America needs an enemy. That statement is a generalization in the worst sense of the word, yet it also happens to be true. The American economy is based on consumption; if people aren’t buying what America is selling, the economy would quickly tank. The number one product sold in America since the World War II has been fear. The Great Depression proved that an economy built upon the ability of people to buy things they don’t need is more than capable of collapsing. Since the attack on Pearl Harbor, America has had precious few days without an enemy around which our economy can be directed. Following the successful liberation of the world from the threat of fascism, American politicians quickly generated a new evil: communism. The great irony of the 20th century is that it was the demonization and the all-out assault to bring down communism that gave rise to a far more dangerous public enemy number one: fundamentalist Islamic terrorism.
The pursuit of the end of communism did precious little to improve the lives of Americans despite its high cost both in terms of money and lives, and the greater and more profound legacy of rabid anti-communist policies may lie in its contribution to bringing about the rise of Islamic terrorism. The Soviet Union was the centerpiece for the great ideological threat for America following World War II and the nearly half-century long cold war stemmed from the uncertainties about their capabilities brought about due to the lack of technological sophistication. The simple fact is that Russia was far too large for the US government to really know exactly what their capabilities were. In essence, then the Cold War was really based more on the fear of communism than any real knowledge of it.
The geopolitical region known as the Middle East was impacted by the Cold War just like every other part of the globe, but there is one single event localized within one single country that can be said to be the bridge between the Cold War and the War on Terror. The war between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan contributed more than anything else both to the demise of the communist threat (whether real or imagined) and the subsequent rise of the threat of Islamic terrorism. Combined with the consistently anti-communist policies of every American administrations since Harry Truman, this invasion and resulting cost of the Afghan war doubtlessly set the stage for the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Under the auspices of Pres. Carter, the US engaged in covert activity that specifically attempted to bring the Soviet Union into a Vietnam-style war of attrition in the late 70s an attempt to cause its ultimate destruction. It was the Carter administration that initially funded the mujahadeen freedom fighters, but it was Pres. Reagan who continued the policy even after the kidnapping of Americans by the Islamic fundamentalist leadership of Iran. Americans were not the only financiers of the mujahadeen, however. Also funding these same freedom fighters was a wealthy Saudi Arabian named Osama Bin-Laden. The result of the invasion of Afghanistan was too high a cost in terms of money, people and time; with all their resources focused on the battle for Afghanistan, the Soviet Union was incapable of focusing on commitments elsewhere. Ultimately, the result of the Soviet defeat was to create mythic heroes for the burgeoning Islamic fundamentalist movement not only in Afghanistan, but throughout the region. These heroes were Osama Bin Laden and the mujahadeen-which later became the ruling Taliban. In less time than it took Joseph McCarthy and HUAC to turn just attending a meeting at which communist principles were discussed into a career-destroying decision, the ragtag bunch of freedom fighters that the US had been bankrolling were transformed into today’s Islamic terrorists.
The victory over the Soviet Union may be considered a relatively bloodless victory if one takes into account that actual fighting between the US and the USSR never took place, but the method by which victory was achieved came at a cost unforeseen by any of the participants. The Cold War has been superseded by the new War on Terror, but that war promises to last much longer than the one it replaced. The foundation upon which the Cold War was constructed was one of deep ideological differences. Despite those differences, however, the two sides basically came from a shared history. The War on Terror, by contrast, is based upon historical differences that cut deeper and with more complexity than mere economic divergence. And yet, there is also the religious base to the enemy and in that sense the war on terror has a deeper grip on the consciousness of society than the puzzling socio-economic ideologies that marked the Cold War ever could.
The question that is begged here is that whether the current war on terror would exist in quite the same way had the United States and the Soviet Union engaged in cooperation rather than competition. If the Soviets had not taken the bait of the US and invaded Afghanistan, would Osama Bin Laden have been given an opportunity to pursue his fundamentalist terrorist agenda? That question requires hindsight, of course, and is impossible to answer fully-in part because the geopolitical situation in the Middle East is far, far too complex for any single simple answer-but nevertheless the evidence is good enough to forward the argument. There can be no questioning that the overindulgence in demonizing and defeating the so-called communist threat led, at least in part, to the situation which resulted in the rise of Islamic terrorism today.