Three Essays on 9/11 and the Tragedy of Iraq

September 14th, 2006 - by admin

Jeffrey Simpson / Globe and Mail & Alan Freeman / Globe and Mail & Gwynne Dyer / Georgia Straight – 2006-09-14 23:25:35

The Tragic Results of ‘Getting Iraq’
Jeffrey Simpson / Globe and Mail

TORONTO (September 13, 2006) — On the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, the day after the terrorist attacks against New York and Washington, a group of the most senior US officials gathered at the White House.

Richard Clarke, the country’s top counterterrorism official, could not believe his ears. Absolutely certain that al-Qaeda operatives had perpetrated the horrors, he listened in disbelief as Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and then deputy secretary of defence Paul Wolfowitz began talking about “getting Iraq.”

Later that day, in conversation with President George W. Bush, Mr. Clarke was asked to search for any evidence Saddam Hussein was behind the attacks. “Mr. President, al-Qaeda did this,” Mr. Clarke replied.

Within hours, therefore, post-9/11 seeds were being sown for one of the worst foreign policy disasters in United States history, the invasion of Iraq. As Mr. Clarke wrote in a book, the invasion precipitated “an unnecessary and costly war that strengthened the fundamentalist, radical Islamic terrorist movement worldwide.”

It is disconcerting, even frightening, to recall the lies and distortions that persuaded Americans and others of the necessity of war. Remember the arguments: weapons of mass destruction, Saddam’s budding nuclear capabilities, his regime’s links with al-Qaeda, the “clear and present danger” he posed to the United States. All were bogus then, and have been repeatedly exposed as bogus since, most notably by the 9/11 commission and a spate of books.

Think, too, of the chorus of supporters: the Republican Party but also the majority of Democratic Party legislators, the clangorous conservative press. Even some liberal internationalists — one of whom now seeks the leadership of Canada’s Liberal Party — jumped aboard the invasion express.

Reluctantly and belatedly, a few of the invasion’s supporters have admitted errors in swallowing what one described as the “delusional ideology” of the Bush administration. Mr. Bush and his top officials, however, still insist — against all the evidence — that invading Iraq was the right strategic decision because Saddam posed a dire threat to the United States.

Canadians are now suffering the tragedy of this mistake. Had the Bush administration focused on Afghanistan, as the Chrétien government and US voices such as Richard Clarke and Colin Powell (then secretary of state) urged, the situation there would be much better.

But no, the ideologues were determined that if an occasion arose, they would take out Saddam — 9/11 gave them that chance.

This historic error has thus far cost $300-billion; about 2,500 dead Americans, and tens of thousands of dead Iraqis; endemic, grisly daily violence; a low-level civil war; an Iraqi state shattering along ethnic lines; Islamic fanaticism growing everywhere; a less secure Israel. Containment would have been so much more sensible a course of action, as foreign policy realists kept arguing, to no avail.

What the invasion produced in Iraq, and in the geopolitics of the world, has already been extensively chronicled in books, the latest of which is appropriately named Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq, by Thomas E. Ricks, Pentagon correspondent of The Washington Post.

Mr. Ricks’s account, based on scores of interviews with military personnel, illustrates how the US lost the war a long time ago. The US never won the trust or support of the people. In a counterinsurgency struggle, winning the people over is more important than capturing territory (a lesson Canadians might remember in Kandahar province).

The US military alienated the population, failed to secure borders, did not restore basic services or understand local customs; in short, fought the wrong kind of war in the wrong place once Saddam was deposed.

Mr. Ricks details manifold tactical errors, but correctly argues that these flowed from a failure of strategy. The military didn’t know what kind of war they would fight because, like the “delusional ideologues” in Washington, all their prewar assumptions were wrong.

Iraqis did not greet US forces as “liberators.” Iraq’s oil did not pay for the invasion. Shiites and Sunnis soon were convulsed by ethnic violence. The Kurds, who did appreciate the invasion, quickly established an autonomous state. A federal Iraq has proved impossible. The CIA’s own think tank concluded that Iraq overtook Afghanistan as a training ground for jihadists.

Mr. Hicks concludes: “It is already abundantly apparent in mid-2006 that the US government went to war in Iraq with scant solid international support and on the basis of incorrect information . . . and then occupied the country negligently.”

We live, five years later, in the twin shadows of the tragedy of 9/11 and the folly of the Iraq invasion.

9/11: Five Years After:
World’s Goodwill toward the US Wanes

Alan Freeman / Globe and Mail

WASHINGTON (September 9, 2006) — Five years ago, the venerable French newspaper Le Monde appeared to speak for billions of people around the world when it stated, “Nous sommes tous américains” — We are all Americans — as an indication of the vast outpouring of sympathy for the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Yesterday, the Swiss newspaper Le Temps recalled that in much of Europe, that once-unanimous solidarity with US suffering has dissipated, and pointed to a placard that could be seen during recent demonstrations in London against US support for Israel’s war in Lebanon. It read: “We are all Hezbollah.”

“Broken and despised,” Le Temps continued in its editorial. “Five years after the massacre of Sept. 11, America has not been so divided internally since the last war — Vietnam. And the hostility felt to everything that the United States represents has never been so universal.”

Le Monde added to the criticism, saying US President George W. Bush has trampled on the same US values he claims to be defending.

“Washington violated international law, opened Guantanamo, authorized the torture of prisoners and limited civil liberties in the United States,” it stated.

For sure, there were commemorative ceremonies around the world. In Canberra, Australian Prime Minister John Howard was as solidly pro-American as ever, calling Sept. 11 “an attack on the values that the entire world holds in common,” and vowed that the values of freedom of speech and religion would “in the end triumph.”

