I recall 9/11 vividly, as many Americans do. I was going into a morning sociology class in college. Everyone was glued to the TV — New York City’s Twin Towers had been destroyed from terrorists flying planes into them, another was soon flown into the Pentagon. As I’ve learned since then, almost everyone was shocked by what happened. I was not. Perhaps part of why I was not shocked was due to some sort of youthful ignorance, but part of why I was not shocked was also due to an understanding of what led to the attacks. My immediate thought was something like, “Well, this is not surprising, given how long we’ve been at war — killing people — in the Middle East.” Did we expect that would never come back to our home?
Naturally, I knew pretty much nothing of the attackers at that time. However, Osama bin Laden’s August 23, 1996, declaration of war on the United States backed up my assumptions (5 years before I made them, of course, but I have to admit that I was not aware of that person or his declaration of war at the time). The Atlantic summarizes the declaration he made 5 years before the terrorist attacks took place:
“During the 1980s, bin Laden fought alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. After the Soviets withdrew, he went home to Saudi Arabia, then moved to Sudan before being expelled and returning to Afghanistan in 1996 to live under Taliban protection. Within a few months of his arrival, he issued a 30-page fatwa, ‘Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,’ which was published in a London-based newspaper, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, and faxed to supporters around the world. It was bin Laden’s first public call for a global jihad against the United States. In a rambling text, bin Laden opined on Islamic history, celebrated recent attacks against U.S. forces in Lebanon and Somalia, and recounted a multitude of grievances against the United States, Israel, and their allies. ‘The people of Islam had suffered from aggression, iniquity and injustice imposed on them by the Jewish-Christian alliance and their collaborators,’ he wrote.
“His central lament was the presence of U.S. forces in Saudi Arabia, or ‘the occupation of the land of the two holiest sites.’ Following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, bin Laden had offered to defend Saudi Arabia with his Arab legion. But the Saudi royals decided that the U.S. military would be a better bet. Six years later, American soldiers were still in Saudi Arabia in a bid to contain Saddam Hussein. Bin Laden saw the United States as the power behind the throne: the ‘far enemy’ that propped up apostate regimes in the Middle East. Muslims, he wrote, should abandon their petty local fights and unite to drive the Americans out of Saudi Arabia: ‘destroying, fighting and killing the enemy until, by the Grace of Allah, it is completely defeated.'” (emphasis added)
Naturally, I do not think the terrorists were justified. I am a firm believer in “thou shall not kill,” to the point that I am also a strong vegetarian (since I do think it’s clear that animals are sentient beings who experience being killed in a way similar to how humans experience it). I just didn’t see it as surprising that someone like bin Laden would pop up in a war-torn area of the world that the United States had been terrorizing for years. I didn’t see it as surprising that he and others could stimulate greater hate and devise plans to attack us back. And let’s just set aside who are the “good guys” and who are the “bad guys” for a moment. If your friends, your family, and people who belong to your religion and culture are being killed by a powerful country, the chance that you will develop hate for that country and want revenge is pretty high.
The thing that was also obvious back then, and that has only grown more obvious as more information and statements from those involved at the highest level have come out, is that we originally got into the region and started terrorizing certain people in the Middle East because of oil. We “needed” to secure our oil supplies. We “needed” to have the strongest presence in this “oil-rich” region of the world. The cost? Well, never mind the cost, short term and long term — it was a “necessity.”
It’s hard to believe that we’re approaching the 20 year anniversary of 9/11. It’s horrendous that as we pull forces out of Afghanistan, allies who relied on us and put our faith in us are being murdered and sentenced to a horrible life. It has been heartbreaking for months seeing what was going to happen after President Trump decided suddenly in the lame-duck period after he lost the election that we would leave Afghanistan fully within a few months, and then President Biden extended the timeline by a few months but still without enough time to exit with a solid plan for how to protect our friends and allies. It has been heartbreaking the past few days to see what was expected come to happen. There are several aspects of this human rights disaster that one could look closely at. But I am drawn back to the origin of it — our dependence and gluttonous desire for oil.
Without that addiction to a constantly gushing inflow of oil, would the U.S. have infiltrated the Middle East to such a huge extent — or at all — a few decades ago? Would hate for America have grown how it did in that region? Would bin Laden have written “Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places?” Would the U.S. have spent two decades and trillions of dollars in Afghanistan, only to leave now and see the Taliban quickly take over the country, murdering people along he way who we promised to protect?
The AP published an article yesterday titled, “Longest war: Were America’s decades in Afghanistan worth it?” One from the day before is titled, “Costs of the Afghanistan war, in lives and dollars.” Both are worth a read. The estimated costs — thousands of lives lost, pain inflicted, and terror spread (internally and externally) not included — come to $2 trillion debt financed for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. By 2050, with interest included, that is expected to go up to $6.5 trillion. That’s 6.5 trillion dollars that stem from decisions decades ago to supposedly secure the energy resources our country “needed.” What did we secure? What did we create?
It’s a heartbreaking week. It’s been a heartbreaking few decades. It’s time to move beyond dependence on oil.
Thankfully, today, we have electric cars that are better than fossil fuel cars and cost-competitive at the same time. And that doesn’t even count trillions of dollars in U.S. oil-dependency costs or trillions of dollars in coming climate-catastrophe costs.