Three Wrongs Make a Wrong
In confronting the disaster of 9/11/2001, we made three mistakes which in hindsight have left us with a war that will not end until the apocalyptic scenarios of three religions play out to the satisfaction of each creeds’ fanatics. The first mistake was framing the terrorist strike not as a criminal act but as the opening shots of a war. The second mistake was squandering the capital of sympathy and solidarity with many nations and exchanging it for the false security of a coalition of the willing all under the banner of “you are either with us or with them.” The third, and gravest error, was falling into the trap of accepting the terrorists’ world view -that we are in a final war of religions, a crusade for us and a jihad for them. 9/11 changed the world, and we will have to face the consequences of our decisions for generations.
9/11 was unprecedented as a criminal act perpetrated on the world’s largest stage. It was well executed, but the use of suicidal airplane attacks is not an original one. Tom Clancy in 1994 turned a 747 into a kamikaze that was piloted into a Joint Session of Congress. Despite the carnage on 9/11, it was a criminal act originating from a cell of religious fanatics who claim to speak for all Muslims and not the actions of a nation state. The first action should have been coordinating the FBI, CIA, along with the Justice and State department in dealing with this as a purely criminal matter -international in scope, but ultimately something to be tried in Federal court.
By declaring it an act of war, it elevated the criminals to nation-statehood. Because these terrorists could not be easily found, actual nation states (Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan) were attacked. Over a trillion dollars were spent when bribes, a handful of car bombs, well-aimed 50 caliber rounds, and a six pack of cruise missiles could have done the job. We didn’t need to conquer Baghdad to hand it to the Iranians. Afghanistan could have been cleared out and righted years ago before we mortgaged our moral capital. We are now left with a region of misbehaving puppets -ours versus Iran’s. The only ones left acting as their own agents with their mission and philosophy intact are the same people who attacked us.
The second mistake was taking the view that the world was black and white when it has always been shades of gray. Simpletons, religious fanatics, and transistors cleave to binary logic. At the time of the tragedy, nations almost universally joined in offering sympathy and condemnation of the crime. It was a crisis which offered many opportunities for positive action, creative diplomacy, and lasting peace. It was an opportunity which fatefully was lost in the rush for vengeance. The position that you are either with us or with the terrorists was frankly insulting to our friends who wanted to offer advice and encourage discussion and planning. By isolating us and watching us spend hundreds of billions in weaponry and incalculable costs in precious lives, sow hatred towards ourselves for generations to come, and tear ourselves apart socially and politically, all from the comfort of some cave (likely with satellite TV, internet, an espresso machine, and a Nintendo Wii), they have been winning this war. They have been winning by just surviving and waiting. Look at our country and think where it could be if instead of a trillion dollars conquering Babylon, we pushed a billion here and a billion there to get some nice targets. You don’t hunt turkey by making a lot of noise, and by blundering into Iraq and Afghanistan, we have flushed the turkey out of the kill zone.
The third and final mistake has implications for the survival of the species. All three Abrahamic religions pine for an end to this life that we have in stewardship of this unique and precious planet, to trade it all in for paradise explained variously as an eternal family reunion of those who didn’t go to hell, an eternal orgy with virgin girls for those righteously martyred, or an eternal time share in Boca. All three claim with absolute certitude that they are right and the others are wrong. All three have access to nuclear weapons. The moment that our war was declared a crusade, the implications of this struggle went from a search for perps to take back to Foley Square in lower Manhattan to a religious struggle of apocalyptic proportions. Our foreign policy became informed not by diplomacy and political history but the Book of John. This is not a little thing as people are constantly looking for signs on all sides. Where is the Mahdi/Moshiach/Messiah returned? Who is the anti-Christ? Who is the Whore of Babble-On? Everyone who has read Sun Tzu knows that you want to first set the battlefield. What should have been the greatest episode of Law and Order is grinding on as an ersatz prequel to Left Behind. So not Ancient Art of War!
But this is what we have begotten. Prosperity makes us soft, coarse, and ill-educated. I had the fortunate circumstances of private school education from high school to graduate school, and I met many very bright people, but also had to get on with many not so bright legacies who were allowed to pass and get the same degree with relative ease that I had to struggle mightily to get even the opportunity to get, being an immigrant. These idiot children of the wealthy, famous, powerful, or accomplished have to keep up the appearance of doing something important to fill that void left by daddy/mommy. They have invaded politics in a way to makes this decade the new Gilded Age. They are joined by equally uneducated not as well off individuals who enter politics to push their parochial, moral agendas whether on the right and left. This union of the empty suits is a root cause of the sclerosis in our politics.
But particularly loathsome to me are those who yammer about family values as they fellate strangers in airport bathrooms, who espouse hatred for foreigners, minorities, or gay people, who cynically whip up the anger and support of poor people who they view with contempt and whose interests they betray in every corporate dollar they take from their lobbyist, whom, it seems from the news, are perfectly happy giving away money while on their backs. Who is the whore?
I believe in fiscal conservatism in times of prosperity. I believe in intensive care and active resuscitation when the country is in extremis and about to go financially flat line. I believe that war should be fought violently and totally, but only as a last resort, and not in creating a Maginot line “over there” built with the bodies of our brave men and women. I believe in the goodness of people and that religion has its place in the heart and actions of believers and not as an instrument of tyranny for a theocratic fascist state.
I believe that 9/11 represents an impenetrable glass wall that we return every day to look back through to a happier time, to see ourselves innocent of Abu Gharib, of a broken Iraqi nation, of a divided America, of our abandonment of rights that extend back to the Magna Carta, and most of all to see those still alive on 9/10/2001. I fear the solution lies in declaring the determination to blot out anyone and their neighbor who would strike the homeland and establishing this as our doctrine, as we leave the poor people of Iraq and Afghanistan to their fate. The alternative solution, to act in diplomacy what we have already done in war, by treating these Barbary Pirates as a nation state and sit at a table to discuss options other than annihilation is a fool’s dream that needs a generation to pass. The maintenance of mutual annihilation (and peace) became another just another government process during the cold war after the dangerous early decades. Like the Klingons say, “Only Nixon could go to China.”