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Sunday, 11 September 2011

Facing still more of the same - 10 years after 9/11

Facing still more of the same

Behind The Headlines By Bunn Nagara

Ten years after 9/11, little has actually changed, least of all political attitudes.

UNTIL Sept 10, 2001, the world seemed a simpler place.
In a world gone madImage by Walt Jabsco via Flickr
Terrorism was a scourge that needed to be kept in check, if not eliminated while Afghanistan was a tribal wasteland in the boondocks and the legendary graveyard of foreign empires.

Iraq was an oil-rich autocracy and established US ally against Iran but with a tendency to slip into unilateral nationalist fervour, and the United States was a neo-conservative right-wing Republican bastion huffing and puffing for something to blow at.

The next day, two planes slammed into the two towers of New York’s World Trade Center. Neither bad coincidence nor pilot error was ever an issue.

Other aircraft had been hijacked the same day, but the twin crashes at the twin towers were more dramatic and dominated headlines, sound bites, political posturing and public imagination.

As the heart of lower Manhattan seemed to dissolve in a rising mound of smoke and dust, more than just debris was in the air. It was a time of change for the US and certain parts of the world.

Suddenly, the United States had the national tendency to slip into unilateralist fervour, Afghanistan and Iraq became targets that needed to be kept in check if not eliminated, and terrorism, oil-rich autocracies and Muslim states came to be profiled as one from many a Washington desk.

The neo-conservative right-wing bastion in the White House had found a couple of things to huff and puff at. Such was its enthusiasm that it forgot how Afghanistan remained very much a graveyard of foreign empires.

The result now, a full decade later, is described in Washington circles and elsewhere as the worst US policy overreaction of the century.

Within weeks, the George W. Bush administration blamed the attacks on Osama bin Laden and his followers, collectively called “al-Qaeda” as the Arabic translation of “the base,” the name the CIA originally gave Osama’s group and training camp. Nobody had claimed responsibility for the New York attacks, and al-Qaeda soon after denied any involvement.

The Taliban government in Afghanistan was then accused of sheltering al-Qaeda, so that made it fair game for elimination. In late 2001, Afghanistan’s Taliban leaders were ousted and replaced by the Pashtun activist and CIA point man Hamid Karzai.

The Zionist neo-cons in Washington were on a roll, “regime change” was the name of the game, and they were about to aim that exuberance and momentum at another target. But for the purpose to hit home, some points still needed to be made at home.

So Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was to be the new Hitler, he trashed his country’s wealth on costly palaces, he killed many people (decades ago), and he endangered the world or at least Israel with many nasty ABC (atomic, biological, chemical) weapons.

The problem was getting enough voters in the US and the general public in ally countries to go along with the idea. Bush and his British counterpart Tony Blair then decided the latter reason was the most persuasive: that Saddam had dangerous “weapons of mass destruction” (WMDs).

This was despite UN weapons inspectors having found no Iraqi WMDs, a recent major feature in Newsweek magazine coming round to the same conclusion, and the story about secret sourcing of radioactive material for a bomb discovered as fake. What mattered more instrumentally, however, was whether the UN Security Council could be massaged into endorsing a US invasion of Iraq.

It could, China’s abstention notwithstanding. As plans for an invasion of Iraq were being drafted, the US public also needed convincing.

So there was the ruse that Saddam was linked to al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda was responsible for all the nasty things. Meanwhile Osama, having found that such issues could really rile the world’s sole superpower, “admitted” that he was responsible for the policy panic in Washington.

Thus Saddam was eliminated and replaced by a US ally, although the vast quantities of high-grade Iraqi oil seemed more elusive. But the violence and instability in Iraq also meant China could not access the oil either.

Still, the casualty rates in terms of human lives, economic cost and national destruction and degradation continue to mount. Ten years on and with the follies rather more exposed, senior US and British officials have queued to disown any responsibility for the continuing debacle.

Errors of judgment

Early this month, former head of British intelligence service MI5, Lady Eliza Manningham-Buller, gave a BBC lecture to enumerate the multiple errors of judgment across the Atlantic at the time. Critics replied that she should have said so then, since it is now too late.

Former British foreign minister Jack Straw pleaded innocence through ignorance, saying that the Blair government at the time had been misinformed by allies, including the US. As justice minister later, Straw refused to apologise personally to an Algerian pilot whose career was ruined after Straw wrongly accused him of training a Sept 11 hijacker.

Former US vice-president Dick Cheney also released a biography focusing on that period, typically accusing others who disagreed with him at the time. Former US secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, Gen Colin Powell swiftly blasted him for the effort.

Powell was followed by former US secretary of state and national security adviser Dr Condoleezza Rice, who also found Cheney small-minded and mistaken. Rice should be replying more fully in her own biography later this year, so her critics should in turn be prepared.

However, the whole point of being honest, truthful and accurate should be to acknowledge past mistakes and avoid new ones. With the military occupation of Afghanistan now set to extend beyond the promised deadline, and new occupations likely in Libya if not also Syria, avoiding mistakes is not going to be easy or even possible.

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