Pic courtesy the denverchannel.com
I have decided to add a little variety by providing a guest poster. This person is less than half my age and has a unique viewpoint. He provides an original point of view, and his analysis is comprehensive. Let me know what you think.
Though it's not really *over* over, I think it's fair to say that we're reaching a point where the War on Terror will no longer be the primary paradigm through which western powers engage militarily with the world in short order. So what I am thinking at the moment is - how will future historians define this era? Where does it start? Where will it end?
The 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US seem like the obvious starting point - however, there had certainly been related actions to these attacks leading back to the 80's. Osama Bin Laden had officially declared war on the United States in 1996 - and he had actually already organized attacks on US targets repeatedly before 9/11 (most notably embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the USS Cole near Yemen). 9/11 is probably when these conflicts entered the greater public consciousness, but even afterwards the goal of fighting terrorism became murky. Did they mean terrorism as a phenomenon? Did they mean Islamist terrorism specifically? Did they mean states that had sponsored terrorism?
The answer was, of course, all of the above, but if that's the case then things go back much further than 2001. The countries that ended up on the 'axis of evil' - Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, were all countries that had had antagonisms for the US stretching back decades (back to the 50's in the case of North Korea). There were also secondary 'axis' countries - Cuba, Libya, and Syria. Ideologically, none of these countries have that much in common, exemplifying a series of world views that include Marxist-Leninism, Ba'athism, Khomeini-brand Islamism, Juche, and whatever the hell Qadhafi thought he was doing that week. They weren't really allies (Iraq and Iran, in particular, were sworn enemies) and had few formal connections or organised alliances between them. All they really had in common were the fact that the US had beef with them.
Also notable, none of them really ideologically aligned with Osama Bin Laden's own perspective - Salafist Jihadism. No state was really. The Salafi movement had been around for a while, but it really began to pick up steam in the 80's, when various states including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan essentially started exporting it throughout the Islamic world, pumping money and Wahhabist clerics (the particularly conservative brand of Islam that prevails in the KSA) into every mosque and madras they could - partially for religious reasons, partially as an ideological counter to Soviet Communism, Arab Socialism, and Iran's newly emergent Shia-infused Islamism.
The combination of the Siege of the Grand Mosque by the sons of Ikwhan fanatics, the Iranian revolution, and the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan meant that much of the 80's was spent pushing this ideology everywhere they could. and it became very strong in the Islamic world.
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Soviets in Afghanistan, and the collapse of the USSR, these guys basically reached the height of their prestige within the Islamic world - there were seen as heroes who had destroyed an evil atheistic empire. Foreign veterans of the Afghanistan war returned to their home countries and used this momentum to attempt their own overthrows there - this happened in Algeria most notably, but also in Tajikistan. Islamist-aligned officers overthrew the government in Sudan, setting up an Islamist-themed military dictatorship.
The Taliban defeated the Afghan Warlords, remnants of the Mujahedeen, and set up their brand of Deobundi Islamist Fundamentalism in the country. Salafist Jihadists joined in secessionist and ethnic conflicts in Chechnya (Russia), Xinjiang (China), Kashmir (India), Palestine, the Philippines, and Bosnia. A lot of these insurgencies would become targets of the War on Terror paradigm after 9/11, but at the time most Americans, in particular, had no idea they were even a thing.
So where does it start? It's fair to say its origins lie in the Cold War. but where does this conflict actually begin? In the 50's in Egypt, when Nasser banned the Muslim Brotherhood and drove them underground (and into more militant formations)? In '79, when the Iranian Revolution, the Soviet-Afghan War, and the Grand Siege of Mecca all occurred within a few months of each other, leading to the violent (and state-sponsored) radicalization of Sunni militants? in '96, when OBL declared war on the US, marking it as a direct target for these movements? Or 9/11, when the largest terrorist attacks in history bought this conflict to world attention?
Trying to map things after this gets even murkier - trying to figure out how a solid *end* point might be murkier still. A lot of the states the US has problems with are still around, but blocs have been forming between them and more powerful nations. Salafi terrorism is still around, but its ability to strike much outside of Islamic-Majority countries is becoming increasingly limited. US security infrastructure is in the midst of pivoting away from focus on those groups, abandoning Afghanistan to the Taliban, and no doubt minimising their footprint in Iraq before too long. They aren't looking at the little fish so much anymore - Russia and China have captured their imagination far more (though they remain, as ever, fixated on Iran and Cuba).
This is a very different world to the one that dominated headlines for most of the 00's.