Yet the words of succour were mixed with harsh criticism of US foreign policy and a sense that Washington had frittered away the world’s goodwill, particularly with the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Bush ally, warned the United States that the ends cannot justify the means. “In the fight against international terror, respect for human rights, tolerance and respect for other cultures must be the maxim for our actions, along with decisiveness and international co-operation.”

Throughout the Muslim world, where five years ago there had been sympathy for US suffering, albeit mixed in with a smattering of schadenfreude, the theme yesterday was of almost universal criticism.

In Egypt’s semi-official daily, Al-Ahram, columnist Salah Montasser put Mr. Bush in the same league as al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

“On Sept. 11, 2001, five years ago, the history of the world changed twice, once in the hands of bin Laden and his gang, and once in the hands of bin Bush and his administration.”

The erosion of sympathy for the United States over the past five years has been tracked by the Pew Global Attitudes Survey, which takes the annual temperature of sentiment toward the United States in more than a dozen countries.

Its latest survey, published in June, showed further slippage in the US image abroad after a brief bounce in 2005, with Europe and the Muslim world having the most anti-American views.

In Turkey, only 15 per cent of respondents had positive opinions of the United States in the latest survey, compared with 52 per cent six years ago, while in Indonesia, only 30 per cent had good things to say about the US, compared with 75 per cent in 2000. The survey was not carried out in 2001.

The judgment of Europeans was hardly much better. In this year’s survey, only 37 per cent of Germans had positive views of the US, compared with 78 per cent six years ago.

“Iraq is one of the reasons,” said Richard Wike, senior project director of Pew Global Attitudes Project. “One thing we found to be really important is how people felt about US foreign policy. Iraq is a big part of that but also the perception that the US acts unilaterally in world affairs.”

Mr. Wike noted, however, that the United States still gets relatively high ratings from countries such as Japan and India.

Has the World Really Changed since 9/11?
Gwynne Dyer / Georgia Straight

(September 7, 2006) — Five years since 9/11 and we are still being told that the world has changed forever. But the terrorist attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, was a low-probability event that could just as easily not have happened. The often careless and sometimes incompetent hijackers might have been caught before boarding those planes, and there were not 10 other plots of similar magnitude stacked up behind them. Would the world really be all that different now if there had been no 9/11?

There would have been no invasion of Afghanistan, and probably no second term for President George W. Bush, whose main political asset for the past five years has been his claim to be leading the United States in a Global War on Terror. Deprived of the opportunity to posture as a heroic war leader in the mould of Winston Churchill or Franklin D. Roosevelt, Bush would have had great difficulty in persuading the American public that his first-term achievements merited a second kick at the can.

Would Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and company have succeeded in invading Iraq anyway? That was high on their agenda from the moment they took office, but without the 9/11 attacks eight months later, they would have had great difficulty in persuading the American public that invading Iraq-a country on the other side of the world that posed no threat to the United States-was a good idea. Whereas after 9/11, it was easy to sell the project to geographically challenged Americans: maybe no Iraqis were involved in 9/11, but they’re all Arabs, aren’t they?

So no Afghanistan, no Iraq-and probably no Israeli attack on Lebanon either, because that was preplanned in concert with the United States. Hezbollah’s kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers and the killing of three others in a cross-border raid in late June was a major provocation, but the Bush administration had already signed off on an all-out Israeli air assault to destroy Hezbollah months before. All they needed was a suitable excuse, which Hezbollah duly provided. But assume no Bush second term and that also doesn’t happen.

Without 9/11 there would still be a “terrorist threat”, of course, because there is always some terrorism. It’s rarely a big enough threat to justify expanding police powers, let alone launching a “global war” against it, but the fluke success of the 9/11 attacks (which has not been duplicated once in the subsequent five years) created the illusion that terrorism was a major problem. Various special interests climbed aboard the bandwagon, and off we all went.

That is a pity, because without 9/11 there would have been no governments justifying torture in the name of fighting terrorism, no “special renditions”, no camps like Guantánamo. Tens of thousands of people killed in the various invasions of the past five years would still be alive, and western countries with large Muslim minorities would not now face a potential terrorist backlash at home from their own disaffected young Muslims. The United States would not be seen by most of the world as a rogue state. But that’s as far as the damage goes.

Current US policy and the hostility it arouses elsewhere in the world are both transient things. The Sunni Muslim extremists-they would call themselves Salafis-who were responsible for 9/11 have not seized power in a single country since then, despite the boost they were given by the flailing US response to that attack. The world is actually much the same as it would have been if 9/11 had never happened.

Economically, 9/11 and its aftermath have had almost no discernible long-term impact: even the soaring price of oil is mostly due to rising demand in Asia, not to military events in the Middle East. The lack of decisive action on climate change is largely due to Bush policies that were already in place before 9/11. And, strategically, the relations between the great powers have not yet been gravely damaged by the US response to 9/11. There may even be a hidden benefit in the concept of a “war on terror”.

It is a profoundly dishonest concept, since it is actually directed mainly against Muslim groups that have grievances against the great powers: Chechens against Russia, Uyghurs against China, Kashmiri Muslims and their Pakistani cousins against India, and practically everybody in the Arab world against the US and Britain. The terrorists’ methods are reprehensible but their grievances are often real. However, the determination of the great powers to oppose not only their methods but their goals is also real. That gives them a common enemy and a shared strategy.

The main risk at this point in history is that the great powers will drift back into some kind of alliance confrontation. Key resources are getting scarcer, the climate is changing, and the rise of China and India means that the pecking order of the great powers is due to change again in the relatively near future. Any strategic analyst worth his salt, given those preconditions, could draw you up a dozen different scenarios of disaster by lunchtime.

Avoiding that disaster at the expense of the world’s much abused Muslims is not an acceptable option, but it appears to be the preferred solution of the moment. And that, five years on, is the principal legacy of 9/11.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

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