Saturday, September 09, 2006

9/11 +5

Latest Newspaper Column (Expanded Version):

Tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the day. The day that changed all of us, and our country, in ways we could barely have imagined. The day that nineteen young Muslim men, armed with box cutters and a dreadful, ironclad sense of their own righteousness, cold-bloodedly slaughtered the flight crews of four airliners, took control, and turned the planes into enormous missiles, loaded with explosive fuel.

Almost 3,000 people died; more certainly would have if the passengers of one plane hadn't sacrificed themselves to stop it.

We've come a long way since that day. But in what direction?

After my initial shock, despair, and outrage over the brutality of the attacks, I saw things that, as I wrote at the time, made me glad I live in this country. One was the moment when I heard that the hospitals were jammed with people trying to donate their blood to help the injured.

Then there were the moments when I was proud to be a member of the human race. One such moment was when I saw a picture of the flags flying at half-staff over the Kremlin. That expression of sympathy and solidarity from a country that had been our sworn enemy for decades brought tears to my eyes. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, we can all pull together, across the country and across the world, and beat this thing.

For a while there, we stood united. When the vote came up to authorize an attack against the al Qaida terrorists and their Taliban allies in Afghanistan, it passed the House 420-1 and the Senate 98-0. And our allies stood with us. France. Germany. Canada. Even the Russians, who had every reason to want to have nothing to do with Afghanistan ever again, provided intelligence and logistical support. And the Taliban fell. When it did, I cheered as loudly as anyone. You can look it up.

Then things started going off the track. The so-called "neoconservatives" in the Bush Cabinet had been agitating for a fight with Iraq since before 9/11. They hoped to implement their grandiose and arrogant theory that we could reshape the Middle Eastern countries into Western-style democracies, at gunpoint if necessary. After all, the theory went, democracies don't make war on each other or foster terrorism.

The PR machine cranked up. Saddam Hussein, we were assured, was making nasty gases, germs, and nukes to hand over to the terrorists. Bush and his cronies never failed to mention Iraq and 9/11 in the same sentence until people actually began to believe that Saddam was behind the attacks. (The Bushistas would deny any direct connection if you ever cornered them; unfortunately, very few news outlets actually had the spine to do that.)

Those who dared to question either the wisdom of invading Iraq or the plans to do so with a relatively light force were shouted down or branded as traitors. Our allies who'd helped us in one invasion but didn't back this one were suddenly weak, craven, "cheese-eating surrender monkeys."

Suddenly, all the unity we'd had was thrown aside in the rush to war with Iraq.

And, as we know, that war didn't work out as planned. The American military accomplished its first mission brilliantly, rolling over Iraqi resistance and taking Baghdad. But the only thing close to WMDs they ever found were a few old and corroded artillery shells. Those who had called for a larger occupying force turned out to be right as the country descended into a frenzy of looting.

Islamic militias began picking off American soldiers a few at a time. Terrorist recruiting went up. U.S. military recruiting went down. Iran and North Korea got bolder in their own nuclear ambitions, knowing we were tied up in Iraq.

Across the Middle East, the neoconservative article of faith that democracy would spell the end of terror proved to be a mirage. When given a choice, the Palestinians put Hamas in power, while the Lebanese gave seats in Parliament to Hezbollah. Elections in Iraq have done nothing to stop the upward spiral of violence there.

Faced with these failures, Bush and Company continue to retreat into fantasy, blaming ill-defined enemies that seem to exist only in their heads. Presidential adviser Karl Rove revised history by falsely claiming that "liberals saw the savagery of the 9/11 attacks and wanted to prepare indictments and offer therapy and understanding for our attackers." This, despite the near unanimous support in Congress for the attack on Afghanistan.

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld railed against "some people" who would "appease terrorists," comparing them to the weak British governments of the '30s who knuckled under to Hitler. These vicious and hateful statements (and those who parrot them in the pages of this paper and elsewhere) delivered a brutal and cynical slap in the face to those of us who backed our government in the days after 9/11 and during the Afghan war.

For a brief time after Sept. 11, 2001, something beautiful arose out of those ashes. We had unity. We had the majority of the world on our side. And then George Dubbya Bush and his cronies frittered it all away.

So this is a doubly sad day for me.

I'm sure the responses to this column will include the inevitable accusations of partisanship, and a lot of indignation that I'm not "honoring the dead" of 9/11 because I "hate Bush."

But I didn't always hate this President. At one point, I actually had hope that this incredibly unqualified, shallow-thinking, arrogantly ignorant man might actually do as so many have done, exceed his own limitations, and rise to the crisis.

He failed. He failed us all. And in doing so, George W. Bush did more to dishonor the dead of 9/11 than any small-town newspaper columnist could ever dream of doing.