I had landed at JFK Airport just seven hours earlier, on 9/10, and was groggy when my father roused me at 9:50 that fateful morningbut what was happening on the television screen burnt through the veil of sleep and seared me in my soul.
"Good God, look what they did!"
I was on the phone to our webmaster as the second plane hit and my instinct that it was indeed an act of terrorism was visibly confirmed. But the real shocker came when the shaken TV news anchor announced an unmistakable tone of incredulity in his voicethat the Pentagon, too, had been hit.
My mind raced, and reeled at the implications: What of the White House, the Capitol Building, and other possible targets? I thought of the Indian Point nuclear facility, where my father had worked for years, not too far away. A chill of fear, like a touch of autumn in a late summer wind, swept through me, and I was struck, in that moment of horror, by the fragility of it all: the delusion of power, of grandeur, of rulers and their empires. The illusion of safety, torn away, revealed a swirling chaos, reflected and revealed in that hellish vision on the screen.
Like many New Yorkers, for days and weeks on end I was shut down emotionally. Oh, I managed to write about the foreign policy implications of 9/11, day after day, but the emotional context of the event, particularly intense in New York, was successfully repressed until now. I resisted, at the time, the temptation to write in personal terms: about my feeling for New York City, where I spent my mis-spent youth, about my sister, who would have been in the subway underneath the WTC that morning if she hadn’t been uncharacteristically late for work. I give in to temptation now to make the point that the emotional aspect of 9/11 Syndrome has been pervertedand divertedby those who used it to further their agenda of perpetual war.
Some terribly jaded pundits are complaining about the wall-to-wall coverage of the one-year anniversary, but I don’t agree. As I write I’m watching a montage of 9/11 footage on MSNBC: white plumes of smoke chase screaming people down the street, the bloody hands of a woman are raised as if in supplication, a man completely covered in dust lifts himself off the ground. These images, and the stories of loss and mourning that accompany them, evoke an ineffable sadness, even tears and a question.
What has any of this got to do with Saddam Hussein?
The big disconnect of Bush’s war policy is underscored by this somber anniversary: as the nation mourns its loss and licks its wounds, the President of the United States and his warmongering minions are getting ready to invade and occupy a country that had nothing whatsoever to do with 9/11.
In spite of strenuous efforts to somehow link Saddam with the attacks on America, not a single iota of evidence connecting Iraq to Al Qaeda has been uncovered. The FBI confirms that Mohammed Atta was in the U.S. during the time he was supposed to have met with an Iraqi agent in Prague. For a while the idea of linking Saddam with remnants of Al Qaeda that may have taken refuge in Iraq seemed promising, but it turned out that these folks are somewhere in northern Iraq, a region under the control of the Kurds our ostensible allies. Having started his "war on terrorism" by pledging to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, the President has tried to switch bogeymen in midstream and it isn’t working.
In the most mechanical and unconvincing propaganda campaign since the publicity-handouts for Waterworld, Saddam is being blamed by the War Party for every major disaster since 1995, not only 9/11 but also the Oklahoma City bombing (Tim McVeigh, you see, was really an Iraqi agent), and the West Nile Virus outbreak. The boys over at the Weekly Standard have been trying to pin the anthrax letters on Saddam from the start, although the evidence points to a domestic source: and, no thank you, they’d just as soon not read the series of articles in the Hartford Courant detailing the story of how a scientist who worked at the Ft. Detrick bioterror laband had a violent antipathy to Arabswas videotaped sneaking into the lab at night.
The President, for his part, is doing no better. In an unimaginative repetition of his father’s’s 1990 contention that Saddam was "months away" from developing nuclear weapons, Bush 43 misrepresents a 1998 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency and claims that Saddam is "six months away" from nuking us.
