The United States Needs to Revisit Newton’s Third Law

31 August 2021 Brig. Saleem Qamar Butt (Rtd), FDI Associate

Washington and its allies must realise that open-ended wars on terrorism are futile and that a successful counterterrorism policy must address the legitimate political grievances that al-Qaeda claims to champion.



Newton’s Third Law of Motion, also known as the law of action and reaction, states that ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction that acts with the same momentum and the opposite velocity’. In slightly different words, ‘when two bodies interact, they apply forces to one another that are equal in magnitude and opposite in direction’. Examples of Newton’s third law of motion are present in everyday life. For example, engineers apply Newton’s third law when designing rockets and other projectiles. The same law is equally applicable in routine human interactions and, more pertinently, in the policies of countries. That begs the question, how and why does the technologically most-advanced country, one with with the strongest economy and military might, continually ignore it while intervening in countries and regions all over the globe and expect no reaction in response to its “Hammer versus Nail policies”? The same lesson remained missing in the US’s just-concluded misadventures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen, besides scheming against Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Morocco, Egypt and a number of Central and South American countries. The fiascos in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos also remain in living memory.



One wonders why a global superpower with the most potent military in human history never seems to learn from its own blunders and continues to descend slippery geo-strategic slopes by regularly spreading false narratives through compliant think tanks/ advisers and its control over the global media. But how long can these catastrophic misadventures go on? Unless one believes in the conspiracy theory of “planned and controlled global chaos”, it appears that the US is determined to prove yet another global reality: “The world has witnessed the rise and fall of monarchy, the rise and fall of dictatorship, the rise and fall of feudalism, the rise and fall of communism, and the rise of democracy; and now we are witnessing the fall of democracy… the theme of the evolution of life continues, sweeping away with it all that does not blossom into perfection.

The analyses of US government-declassified documents captured from Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan by Nelly Lahoud (the author of the book, The Bin Laden Papers) provide an unparalleled glimpse into bin Laden’s mind and his perception of the US “war on terror”.

Bin Laden’s Catastrophic Success: Al Qaeda Changed the World – but Not in the Way It Expected

On September 11, 2001, al Qaeda carried out the deadliest terrorist attacks the United States had ever experienced. To Osama bin Laden and the other men who planned it, however, the assault was no mere act of terrorism. To them, it represented something far grander: the opening salvo of a campaign of revolutionary, reactive violence that would usher in a new historical era. Although bin Laden was inspired by religion, his aims were geopolitical. Al Qaeda’s mission was to undermine (or contest) an ever exploitative West led by the USA as the contemporary world order of nation states and re-create the historical Ummah, the worldwide community of Muslims that was once held together by a common political authority.

Washington and its allies have come to realise (or at least should have), however, that an open-ended war on terrorism is futile and that a successful counterterrorism policy must address the legitimate political grievances that al Qaeda claims to champion — for example, US support for dictatorships in the Middle East. Washington cannot quite claim victory against al Qaeda and its ilk, which retain the ability to inspire deadly, if small-scale, attacks. The past two decades and the US’s forced exit from Afghanistan and unavoidable departure from Iraq, Syria, Libya and some other places due to unbearable human, economic and political costs, however, have made clear just how short-sighted and counterproductive the use of excessive military power as leading a component of the foreign policy was.

While continuing to bomb Afghanistan, which it had done since 2001, the confession by US General Wesley Clark in 2007 about orders received from the office of the US Secretary of Defence to take down a list of seven Muslim countries – Iraq, Libya, Syria, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and back to Iran – over the next five years without any stated reasons laid bare the West’s animosity towards political Islam and put a stamp on the veracity of Samuel P. Huntington’s “Clash of Civilisations” hypothesis. Going by what has already been accomplished so far by the hardliners in the US establishment, Iran appears to be on the anvil now. Nevertheless, Pakistan with a nuclear deterrent in place and with war-hardened military forces, as well as successful Turkey being a new thorn in the eyes of the West despite being a NATO member, cannot afford to be complacent. Luckily, the spectacular rise of China and a resurgent Russia with prospective as well as existing regional economic, diplomatic and military alliances like the Collective Security Treaty Organisation and Shanghai Co-operation Organisation, besides a long list of BRI countries, now stand together lest they get targeted and fall one by one.

Hoping against hope, it is recommended that the US administration and, even more, the US presidents should learn the lesson of Newton’s Third Law and be mindful that “Reputations rise and fall almost as regularly as the tides”. For centuries, the world has heard about high morals and values of freedom from American leaders. In the last seventy years, however, they have consistently ignored the fact that ‘our world is constantly in change and the great change is always toward freedom. When we speak of freedom we speak of equality. Nations will rise and fall but equality remains the ideal.’ Inadequate American general knowledge notwithstanding, it may be remembered that ‘history is a voice forever sounding across the centuries the laws of right and wrong. Opinions alter, manners change, creeds rise and fall, but the moral law is written on the tablets of eternity’. If the American deep state remains committed to proving to the world that ‘No, the shark in an updated JAWS could not be the villain; it would have to be written as the victim, for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors ’, the US’s stature as a world leader won’t remain true for much longer!

About the Author

Now retired from the military, Brigadier Saleem Qamar Butt is a Geostrategic Analyst for the Pakistan Television Network and, as a freelance writer, has been published by the Daily Times, The Nation, Business News Pakistan, South Asia Pulse and South Asia Magazine.

In his military career, he commanded an infantry regiment along the Line of Control during an active conflict period, served as Chief of Operational Staff in a Corps headquarters operating along the Pakistan-Afghanistan borders and participated in the planning and execution of medium- and large-scale anti-terror operations. He has also served as an instructor in the School of Infantry and Tactics and Directing Staff at the Command and Staff College in Quetta, and as Pakistan’s Defence Attaché to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan. From 2010 to 2017, he served as Deputy Director-General, Strategic Analysis for the Government of Pakistan with focus on Pakistan’s relations with the USA, all other countries of the American continent, Central Asia and Afghanistan. In March 2020, he was selected as one of the four-member group advising Prime Minister Imran Khan on foreign relations with the United States.

Brig. Butt has a Master’s Degree in International Relations and an MSc in Defence and Warfare Studies. He has an Executive Diploma in Project Management and has studied Arabic, Japanese and Russian.

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