New resource: Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “war on terror”

Dear colleagues and friends,

The search for truth has been front and center in Congress of late. Hearings have been held probing conspiratorial plots to overturn the 2020 election results and to foment an insurrection on January 6, 2021.

Truth-telling in matters of foreign policy is rarer but not absent. In 2004, one year after the U.S. invaded Iraq, a House of Representatives Special Investigation committee documented 237 “misleading statements” made by top U.S. officials, including 55 by President George W. Bush between September 2002 and July 2003.

In 2014, after 12 years of rounding up terrorist suspects, the Senate Intelligence Committee revealed the extent of torture practiced at the Guantánamo prison, contrary to Bush’s claim in June 2003, “The United States is committed to the worldwide elimination of torture, and we are leading by example.” Only 18 of the 779 detainees were ever charged with a crime, and only five were convicted.

The U.S. mainstream media was slow to challenge administration claims, but made some notable contributions over time. The New York Times exposed a Pentagon propaganda campaign designed to achieve “information dominance” in the media, and also investigated civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes where the Pentagon said there were few or none. The Washington Post, for its part, engaged in a three-year legal battle to obtain more than 2,000 pages of interviews with senior U.S. officials, documenting, in the words of reporter Craig Whitlock, how they “failed to tell the truth about the war in Afghanistan through the 18-year campaign, making rosy pronouncements they knew to be false and hiding unmistakable evidence the war had become unwinnable.”

The quest for truth motivated human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, and foreign correspondents, such as Anand Gopal and photojournalist Anja Niedringhaus (killed in Afghanistan), to travel to war zones and report on the grievous harm done by U.S. and allied military operations.

Were the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq necessary? The new essay on the U.S. Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide website, Afghanistan, Iraq, and the “war on terror,” makes the case that they were not. While it is widely known that the Bush administration made false claims in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, it is less well known that the administration rejected opportunities to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the Taliban in Afghanistan in the fall of 2001.

Like all essays on the website, this multi-part essay is a work of synthesis, utilizing primary sources and excellent scholarship to present a coherent and meaningful account of this “war on terror” era of U.S. foreign policy. The essay provides background information, closely examines official rhetoric and ideological presumptions, and discusses veterans, anti-Muslim prejudice, and peace movement activities on the home front. It is written for the general public and students (high school through college), and may be used by teachers and professors for reading assignments and classroom discussions. The text is divided into numerous sections and sub-sections for easy scanning, provides extensive endnotes, and is accompanied by 123 images and photos.

The co-authors, Jeremy Kuzmarov and I, have written other essays on the website and have separately published numerous books and articles on U.S. foreign policy.

Please share this educational resource with friends and associates. I would be interested in your feedback.

Roger Peace
PhD, American Foreign Relations
Website coordinator: United States Foreign Policy History & Resource Guide