9/11 – Still Lessons to Learn

By Thomas Heaney 

Despite not being in power and despite being seen as war criminals in many parts of the world, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld continue to get interview time on major US TV networks. Not surprisingly, they remain unrepentant and unapologetic for their roles in the US response to 9/11.

If we, as a nation, were to discuss 9/11 in a serious attempt to tell more than a partial truth we would begin by discussing Osama Bin Laden’s role as a US operative in Afghanistan. To not fairly discuss the motive of the 9/11 attacks buys into the highly distorted narrative President Bush was, and still is, offering. That narrative asserted that the attacks came because the terrorists hated our way of life.

While it may be true that Bin Laden and followers hated the American way of life, that does not explain why Osama Bin Laden declared war on the US, why he was determined to attack the US, and that US intelligence knew he was planning to attack even though they may not have known exactly when and where.

Bin Laden’s recruitment by the CIA to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan is a logical place to begin. The eventual abandonment of Bin Laden-led Jihadists in Afghanistan led directly to the US becoming the object of Osama Bin Laden’s hatred and for the specific attacks perpetrated primarily by Saudi nationals trained in Afghanistan.

Making the US safer in an increasingly dangerous world with a growing terror threat would have been a logical way for a responsible president to frame the US response to 9/11. Bush got that wrong in at least 3 major ways. For clarity I’ll call them, the Errant War on Terror , the Non-sequitur Invasion of Iraq , and the Politicization of a Crisis to serve a political end.

Bush’s “War on Terror” was an inherently self-defeating idea. War itself is all about terror, especially in its modern form where a high toll in civilian deaths will be the inevitable consequence. All wars, no matter what the stated cause, result in the terrorizing of innocent people, the loss of innocent lives, and the forsaking of the opportunity to pursue peaceful alternatives. Deliberately declaring an asymmetrical concept war was a major strategic blunder. Bush gave Bin Laden the Jihad he wanted and a very high price in both lives and dollars. A key part of Osama Bin Laden’s strategy was to force the US to pay a very high price in response. In that respect, George Bush gave him exactly what he wanted.

Metaphorical wars can and do lead to real wars. Such was the case with Iraq. History is clear. Bush’s brain was suffering from a previous condition favoring war with Iraq. He was looking for a non-existent pretext when he invented the immoral doctrine of pre-emptive war, suspended human rights at home and abroad, and started another off-budget war without an exit strategy. All the while he cut taxes, effectively stealing from the American people to fund his priceless war. Anyone who doesn’t question the morality of this course of action is at the very least lacking some basic human empathy and compassion. More likely they are still filled with rage, traumatized, dogmatized, or simply sociopathic.

Comparing Bush’s Presidency before and after 9/11, it seemed that absent 9/11 Bush would have been heading for a 1-term Presidency. 9/11 gave Bush the ability to repeatedly scare the wits out of the electorate. It was truly pathetic to see the American electorate duped into buying Bush’s draft dodging while John Kerry’s legitimate Viet Nam heroics were belittled. This is the value Karl Rove brings to the table when his ideas are in full bloom.

In that way the 2004 election was eerily like 1972. McGovern flew 35 dangerous bombing missions in WWII and was an undeniable hero, yet was portrayed by Nixon as somehow being soft when it came to matters military. Shamelessly marketing war experience they don’t have and promoting the glory of war is something Republicans have effectively exploited for their own political gains. Guess what? That doesn’t make it right.

Sadly the lessons of 9/11 seldom get discussed in historical context. Certainly reliving memories and dealing with loss are important. Healing requires time. Yet part of a nation healing is discussing honestly how the course of the ship of state was altered and what we should be doing to right it. We’re doing precious little of that these days.

Post-Bush, post-9/11 America needs the rest of the world to trust us more than ever. I am heartened by the fact that President Obama took the high road dealing with Osama Bin Laden’s demise. Unlike Bush, he seems to understand the importance of being the Commander in Chief of the world’s dominant superpower. Because of that alone, the world should rest easier tonight than it did 10 years ago.

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