By Mark Dunlea, author of Madame President: The Unauthorized Biography of the First Green Party President
Twenty years after 9/11, America is less safe, a deeply troubled country, ravaged by COVID, racism, inequality, extreme weather from global warming and political strife. Its political leaders have embraced an Orwellian approach to the truth in which war is peace and large segments of our society are polarized by widely divergent concepts of reality.
On the afternoon of 9/11, with the American media joining with the leaders of the two major parties in banging the drum for war, I wrote one of the first statements calling for America to seek peace instead, to not turn our cries of grief into a call for war. Eventually, many joined with early voices such as those of the Green Party and the War Resisters League in warning that peace and freedom both at home and abroad would be undermined if the United States went to war instead of participating in international criminal prosecution of this crime against humanity. Unfortunately, that statement has proved prophetic.
As the 9/11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow remarked on the 19th anniversary, “In the name of U.S. national security and counterterrorism, our government has violated human rights; damaged the rule of law, international cooperation, and the United States’ reputation; set a dangerous precedent for other nations; fueled conflicts and massive human displacement; contributed to militarized and violent approaches to domestic policing; diverted limited resources from more effective approaches; and, most consequentially, destroyed hundreds of thousands of lives, primarily of civilian, Muslim, Black, and Brown people.”
Truth, as has been often remarked, is the first casualty of war. The political establishment and the media squandered the worldwide sympathy for America after 9/11 by responding to it with a declaration of war rather than seeking criminal prosecution. The neoconservatives in charge of the White House brazenly lied to the American people and the world, cynically treating 9/11 as another Pearl Harbor that Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in particular had openly wished for as a pretext to invade Iraq to seize its oil fields.
A few weeks leading up to this latest anniversary, the United States made a humiliating retreat from Afghanistan, the latest imperial power to fall victim to “the graveyard of empires.” Left behind to an uncertain fate were women in general and the countless number of Afghans who assisted the United States as translators, guides, etc. This shameful American legacy includes the deaths of more than 170,000 Afghans—many by U.S. bombs–as well as the ultimate sacrifice of approximately 2,500 American servicemember.
We are likely to witness an escalating humanitarian crisis as millions of Afghans already lack access to basic necessities such as food, while human rights are likely to be trampled on even more than they were under the U.S. occupation. No one should be surprised if civil war breaks out between the Taliban and local warlords. And much like global warming inflamed Syria’s civil war and refugee crisis, Afghanistan has been rocked by climate change. The past three decades have brought floods and drought in rural areas that have destroyed crops and left people hungry.
Also left behind were many American weapons, which will not only arm the Taliban but, as often occurs, will quickly make their way into the black market to arm militia forces throughout the Middle East, Africa and the rest of the world.
Researchers at Brown University estimate that the United States has spent $5.8 trillion on the war in Afghanistan and other conflicts stemming from the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Perhaps the only silver lining is that President Biden, facing withering criticism at home and from allies for the chaotic evacuation, now feels pressure to deliver on his proposed infrastructure and climate budget to show that he is still capable of effective leadership.
The work of the so-called 9/11 Truth Commission was a textbook coverup to protect America’s intelligence community from what at best was its criminal negligence. The commission members were all veterans of the foreign policy establishment and often had to recuse themselves from parts of the investigation due to their extensive conflicts of interest. Even so, the commission did fault the intelligence failures that allowed the attacks to occur. The bureaucratic turf wars among the CIA, FBI, et al. were far more important to the intelligence community than protecting the public. One question not asked was whether the yearning for another Pearl Harbor by the likes of Dick Cheyney and Don Rumsfeld contributed to the intelligence and security failures.
Presidents from both major parties had directed intelligence operatives to go easy on Saudi Arabia, including Osama Bin Laden and other Saudis among his wealthy family connections. Though 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudis, not only did the United States fail to point the finger at their country, but many Saudi Arabians who were in our country at the time were allowed to immediately flee home while all other planes were grounded.
After the 9/11 Commission finished the whitewashing, the two co-chairs —former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton, a Democrat, and former New Jersey governor Thomas Kean, a Republican— felt guilty enough to admit to two major lies in their work. First, the prime motivation of the hijackers was not the presence of American military troops in Saudi Arabia but rather America’s support for Israel’s horrible treatment of Palestinians.
