man in the world and a decade down the line his whereabouts have not been identified yet.

Ironically bin Laden and the Muslim jihad had been supported by America during the cold war. In an exclusive interview by Al Jazeera, bin Laden explained the origin of the name al-Qaida as the same name used to refer to the training camps of the Mujahedeen, who were being trained by Americans against Russian terrorism (McGeehan 633). The reasons given by al-Qaida for attacking U.S included their involvement in the Gulf War, U.S military involvement in Yemen and Somalia as well as U.S military presence in Saudi Arabia.

. After the end of the cold war, Osama left Afghanistan and returned to Saudi Arabia. Later he set camp in Sudan but was expelled in 1994. This forced him to go back to Afghanistan where he was welcomed by the Taliban. America invaded Afghanistan to oust from power the Taliban regime which was believed to be supporting the al Qaeda, which was true.

The March 2003 invasion of Iraq

The war between America and Iraq goes back to1991 during the Persian Gulf War as discussed earlier. When George Bush Jnr. came to power he endeavored to make true the dream of his grandfather by attacking Iraq. However, the night before the attack he explained to the nation that the purpose of the attack dubbed ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ was to disarm Iraq to free its people and defend the world from grave danger (Martel 243).

To achieve this objectives, the United States and his allies notably Britain, used military force to strike selected areas of military importance to Saddam to ensure that he did not retaliate. This invasion marked a new era in the U.S foreign policy in which the U.S is willing to destroy any regime that supports terrorism.

However this invasion led to a public outcry all over the world with most people condemning these attacks. This is due to the suffering and death of the innocent civilians. Finally America succeeded in ousting Saddam from power and his subsequent death by hanging in 2007. Nevertheless, the suffering of the Iraqis is still going on and terrorist attacks are increasing everyday.

The Obama Administration And Beyond

Since the inception of the war in Iraq President Obama then the Senator of Illinois was against this. He knew that this was not the most effective way to solve the quagmire. As the incumbent president he has promised to stop the war in Iraq by withdrawing the American troops. While campaigning he promised to renew all diplomatic efforts with all countries in the Middle East (Janda 388). So far he has tried to achieve this by visiting a number of Middle East countries especially Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Besides this he has improved his diplomatic ties with the Muslim countries namely, Kuwait, Iran and Egypt among others. Depending on how much president Obama achieves during his tenure the history of retaliation might stop. His application of more diplomatic systems should be emulated by his successors.

Theoretical foundations of the conflict

Levels of analysis

System level analysis is of the idea that countries and other international actors function in a universal social-economic-political- geographic environment with specific characteristics that help determine the pattern of interaction among the actors. More so human actions are already predetermined in that we are all shaped to behave in a predicable manner (Rourke par.3). On the other hand state level analysis emphasizes on the individual states and their internal processes as the primary determinant of the course of world affairs. This level of analysis focuses on midrange factors controlling the world politics unlike the system level analysis which is more general. Finally is the individual level analysis which focuses on specific human actors on the world stage. It analyses the complex process of human decision making and the way in which human characteristics affect decisions (Rourke par.5). In our analysis of war on terror the three levels of analysis have been featured in one way or another on several occasions.

Useful theory

The most applicable theory, effective enough to explain the recurrence of the terrorist attacks is the liberalist theory. This theory which is also referred to as the idealist theory argues “that states can intervene in other sovereign countries so as to fulfill liberal objectives” (Genest 33). This intervention includes military intervention and humanitarian aid. The liberalist theory is based on what the world should be and not what it is. Based on the liberal theory America felt they had the right to attack Iraq and any other country thought to be harboring terrorists.

This theory encourages countries to go to war so long as they feel they have a justified case. America started the war on terror on the basis of preventing its citizens from more terrorist’s attacks. Secondly President George Bush while attacking Iraq alleged weapons of mass destruction and this according to the liberalist theory is a reason enough for America or any country to invade another sovereign countries. He also alleged that apart from Americans he wanted to save Iraqi’s from the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. This justified by the liberalist theory would be war established on humanitarian grounds (Janda Berry and Goldman 81).

