The commemoration of September 11 in New York City was marked by a total of six minutes of silence, repeatedly observed during a four-and-a-half-hour ceremony that paid tribute to the victims of the terrorist attacks of twenty years ago . For my part, I would have preferred these few moments of silent reflection to be multiplied by ten, if only to encourage those in charge of politics and the media to be silent and reflect on all the mistakes made and all the mistakes. Nonsense uttered during the two decades following the deadliest foreign assault in US history. Because the results of the American response to the attack launched by Osama bin Laden cannot be qualified either as a military success or as a consolation for the families of the dead.
The story is well known, but to some extent already forgotten. President George W. Bush, having been trapped despite warnings of the threat of al-Qaeda by his counterterrorism leader Richard Clarke, immediately wanted to show force, despite international law, without first study the sources of the case. His arrogance and myopia did not allow a serious reassessment of American foreign policy. Clarke quotes Bush in his book, “I don’t care what international lawyers say, we’re going to kick some ass. ” And how ! The invasion of Afghanistan, and Iraq without the agreement of the UN, as well as the overthrow of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein cost hundreds of thousands of lives and created a gigantic refugee crisis, which is still relevant.
George W. Bush’s indifference to inter-nation legal principles has also led us to the horrors of the outlaw prison at Guantánamo, the torture of Abu Ghraib prisoners and the “black sites” of interrogation. and CIA torture in various countries, including Afghanistan. Bush never expressed regret for his vengeful and criminal policies, but this national disgrace might not be so despicable if, at least, the president and his senior advisers at the Pentagon – Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz – had targeted the real enemies. Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz mostly exaggerated the ties between the Taliban and al-Qaeda. No Afghan taught the 9/11 pirates about aviation. No Taliban enrolled in the Florida flight school where two Arabs, Mohammed Atta and Marwan al-Shehhi, learned the skill to bring down the Twin Towers, one each. Yes, the Taliban harbored bin Laden, in part in recognition that this wealthy Saudi kid had aided (along with the CIA) the Afghan resistance against the Soviet occupation. However, Atta and Shehhi began their terrorist careers in Hamburg, where they founded a key 9/11 planning cell. In fact, their jet pilot training had started in Germany; moreover, such a plot can be hatched anywhere. Either way, Bin Laden had fled Afghanistan for Pakistan before the US military arrived and eventually settled within two kilometers of the Pakistani military academy. According to Bushian logic, we should have occupied Hamburg and Islamabad.
Was my brief story told on the public airwaves during the national mourning last month? I doubt it, since American memory is short and the idea of complicity with the predominantly Saudi assassins, even inadvertently, remains more or less indisputable. The lawsuit launched by the families of the victims against Saudi entities for alleged collaboration with al-Qaeda is progressing excruciatingly slowly, although President Biden has finally ordered the opening, for now minimal, of the secret file of the FBI and its investigation into the origins of the attacks.
On the contrary, the withdrawal of foreign military forces from Afghanistan has bailed out the ugliest hawks of the Bush era, who continue to justify the occupation through the martyrs of September 11. Instead of keeping a modest silence, Paul Wolfowitz relaunched his discredited theses: “The war with this gang will not end because the United States is gone … too bad that [le groupe État islamique au Khorasan et les talibans] can’t both lose… but whoever it is, the winner is going to make Afghanistan a haven for anti-American terrorists. This is why we stayed so long, “to prevent a band of murderers from regaining control of Afghanistan, where they facilitated an attack that killed nearly 3,000 people on American soil.” This came from the villain who spread the falsehoods that anti-Islamist Saddam Hussein had collaborated with Islamist Bin Laden and the Iraqi dictator possessed the atomic bomb as well as a large number of chemical weapons.
Worst of all, the fanatical neoconservative Wolfowitz was backed by an almost hysterical liberal consensus, which lamented the plight of Afghan women and called President Biden’s common sense “disaster” and “disaster.” Very important, the rights of Afghan women, but do we really think that a permanent occupation would have been justified? In addition to its violent immorality (more than 47,000 civilians and 66,000 Afghan soldiers and police officers killed since 2001), the American presence guaranteed a constant recruitment of adherents to the Taliban and the fact that the country continues to bleed. I pray that the deafening insults against President Biden will be turned into silent remorse.
John R. MacArthur is editor of Harper’s Magazine. His column returns at the beginning of each month.