Second, the Pentagon had repeatedly lied about the fact that the NORAD defense system was conducting an exercise the morning of 9/11 involving faked highjacked airplanes. Vanity Fair eventually was able to publish the transcripts of the chaos at the NORAD command center as the air controllers pleaded to remove the fake airplanes from the radar screen so that they could better coordinate a response to the real hijackers. Five years later, the two co-chairs wrote an op-ed in the New York Times to complain about the stonewalling by the CIA, including destroying information.
Obviously, the hijackers greatly benefited from attacking in the midst of the exercise. Not examined, at least partially due to the Pentagon’s lies, were whether the hijackers had access to this and other security information and, if so, how they obtained it. Swept under the rug was the level of support and funding potentially provided to the hijackers by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia and the Pakistani ISI. President Biden earlier this month signed an executive order for a declassification review of some documents related to the 9/11 attacks, after pressure from families of victims who are demanding to know if Saudi Arabia helped the hijackers.
Another key aspect of the attacks that has been largely ignored by our political establishment and mainstream media was the role the United States played for decades in destabilizing Afghanistan that led to the Al Qaeda training camps. The United States, starting under President Carter, invested a significant amount of tax dollars and military operatives to overthrow the Afghan government, in a deliberate effort to draw the Soviet Union, Afghanistan’s neighbor to the north, into the Soviets’ own Vietnam. U.S. efforts, which escalated under President Reagan, entailed such clandestine activities as working with the Saudis, including bin Laden, and possibly the CIA working with the ISI to push the Taliban into power in what turned out to be a failed effort to stabilize the resulting chaos.
All governments lie to its citizens about the conduct of their foreign policy, playing a veritable chess game to serve the interests of the military contractors and corporate interests. 9/11 and Afghanistan are classic examples of “blowback,” a term the CIA first used in 1954 to explain the unintended consequence of a covert operation—in that case the United States’ overthrow of the democratically elected government of Iran. American citizens usually see blowback as “random” acts of political violence without a discernible direct cause since they are unaware of the secret attacks that provoked revenge.
American political and military leaders exploited 9/11 to advance their own agendas, plowing more and more of our hard-earned tax dollars into the pockets of military contractors while curtailing civil liberties both at home and abroad. The human rights abuses inflicted by America’s multiple military invasions and occupations helped recruit even more terrorists while contributing to the eroding power of, and respect for, the American empire.
Since 9/11, the United States has continued to turn a blind eye to the numerous human rights abuses of our allies, particularly Saudi Arabia and Israel, in exchange for access to oil and power in the Middle East. We have continued to isolate ourselves by using military power rather than diplomacy to advance our foreign policy agenda. To the rest of the world, the United States is the dark imperial power that arrogantly tramples upon the rights of all other countries as a manifestation of “American exceptionalism,” viewed as posing the greatest threat to democracy in their countries.
U.S. troops still remain in Iraq to help prop up its government. Drones and mercenary contractors often replace American soldiers—at greater taxpayer expense. The United States continues to escalate tensions with Iraq, China and Russia as well as numerous Latin American countries, chief among them Cuba and Venezuela—it being no coincidence that neither of the two subscribes to our capitalist form of an economy. The first 9/11 occurred in 1973 with the murder of Chilean President Allende and overthrow of his leftist, but democratically elected government, acts of state-sponsored terror in which the United States was complicit. Not surprisingly, President Bush ’43 sought to appoint former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, the architect of that coup, as the chair of the 9/11 Commission, a bid that proved to be unsuccessful.
The military-industrial complex resists all efforts to end the Cold War; a new Axis of Evil is always ready to be trotted out. More than half of the discretionary federal spending goes to the Pentagon and military contractors while domestic needs are underfunded.
Domestic terrorism has supplanted foreign terrorism as the greatest threat to Americans, with decades of militias embracing nationalism and white supremacy, culminating most recently with the January 6th armed insurrection at the Capitol aimed at overturning the November 2020 election results to keep Trump in power—an act of treason that many GOP Congressmembers voted to sanction. In a March 2021 threat assessment, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence identified militia-basedviolent extremists alongside racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists as the most lethal domestic extremist threat.
Sages regularly try to remind us that those who ignore history are often forced to repeat it. There is no country in the world in which that statement is more true than America.
There is no way to peace. Peace is the Way.
Remember 9/11. Another world is possible.