US foreign policy elites are compulsively addicted to exaggerating the threats to American security that exist around the world. This is not a recent phenomenon; it is as old as the American empire itself. Immediately after World War II ended, the US foreign policy elite started to exaggerate the Soviet threat. The Soviets had one of the largest military machines in the world, but it was largely a technologically primitive state. In the US, those handling foreign policy used to advise politicians that any Soviet style revolution anywhere in the world would be a direct threat to American security.
When Vietnam fell, US foreign policy commentators started to point out that this would have a domino effect around the world and American influence would be severely hit. The Soviet economy by this time was in deep waters, and some analysts were predicting that it was about to collapse. In 1990, the Soviet Union did collapse but this fact did not compel the American foreign policy elite to change their ways. They continued to exaggerate the threats to American security. Their next enemy, Al-Qaeda was the David to the Goliath of the American military’s might. The Soviets were no match for the technologically advanced weaponry that the US military possessed, or the economic colossus that the US economy represented. It was only that the size of Soviet land forces was huge and it could overrun Central and Western Europe - the closest US allies - if they so decided. Al-Qaeda was tiny in comparison, and I could go on and on in using this word to describe Al-Qaeda’s military potential in comparison with the massive military power in the possession of the American state machinery. It was the exaggeration exercises of US foreign policy elites that made possible a 20-year hunt for Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, Pakistan and around the Muslim World.
One state which wholeheartedly embraced the post-9/11 narrative and rhetoric of US foreign policy elites was Pakistan, a country that was under the thumb of a military junta closely allied to Washington’s political and military establishment. The Pakistani military and its media machine further inflated the threat. Though the situations that the American and Pakistani state and societies were facing were markedly different; the American state has huge resources with the help of which it sought to defeat all future attempts to carry out more terror attacks in mainland America. On the other hand, Al-Qaeda had set up physical base just adjacent to Pakistani territory, and with a porous border that divides Pakistan and Afghanistan, the threat of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates carrying out terror attacks inside Pakistan were real.
One state which wholeheartedly embraced the post-9/11 narrative and rhetoric of US foreign policy elites was Pakistan, a country that was under the thumb of a military junta closely allied to Washington’s political and military establishment.
This was not the first time that the Pakistani state and its institutions were buying wholesale the theories of American foreign policy elites. Earlier, between the 1950s and 1990s, the Pakistani military and its leadership happily played second fiddle to American foreign policy elites when the latter were exaggerating the Soviet threat to American security. The Soviets in Afghanistan will soon overrun Pakistan, the Soviets wanted to reach the warm waters of the Arabian Sea, the Soviets will help Pashtun and Baloch separatists to disintegrate Pakistan through armed struggle - the Americans said. All these theories were boldly imported from Washington and adopted into our strategic thinking. These theories were part of the overall containment strategy of successive US administrations that received the backing of US foreign policy elites. None proved correct.
In the first five years of the 21st century, the US invaded Afghanistan and Iraq - both on relatively flimsy grounds. First, there was a dubious attempt to make it look like Osama Bin Laden was in possession of weapons of mass destruction before the US invasion of Afghanistan began. Then in 2003, the senior officials of the Bush administration built a bogus case against the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein - that Saddam was building nuclear weapons and was in possession of chemical and biological weapons. All these claims were based on a web of lies.
US foreign policy elites continued to harp on this theme for years. American theorists of international politics like Stephen M. Walt and John Mearsheimer in their respective works—including The Hell of Good Intentions by Stephen M. Walt, and The Great Delusion by John J. Mearsheimer—clearly elucidate how US foreign policy elites, in order to advocate for the US hegemonic role in the world, exaggerate the threats to US security that exist in different parts of the world. Walt’s book is particularly illuminating as to how US foreign policy elites have been projecting false political theories in the media and public life to manufacture bogus threats to American security. US foreign policy elites are not doing this for nothing—after all, this involves billions of dollars.
This exercise in the exaggeration of threats goes on at multiple levels, and involves a budget of billions of dollars. The players in this game include US diplomats, senior military and intelligence officials, experts in international politics, foreign policy, areas studies, military affairs and others foreign policy practitioners. Media personalities regularly writing on foreign policy and other foreign policy commentators and analysts are part of this elite. Although most of this game goes on inside the United States, as the audience is obviously the American masses, this activity nevertheless has serious repercussions for the world at large.
The Kosovo War, First Gulf War, Second Gulf War, war in Afghanistan, and the American intervention in Syria and Libya after the Arab Spring are just a few examples of how American foreign policy elites’ exaggeration of threats translated into major military intervention by the United States in different parts of the world, in which hundreds of thousands lost their lives. When this exercise in exaggeration is studied in the context of US military interventions in the Muslim world, no sane person can conclude that these activities are innocent intellectual exercises. Afghanistan and Iraq have not been able to stabilize their societies in the wake of the US military interventions in their territory.
Afghanistan continues to pose a serious security threat for regional countries and in many ways, it is now a much worse nightmare for regional security managers than it was at the time of the US invasion and occupation. Iraq witnessed a bloody civil war after the US invasion and could hardly be described as a stable society today. So, what is for US foreign policy elites ultimately an intellectual exercise has turned out to be a major cause of instability for the rest of the world.
Immediately after the October 7 attacks, Israeli leaders started to describe these attacks as Israel’s 9/11. Unsurprisingly, American and western leaders gave them a nod on this count - meaning thereby that their strong military response akin to America’s post-9/11 response was justified.
After Pakistan, Israel is another country which moves in lockstep with the US foreign policy elites. It would not be wrong to state that American foreign policy elites are wholly aligned with the strategic thinking in Israel. Gaza is a classical example of how US foreign policy elites used their traditional tool of exaggerating threats. The murderous campaign being carried out by the IDF against the innocent population of Gaza is a classic example of how western countries are continuing to rely on the strategic consensus against terrorism developed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. In the wake of 9/11, the US administration was on the receiving end of sympathetic world opinion – which was supportive of strong military action against Al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. Immediately after the October 7 attacks, Israeli leaders started to describe these attacks as Israel’s 9/11.
Unsurprisingly, American and western leaders gave them a nod on this count - meaning thereby that their strong military response akin to America’s post-9/11 response was justified. Appeals for a ceasefire coming from around the world fell on deaf ears. I think world opinion has to understand that the murderous use of military power against sovereign states, countries and innocent civilians has to stop. The question that needs to be asked is whether a terrorist act by a non-state actor against a powerful state like United States or Israel could justify the murderous use of military power by the more powerful victim state against innocent civilians.
How far should the West be allowed to stretch the strategic consensus against terrorism that was arrived at in the wake of 9/11? This question is specifically important for Pakistan and the Muslims of South Asia, as Indian foreign policy elites are also in the habit of using this strategic consensus against Kashmiri freedom fighters.
What will be the end of this murderous campaign? What will become of this strategic consensus in the wake of what is happening in Gaza? Part of the problem is that many Muslim states and militaries are also drawing their strength and legitimacy from the same consensus to carry out military campaigns against militant groups in their own societies. Many Muslim states have also chosen to engage in the exaggeration of threats in their own societies—they just chose to reproduce how American foreign policy elites behave. The problem is that military establishments in Muslim societies and their foreign policy elites during the past fifty years have grown under the shadow of American foreign policy elites. In the post-Cold War landscape, most US military interventions took place in the Muslim World. But people around the world should beware that they might not remain immune from aggressive Western military behavior for long. In Gaza, there is a lesson for people around the world who believe in justice and the value of human life. The game of bull in a China shop should not repeat in other places after Gaza.