Lost Opportunities

12 09 2010

It’s the 12th of September. I made a point of not posting anything relevant to 9/11 yesterday to allow more time for people to get over the national spasm of media hype surrounding the attack. For those of you who have just emerged from ten years of suspended animation, here is what happened: a bunch of religious zealots took over four commercial aircraft and conducted coordinated kamikazi attacks on targets in Washington DC and New York. They were ordered to do so by a ruthlessly intelligent man whose primary goal was the overthrow of the ruling family in Saudi Arabia. Nearly three thousand innocent civilian died in the attacks.

Some people may be asking why flying airplanes into buildings here in the US would have any effect on overthrowing the House of Saud. Bin Laden knew that overthrowing the Saudi dynasty would be next to impossible so long as they were supported economically and politically by the United States. In order to remove the House of Saud from power, Bin Laden would have to reduce American power in the region. The intermediate strategic goal was to instigate a war between the West and all of Islam. If the West fell into that trap, they would remove the Saudi royal family for him- and he was pre-positioned to take advantage of the resulting power vacuum. Whether or not the West waged war on all of Islam, the inevitable counter strikes would likely inflame public opinion in the House of Peace against the West, making it possible for Al Qaeda to successfully take power on a wave of populist anger.

In the short term, this was a blitheringly stupid move. Bin Laden failed to appreciate the magnitude of the American response. He also failed to take into account the fact that Islam has a great many internal divisions which would also be jockeying for power. Governments all over the world started expending enormous resources to track and destroy the Al Qaeda organization and anyone affiliated with it (and- frequently- eliminate potential rebels and terrorists within their own countries). Still worse- from the terrorists’ point of view- much of the world started cooperating in this effort. Al Qaeda’s base of operations in Afghanistan was rapidly destroyed with contemptuous ease, transferring funds to the scattered units of the group became astronomically difficult, and Al Qaeda’s command-and-control structure was eviscerated. Further complicating Bin Laden’s plan was the US conquest of Iraq. Replacing one of the bastions of Sunni Islam with a largely Shi’ite government in Iraq meant that the Shi’a in Iran would be grow strong. Persian influence is now one of the most potent problems for Al Qaeda.

Sounds like a net loss for the Bad Guys, right?

In the short term, it was a loss for Al Qaeda. The long-term strategic goal has yet to be stopped. Al Qaeda shifted quickly (of necessity) to a widely dispersed, decentralized network of loosely-affiliated groups. These groups were directed to make trouble for the Americans in the Middle East. If American military and economic power could be thwarted- or appear to be thwarted- on the ground, then Al Qaeda could still move against the Saudi government, once the US was weakened internally and internationally. I challenge all and sundry to look at the current state of affairs in the Middle East and not see a net loss for the Good Guys.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, there was global support for action against Al Qaeda and similar groups. A huge opportunity existed to bring huge swaths of the world into closer contact, improve security, communications, and trade. That opportunity was carelessly discarded in favor of short-term political goals by governments across the globe. Seeing an excuse to hugely increase the power of the Executive Branch, the Bush Administration jammed a wide variety of legislation through Congress which would never have passed in the cold light of day. With national unity still waxing and a firm grip on public opinion, our elected representatives enacted sweeping limitations on individual liberties and began ignoring the Constitution whenever it suited their purposes. This is not solely aimed at the Republicans who were then in control. Huge numbers of Democrats joined in this collective raping of American ideals.

Individuals were arrested and locked up for years without benefit of trial. Government agencies forced their noses into the private phone calls and emails of American citizens without warrants- or any oversight by the courts. Individuals suspected of collusion or affiliation with terrorists were tortured by our government, or at our government’s behest by other governments with fewer qualms about violating human rights. Costly, time-wasting, and thoroughly useless so-called “security measures” were put in place at US airports.  American citizens could be prohibited from boarding any aircraft in the world if their names were on a secret list of suspected Bad Guys (and frequently if their names were just similar to a suspected Bad Guy), with no means of appeal and no way to tell if your name is on the list. Police agencies across the country were given millions of dollars worth of military equipment to help prevent terrorism, which was promptly used by those same police to commit terror attacks on the civilian populations they were supposedly protecting. In just nine short years, we have gone from enjoying individual liberties to cheerfully watching as those same liberties get stripped from our fellow Americans because they are “different”. Those who know their history will remember what happened in this country the last time we went down this road: thousands of innocent civilians- including children- were forced into internment camps because we were afraid they might “do something”.

Have we learned nothing from history? We, the People, are better than this. Irrational acts might be understandable in moments of blind panic, but they are still irrational. Sustaining a feeling of panic is one of the government’s goals, because it is easier to convince people to give up liberty in search of security when they are afraid.

In order to rally people, governments need enemies. They want us to be afraid, to hate, so we will rally behind them. And if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Al Qaeda has won. We have become a nation frightened of the possibilities of the future we once embraced and created. They didn’t have to defeat us- we did it to ourselves out of fear.

Here is a short video clip on the subject.

Current status: somber

Current music: Total Eclipse of the Heart by Nikki French

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