The Lessons of the Other 9-11

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Despite America's
annual budgets of $419.3 billion on defense, and $44 billion on
intelligence, a small band of fanatics armed with boxcutters managed
to flatten the World Trade Center towers and hit the Pentagon. In
a single, well-coordinated attack, symbols of America's financial
and military supremacy took a pounding.

President Bush
responded by launching two wars to strike back at those deemed responsible.
US forces swept aside first the Taliban fighters, then the Iraqi
army. But what looked like a pair of swift victories turned into
two unwinnable quagmires. Equally distressing, our justifications
for the Iraq invasion turned out to be false. America not only failed
to re-assert its strength, but had severely damaged its reputation
around the world.

Not only had
our pride taken a hit, our worldview had suffered a body blow. Big
countries with big armies are supposed to be safe at home, and irresistible
abroad. How could flea-powered resistance forces defy the unbeatable
United States of America?

Similar mysteries
have confounded mankind for ages. A Hebrew poet once observed that
the qualities we believe will make us successful are often illusions:

"I returned,
and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor
the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet
riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill;
but time and chance happeneth to them all." Ecclesiastes

Whatever the
Hebrew poet glimpsed that day under the revealing Judean sun, he
learned sobering and useful lessons from it. What Ecclesiastes 9–11
tells us is that injustice is real — genuine talent often goes unnoticed
and unrewarded. But it also warns that the world is a more complex
place than we imagine it to be, and we should therefore avoid talking
ourselves into a false sense of security. And sometimes the weak
can overcome the strong.

Blinded by
ideology and puffed up with confidence, the administration steered
the nation into a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq. Bush unleashed his
shock and awe campaign to almost unanimous acclaim at home. At first
it appeared that this battle had indeed been won by the strong.
But while most of the American people saluted their Commander-in-chief's
flight-suited swagger, some sharper-eyed critics cautioned things
in Iraq might not be what they appeared.

William Lind,
an analyst and writer on guerilla warfare, warned the underlying
assumptions behind the Iraq occupation were hopelessly out of touch
with reality. US forces, trained and outfitted to fight the Soviet
Red Army, were unprepared to fight what Lind called "Fourth
Generation Warfare." In this kind of action, said Lind, the
apparently boundless might of the American armed forces did not
assure victory. Indeed, displays of power actually undermined the
US mission. As Lind described it, "Actions such as sealing
off Auja, bulldozing farmers’ orchards and Operation Iron Hammer
are worse than crimes; they are blunders. They may result in some
small gains at the tactical and physical levels of war, but at tremendous
cost at the strategic and moral levels, where guerilla war is decided."

But, just as
strength does not assure victory, being right does not guarantee
riches or favor. Lind, as well as others who questioned the rightness
and logic of this war, have had to settle for the satisfaction of
having been proved right. On the other hand, those who got the war
and its aftermath exactly wrong have flourished and prospered. And
they still don't seem to have learned a thing.

For example,
Time magazine hired William Kristol in December as its “star columnist.”
Kristol, already a Weekly Standard editor and Fox News contributor,
has since enriched the pages of Time with such articles as, "Why
Republicans Are Smiling," predicting boom times ahead for the
party of national security and solid support for Bush's Global War
on Terror.

Kristol, of
course, was one of the most prominent cheerleaders for invading
Iraq. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
in February, 2002, he assured the Senate that invading Iraq would
generate boundless good: "The political, strategic and moral
rewards would also be even greater. A friendly, free, and oil-producing
Iraq would leave Iran isolated and Syria cowed." In a pre-invasion
interview on National Public Radio, he dismissed warnings that "the
Shia can’t get along with the Sunni" as "pop sociology."

Days before
Bush unleashed his shock and awe campaign against Iraq, Bill Kristol
gave the American people this tidy summary of why the US was justified
in launching an aggressive war against Saddam's regime:

“He’s got weapons
of mass destruction. At some point he will use them or give them
to a terrorist group to use…Look, if we free the people of Iraq
we will be respected in the Arab world….France and Germany don’t
have the courage to face up to the situation. That’s too bad. Most
of Europe is with us. And I think we will be respected around the
world for helping the people of Iraq to be liberated.”

And consider
the case of Paul Wolfowitz, who served as Bush's Deputy Secretary
of Defense. When he quit that job to become president of the World
Bank in 2005, he received a "full-honor farewell ceremony"
at the Pentagon. Before the Iraq invasion, he, like Bill Kristol,
also predicted easy victory with nothing but good things resulting,
and vigorously responded to rare critics. Days before American bombers
took to the Iraqi skies, the scholarly and reserved General Eric
Shinseki, who was then Army Chief of Staff, questioned Donald Rumsfled's
plan to use less than 100,000 troops to conquer and pacify the entire
country. Wolfowitz assured the House Budget Committee on February
27, 2003 that Shinseki's comments were "quite outlandish"
and added it was "hard to imagine" it would take more
troops to do the job than Rumsfeld anticipated. In August of 2003,
Rumsfeld named Peter Schoomaker to replace Shinseki as Army Chief
of Staff.

sometimes, neglected men of understanding enjoy modest vindication.
On November 15, 2006, in testimony before Congress, General John
Abizaid testified that General Shinseki's judgment about required
troop strength in Iraq had been proven correct in the streets of
Baghdad. And in October of 2003, Wolfowitz and his staff, while
visiting Baghdad, had to scramble for their lives in the middle
of the night when their hotel was hit by a rocket attack. A Lieutenant
Colonel was killed, and seventeen other US soldiers were wounded,
while Wolfowitz and his entire staff escaped unharmed. As the poet
observed, the race is not always to the swift.

19, 2007

C. Tuggle [send him mail]
a project manager and writer in Charlotte, NC. His first book, Confederates
in the Boardroom
, explores the implications of organizational
science on political systems, and is published by Traveller Press.

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