Ideological Wars: Fueling US imperialism and the legacy of the war on terror


Lina Bhatti

Date published: Thu, 9 September 21


The United States has a habit of declaring some sort of ideological war every couple of decades. These ideological wars frame the imperialism of the United States. Understanding the ways in which the US uses perceived democracy, freedom, and liberty to engage in wars around the world to benefit the state is to understand why imperialism is so destructive at the hands of the US. 

Ideological wars

The most common ideological war you may be familiar with is the Cold War. The Cold War featured proxy wars between the US and the USSR that, rather than leading to casualties within the US and the USSR’s borders, led to casualties and destruction of states in the Global South – hundreds of thousands of civilians died as the US and the USSR meddled in postcolonial nation-states to wage ideological warfare. In the latter half of the 21st century, the US has been engaged in different ideological wars that unfold into warfare and combat. From communism to the war on drugs, these ideological wars start as addressing a symptom to a larger problem. With the war on drugs for example, the US under Reagan created a social mentality that wars were to blame for societal ills rather than a symptom of the government’s social failures. This allowed for the US to target lower-income, minority Americans rather than systemic failures of the government. The repercussions to the war on drugs continue today in the US and South America. 

War on Terror

The war on terror is perhaps the most recent ideological war that the US has engaged itself in. In an effort to spread democracy, freedom, and liberty in the Middle East and the peripheral Islamicate world, the US embarked on an intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan after 9/11. The legacy of 9/11 showed an inherent ideological hypocrisy of the US. Although the attackers of 9/11 were not Iraqi or Afghan, Iraq suffered, and Afghanistan still suffers from US imperialism. The invasion of Afghanistan was initiated by George W. Bush, who declared the “war on terror,” emphasizing that defeating terrorism was a global fight. Al Qaeda had to be taken out because of the attack on 9/11, the Taliban regime had to fall because it was a form of “radical Islam.” 

Two decades after the war on terror was initiated, we sit here wondering what was accomplished. The Taliban now sit at the Presidential Palace in Afghanistan after swiftly taking over the country. Many people in the areas affected by the US (Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan) are left with increasingly higher anti-American sentiments as civilians were targeted increasingly by drones and US soldiers. Rather than installing values of democracy, freedom, and liberty, the US attempts to master the art of puppet governments, regime changes, and constant proxy wars for natural resources. Today, we think of the Afghan citizens who have been failed consistently. Their suffering has been used as a framework for US imperialism and proxy wars to justify this ideological war on terror – a war that they never asked to be a part of. 

US military-industrial complex

Through this ideological war on terror, the US has been able to cement and further establish the military-industrial complex. Taxpayers have spent $13.34 trillion on the US military from the fiscal year of 2000 to 2019 (inflation adjusted).

The Pentagon’s budget was three times bigger than China’s defense spending, and ten times bigger than Russia’s in 2019. In 2019, the US military budget exceeded the next 10 countries’ defense budgets combined. Privatization of the US military budget by employing defense contractors has only increased over the years, meaning that US civilians are taking part in the US imperialist project through working with defense contracting. A report by the Tech Inquiry showed that the Department of Defense and federal law enforcement agencies secured thousands of deals with Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Dell, IBM, and other tech companies. The relationship between Big Tech and the military complex is not necessarily explicit, but the private sector of this relationship has only increased, meaning, again, that the US military-industrial complex has not only cemented itself within the public and private spheres, but it relies on US civilians and the US workforce to be a part of this system.

Legacy of 9/11 and the War on Terror

The legacy remains nuanced and layered. The US ideological war on terror has been utterly destructive to the Middle East and Afghanistan. It is glaringly clear that the US ideologies of freedom, democracy, and liberty are fronts for hypocrisy, imperialism; for ravaging countries and peoples for natural resources, for proxy wars, and for state benefit. On this anniversary of 9/11, remember the lives lost in the US, but also those in the Middle East, in Afghanistan, in northern Pakistan, and Muslims in the US who have faced the repercussions of an ideological war. We specifically want to keep the Afghan people in our hearts, as they fight for their rights in a now Taliban-controlled country.