In the meantime Matt Drudge and ABC News give us war propaganda, American-style, with lurid tales from Saddam’s alleged ex-mistress, who regales us with stories of the dictator’s penchant for PnP. The Butcher of Baghdad may be on the way to becoming a nuclear power, but when it comes to the boudoir he needs blueys to get by:
"Iraqi President Saddam Hussein needs help in the bedroom, ABC NEWS is set to report in an exclusive interview with his alleged mistress. The Dictator of Baghdad may not be all the man he’s cracked up to be, reporter Claire Shipman will reveal he uses Viagra for sex sessions! The provocative interview is to be aired nationally this week ."
You know we’re in the last stages of imperial decline when even our war propaganda is decadent!
This absurd spectacle takes on a macabre aspect as the Vanished Imam resurfaces or, at least, his voice in an audiotape of Bin Laden praising the hijackers by name, gloating from his cave, even as administration officials and their amen corner in the punditocracy speculate on his alleged death. But wishing doesn’t making it so. We haven’t heard about Bin Laden for months, because government officials hardly ever refer to him anymore unless asked but now we have heard from him, on the anniversary of his demonic deed, a powerful reminder that the war on Al Qaeda has not only failed but also been abandoned by this administration.
Bin Laden’s comeback performance could not have come at a worse time for the War Party. The Bushies were hoping we’d forgotten all about Osama, for the enemy of the moment is not him, but Saddam. After the first bout of hysteria, the threat of terrorism at home was downplayed, if not forgotten, while the prospect of Iraq launching a nuclear attack in the Middle East (i.e. against Israel) has been played up for all it’s worth. Now the Evil One returns to mock us from the lower depths of Hell:
"When you talk about the invasion of New York and Washington, you talk about the men who changed the face of history and went against the traitors. These great men have consolidated faith in the hearts of believers and undermined the plans of the crusaders and their agents in the region."
The Invasion of New York and Washington it sounds like a made-for-television movie, perhaps the forerunner of a new science fiction series except it’s real. And that is what is really brought home in the images of the World Trade Center imploding, the planes diving into the glass-and-steel towers like winged versions of the Saracen battering rams that humbled the walls of Constantinople.
In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, any criticism of U.S. foreign policy was caricatured as somehow blaming the victim a reflexive "anti-Americanism" that, in effect, justified the attacks. The War Party used this crude notion to quash any and all criticism of an open-ended "war on terrorism." A year later, however, in reliving that moment of horror and sheer disbelief, the radical incongruity of our neo-imperialist foreign policy could not be clearer. As if to underscore this point, our color-coded terrorist alert system has just gone from yellow to orange, and, as MSNBC reports:
"Even more extraordinary measures were being contemplated: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was expected to approve the positioning within hours of surface-to-air missiles around the nation’s capital, Pentagon officials told NBC News."
We are no safer today than we were on 9/10 and the warmongering chicken-hawks who have commandeered the White House are making us less so every day. The coming war will not be confined to Iraq, but will draw in the entire region. Iran, Syria, Jordan, the Saudis, all will be swept up in the resulting turmoil. If we try to recreate the empire of Alexander in Central Asia, occupying all the lands between Afghanistan and the river Jordan, how long before Americans suffer the fate of the ancient Macedonians, who were soon driven back to their homeland across the sea? And what of the cost? Not the least of which will be the unleashing of much of the world’s wrath
We have lived to see the United States become a battleground, for the first time since the War of 1812. The great irony here yes, irony lives, a year after The Day, in spite of the many premature reports of its death is that an Empire makes us more vulnerable, not less. We export "democracy" and modernity at gunpoint and import terrorism and the ancient tribal hatreds of the whole world. What kind of a trade deal is that?
The non-stop television coverage of 9/11 is a timely reminder that the price of Empire is going to be high. As Bin Laden celebrates the "invasion of New York and Washington," and we teeter on the brink of war, Americans must ask themselves whether they are willing to pay it. If and when we embark on this mad adventure, and launch a war of conquest against a nation that has never attacked us, we won’t have to ask in the wake of another terrorist attack on our soil "why do they hate us?" Because the answer will be all too obvious.