Saturday, September 10, 2011

About 9/11


A national calamity is never an easy subject, supercharged as it invariably is with loss, frustration,
and the haunting awareness that somehow the whole thing might have been headed off.  I am old enough to remember Pearl Harbor, an event which gutshot our national self-confidence and rerouted our destiny.

The catastrophes at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon ten years ago have developed into another such turning point. The effect was so tremendous that almost the entire society lost sight of the fact that we had been subject to what was essentially a fluke.  A handful of educated Saudis and Egyptians had slipped into the United States, taken flying lessons, and highjacked several airliners by threatening their crews with box-cutters -- box-cutters! --  unless they agreed to fly these commandeered passenger planes into designated targets.  Like the limpet bomb stuck onto the side of a U.S. Navy destroyer from a fishing boat or the Third-World embassy bombings, all this was very low-tech, dependent on a lot of luck and an absent-minded adversary.

Worse, we had the intelligence capability to anticipate 9/11. An Al Qaeda planning session in Malaysia had been penetrated by the CIA.  The FBI had picked up on several of the highjackers and one of its senior agents was convinced that he knew the target.  But interagency cooperation was sloppy or nonexistent, and the attackers brought it off.

Attempts by Al Qaeda since -- the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber -- would suggest how bush league Bin Laden and his operatives have remained all along.  Certainly our National Security apparatus has tightened up -- and bulked out to an amazing and perhaps self-defeating extent.  No doubt the worst consequence of 9/11 has been the justification it has seemed to offer our opportunity-seeking industrialists and politicians to pursue our involvement in the Middle East, the projections of power which attracted the attention of the Al Qaeda fanatics in the first place.  Ever contemptuous of reality, Richard Cheney and his following of right-wing fanaticists kept insisting, incorrectly, that Saddam Hussein was behind the attack, and before long would be turning over weapons of mass destruction to his charges.  An aroused if poorly informed Congress went along, and we plunged into the orgy of pointless conquest and senseless nation-building that has been sapping us ever since.

Today we mourn the losses of a decade ago.  This is the moment to consider the lessons we might have learned.


Burton Hersh

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