However, the more countries try to justify the war on terror the more the extremists groups get aggravated and thus launching revenge attacks. Due to this it has become virtually impossible to end the terrorist attacks. The best way is to embrace the realist theories which will help us see the world as it is and not as it should be.

International relations scholars perspectives on the 9/11 attacks

Henry Kissinger is a legendary politician who is fondly remembered for brokering peace in Vietnam. However he did not form part of the committee selected to solve the 9/11 attack due to his controversial stand. Nevertheless, Henry Kissinger advocated for world peace which would be effectively achieved by striking a balance in the global power. Unlike other scholars of international relations he advocated for realism and practicality in American governance as compared to reigning idealism (Conservapedia Par. 6). Based on his passion for world peace he advocated for the Iraq invasion but encouraged America to form coalitions with other nations if the war on terror was to be successful (Grandin par.7).

Robert Keohane calls the 9/11 attack the globalization of informal violence. The world is witnessing a large scale war between the world’s superpower and a non –state shadowy organization. With the end of the cold war Francis Fukuyama predicted the end of history. He envisioned a liberal world; one without war, where countries would resolve their problems diplomatically (Guyatt 178). Neither the 9/11 attack or the rise of fundamentalism has shook his belief.


The terrorist attacks dates back to the 19th century. Interestingly most of these extremist groups seem to target America and its sympathizers. The question then is; why America? Why not Germany? From history it can be deduced that the American government has a hand in the breeding of this terrorist groups. According to Osama bin Laden in a tape released by Al Jazeera, the name al Qaeda originates from Afghanistan. This was the name given to the camp where the Mujahedeen extremists were being trained by Americans to defeat the Soviet Union.

The abandonment of the Mujahedeen by the Americans after the end of the cold war must have left them bitter. They felt used and dumped by the Americans. The result was to seek for vengeance. This is what has been happening over the years.

Secondly the American ideologies seem to clash with almost every country especially the Arabic countries. The threat of being ousted as the world superpower, has led them to carry out half baked ideas that land them into more trouble with the terrorists. Their subsequent attacks on Iraq came as the most unjustified invasion. To justify his actions, George Bush Jnr. Cited Iraq under the leader ship of Saddam Hussein to be developing weapons of mass destruction. However upon attack none of these were found. The war still continues and the innocent civilians of Iraq continue suffering. The war of retaliation will continue unless more diplomatic ways of ending the quagmire are employed.

Works Cited

Bulliet, Richard, Crossley, Kyle, Pamela, Headrick, Daniel, Hirsch, Steven and Johnson, Lyman. “The Earth and Its People: A Global History.” Connecticut. Cengage Learning, 2008. Web.

Conservapedia. “Henry Kissinger.” New York, 2009. Web.

Finlan, Alastair. “The Gulf War of 1991.” New York. The Rosen Publishing Group, 2008. Web.

Genest, Marc. “Conflict and Cooperation: Evolving Theories of International Relations.” California. Thomson and Wadsworth Publishers, 2003. Web.

Grandin, Greg.” Sucking upto P. London.” London Review of Books, 2007. Web.

Guyatt, Nicholas.” Another American Century?” London. Zed Books, 2003. Web.

Hayden, Patrick, Lansford, Tom and Watson, Robert. “America’s War on Terror.” United Kingdom. Ashgate Ltd, 2003. Web.

Janda, Kenneth, Berry, Jeffrey and Goldman, Jerry. “The challenge of democracy: American government in a global world.” Connecticut: Cengage Learning, 2008. Web.

Cronin, Audrey. “Behind the Curve; Globalization and International Terrorism.” Massachusetts. MIT press, 2002. Web.

Martel, William. “Victory in War: Foundations of Modern Military Policy.” Cambridge. Cambridge University Press, 2007. Web.

McGeehan, John and Gall, Morris. “Let’s Review: U.S History And Government.” New York. Barron’s Educational Series, 2007. Web.

Rourke, John. ” International Politics on the World Stage.” California. McGraw Hill Publishers, 2005. Web.

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