Supposing, after the terrible events of 9/11, the United States had acted differently. Imagine if it had worked to improve its intelligence and internal security capacity, but not launched the War on Terror. Instead, it deployed special forces discreetly throughout the world to destroy Al Qaeda and hunt down Bin Laden.
Imagine now we lived in a world where the US and her allies had not invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Afganistan is still a medieval backwater where women are treated appallingly, and Saddam Hussein or his odious sons are still in power in Iraq.
It’s not a pretty sight, save for the fact that The West has not turned two invasions into a recruiting bonanza for Islamic extremists. Thousands of allied soldiers have not died. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are not dead. Billions have not been spent on wars that have at worst not delivered what we hoped, and at best created new problems.
Are we actually that worse off? ISIS is not fighting in Iraq. The Arab Spring probably hasn’t happened. George Bush and Tony Blair have both left office in quite high esteem, two safe pairs of hands who steered The West through one of its’ darkest days.
It couldn’t have happened, of course, for the simple reason that the American people and its media would never have settled for anything short of a spectacular act of revenge. And I write that in a non-judgemental way, because it was a very human reaction to rise up and want to wreak vengeance upon those who inflicted such a terrible blow on the US.
But that’s the point. It was a hard blow, but a gnat’s blow in terms of the strength of the United States. Over 3000 people were killed, which is a savage figure. But when you consider that over 30,000 Americans die every year from gun-related deaths, without much panic by US politicians, you realise that the US, and the rest of the western world, can absorb quite a lot of pain.
America could have dismissed 9/11 with a wave of the hand and carried on if it had chosen to. That’s not to say it can dismiss threats to national security. It can’t. The next attack could be a biological weapon, and The West has to act to protect itself. But the US, and The West in general, should perhaps start considering that massive spectacular and visible retaliation does not make the US safer but creates a new generation of enemy recruits.
Imagine if Israel didn’t respond to every attack from Hamas. Imagine if Israel just stood firm and brushed off attack after attack, without bombing the Palestinians in retaliation. Yes, it would be hard, and counter-intuitive, and there would be those on Fox News screaming hysterically and quoting the bible and calling leaders wimps and cowards. But also imagine as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, of rockets being intercepted or landing, but the counter attack never coming. Imagine the anger in Hamas and Al Quaeda, as the US and Israel don’t play their part in the cycle, but instead openly mock the terrorists for their feebleness, for the fact that The West is so strong that their best efforts are as an ant to an elephant.
In short, imagine we told them that they’re just not important enough to invade or bomb. Yes, it would be hard, turning the other cheek. It would also mean turning a blind eye to terrible things done in Nigeria and Mali and Iraq and Syria. It would probably mean we’d need a more enlightened immigration policy to provide refuge for those fleeing those awful regimes, perhaps even paying another country to act as our surrogate reception area.