I could barely stand to watch news networks on Sunday. The hoopla over America’s commemorations of Sept. 11, 2001 10 years after the event dominated the news from morning ’til night. The tears of those who lost loved ones on that tragic day were touching but seeing George W. Bush, who has kept a low profile in recent years, visibly in his element as he spoke at Ground Zero and his former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld defending the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria was like a red rag to a bull for me personally.
Rumsfeld predictably advocated his neoconservative ideology—set out in the Project for a New American Century’s (PNAC) 2000 report titled, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”—that called for US full-spectrum global dominance given a pretext such as “a new Pearl Harbor.” He complained that only 4 percent of US GDP goes to the military, expressed his belief that the US role “has been a good one, a healthy thing,” adding, “Weakness is provocative.” His only regret centered upon the death and injury of US soldiers without a thought for up to a million Iraqis, Afghans and Pakistanis stripped of their lives.
The newspaper coverage of that interview, whether inadvertently or deliberately, missed Rumsfeld’s core message, which was one that sent my blood pressure sky high because it confirms what many already suspected. Rumsfeld and his PNAC neoconservative cohorts, who held high positions in the Bush administration, were disappointed that the War on Terror wasn’t openly billed as a War on Islamists. Or, if one was disposed to extrapolate, in light of the fact that 5,000 entirely innocent American Muslims were rounded up and detained without access to lawyers in the aftermath of 9/11, Rumsfeld may have preferred “a War on Islam.”
“I think we’ve done a not very good job,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of pressure on terrorist networks but for whatever reason Americans are very reluctant to talk about radical Islam and Islamists. We don’t want to be seen as against a religion. The Bush administration didn’t do a good job. We were careful and words were always sensitive. You can’t win a battle of ideas unless you describe the enemy, say who it is, say what’s wrong with it, say what we do and why that’s what is right. We were tongue-tied over this and the Obama administration is much worse. They won’t even use the word in their hearings; the attorney-general won’t even discuss it.”
Rumsfeld doesn’t like being coy, so I won’t be. Sept. 11 wasn’t the catalyst for Bush’s wars of choice; it was the pretext used to sell those wars to the American people and, more importantly, to the rest of the world. Those wars didn’t turn out as planned. Instead of those ravished states emerging as models of freedom and democracy for which they were supposed to grovel before Uncle Sam and provide an example to other countries in the region, the Taleban still control much of Afghanistan and Iraq’s leadership has embraced Iran’s sphere of influence. Moreover, nuclear-armed Pakistan has been made unstable and if the US thought it had enemies in 2001 because 19 criminals attacked its symbols of power, it has a whole lot more now when anti-Americanism is rife in both Afghanistan and Pakistan where US drone attacks have killed untold numbers of innocent civilians—and populations are sick of America’s continual infringement of their national sovereignty.
Instead of patting himself on the back, Rumsfeld should have apologized for the abuse and indecencies committed at Abu Ghraib, for flying Muslims hooded and chained to Guantanamo where they were kept in chicken coops open to the elements, for instructing his military interrogators to use torture and for being complicit with the CIA’s abduction of Muslims who disappeared into the bowels of so-called black sites.
After a surfeit of US networks, I switched to the BBC believing that its coverage would be more balanced. I was pleased to land on an Intelligence Squared debate chaired by Zeinab Badawi, a woman who knows her stuff. The motion was whether or not the War on Terror was the right response to 9/11 with former Assistant Secretary of State Coleen Graffy arguing in the yes camp.
Up came the blood pressure again when Graffy was allowed to get away with the lie that the US never linked Saddam Hussein to 9/11 unchallenged. Was she asleep when Dick Cheney insisted there had been cooperation between one of the 19 terrorists Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence chief? And, again, last week when Cheney told CNN that this was the intelligence he received and, although now unproven, the possibility still exists that there was, indeed, collaboration.
Graffy actually had the chutzpah to claim that the Afghanistan and Iraq “success stories” were the inspiration for the Arab Spring which, in her view, would never have occurred without America’s toppling of Saddam Hussein.
Ms. Badawi’s expression was rather incredulous but unlike the hard talking Tim Sebastian, who chairs the Doha Debates and never lets anything get past him, she refrained from confronting Graffi to dispel such nonsensical drivel that drew groans from the audience.
At a time of high emotion, Bush, Rumsfeld and their former underlings clearly saw this 10th anniversary as a chance to vindicate themselves from the death and destruction they perpetrated during the “War on Terror,” while bolstering the Republican presidential candidate’s chances in the upcoming election.
Commemorating 9/11 is cynically being turned into a mawkish chest-thumping sideshow to ensure Americans never forget the attack and will forever bury their humanitarian principles and civil liberties in the name of security. The day Washington decides to remember the nameless, faceless fathers, sons, mothers and daughters killed in 9/11’s name is the day the US will gain my respect—but I won’t hold my breath.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.