Perspectives beyond 9/11
The arrival of the date 9/11 again was the occasion for a number of reflective essays in the press and on the Net. Few of them outlasted their current news cycle.
Mantra for 9/11
Fourteen Years Later, Improbable World
By Tom Engelhardt
Fourteen years later and do you even believe it? Did we actually live it? Are we still living it? And how improbable is that?
Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy ofrepeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecutionof whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones andstingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach -- from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet -- would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.
Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters,$400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.
Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.
Fourteen years later, the improbability of it all still staggers the imagination, starting with those vast shards of the World Trade Center in downtown Manhattan, the real-world equivalent of the Statue of Liberty sticking out of the sand in the original Planet of the Apes. With lower Manhattan still burning and the air acrid with destruction, they seemed like evidence of a culture that had undergone its own apocalyptic moment and come out the other side unrecognizably transformed. To believe the coverage of the time, Americans had experienced Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima combined. We were planet Earth's ultimate victims and downtown New York was “Ground Zero,” a phrase previously reserved for places where nuclear explosions had occurred. We were instantly the world’s greatest victim and greatest survivor, and it was taken for granted that the world’s most fulfilling sense of revenge would be ours. 9/11 came to be seen as an assault on everything innocent and good and triumphant about us, the ultimate they-hate-our-freedoms moment and, Osama, it worked. You spooked this country into 14 years of giving any dumb or horrifying act or idea or law or intrusion into our lives or curtailment of our rights a get-out-of-jail-free pass. You loosed not just your dogs of war, but ours, which was exactly what you needed to bring chaos to the Muslim world.
Fourteen years later, let me remind you of just how totally improbable 9/11 was and how ragingly clueless we all were on that day. George W. Bush (and cohorts) couldn’t even take it in when, on August 6, 2001, the president was given a daily intelligence briefing titled “Bin Laden determined to strike in U.S.” The NSA, the CIA, and the FBI, which had many of the pieces of the bin Laden puzzle in their hands, still couldn’t imagine it. And believe me, even when it was happening, I could hardly grasp it. I was doing exercises in my bedroom with the TV going when I first heard the news of a plane hitting the World Trade Center and saw the initial shots of a smoking tower. And I remember my immediate thought: just like the B-25 that almost took out the Empire State Building back in 1945. Terrorists bringing down the World Trade Center? Please. Al-Qaeda? You must be kidding. Later, when two planes had struck in New York and another had taken out part of the Pentagon, and it was obvious that it wasn’t an accident, I had an even more ludicrous thought. It occurred to me that the unexpected vulnerability of Americans living in a land largely protected from the chaos so much of the world experiences might open us up to the pain of others in a new way. Dream on. All it opened us up to was bringing pain to others.
Fourteen years later, don’t you still find it improbable that George W. Bush and company used those murderous acts and the nearly 3,000 resulting deaths as an excuse to try to make the world theirs? It took them no time at all to decide to launch a “Global War on Terror” inup to 60 countries. It took them next to no time to begin dreaming of the establishment of a future Pax Americana in the Middle East, followed by the sort of global imperium that had previously been conjured up only by cackling bad guys in James Bond films. Don’t you find it strange, looking back, just how quickly 9/11 set their brains aflame? Don’t you find it curious that the Bush administration’s top officials were quite so infatuated by the U.S. military? Doesn’t it still strike you as odd that they had such blind faith in that military's supposedly limitless powers to do essentially anything and be “the greatest force for human liberation the world has ever known”? Don’t you still find it eerie that, amid the wreckage of the Pentagon, the initial orders our secretary of defense gave his aides were to come up with plans for striking Iraq, even though he was already convinced that al-Qaeda had launched the attack? ("'Go massive,' an aide’s notes quote him as saying. 'Sweep it all up. Things related and not.'") Don’t you think “and not” sums up the era to come? Don’t you find it curious that, in the rubble of those towers, plans not just to pay Osama bin Laden back, but to turn Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly Iran -- “Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran” -- into American protectorates were already being imagined?
Fourteen years later, how probable was it that the country then universally considered the planet’s “sole superpower,” openly challenged only by tiny numbers of jihadist extremists, with a military better funded than the next 10 to 13 forces combined (most of whom were allies anyway), and whose technological skills were, as they say, to die for would win no wars, defeat no enemies, and successfully complete no occupations? What were the odds? If, on September 12, 2001, someone had given you half-reasonable odds on a U.S. military winning streak in the Greater Middle East, don’t tell me you wouldn’t have slapped some money on the table.
Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. military has been unable to extricate itself from Iraq and Afghanistan, its two major wars of this century, despite having officially left one of those countries in 2011 (only to head back again in the late summer of 2014) and having endlessly announced the conclusion of its operations in the other (only to ratchet them up again)?
Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that Washington’s post-9/11 policies in the Middle East helped lead to the establishment of the Islamic State’s “caliphate” in parts of fractured Iraq and Syria and to a movement of almost unparalleled extremism that has successfully “franchised” itself out from Libya to Nigeria to Afghanistan? If, on September 12, 2001, you had predicted such a possibility, who wouldn’t have thought you mad?
Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that the U.S. has gone into the business of robotic assassination big time; that (despite Watergate-era legal prohibitions on such acts), we are now the Terminators of Planet Earth, not its John Connors; that the president is openly and proudly an assassin-in-chief with his own global “kill list”; that we have endlessly targeted the backlands of the planet with our (Grim) Reaper and Predator (thank you Hollywood!) drones armed with Hellfire missiles; and that Washington has regularly knocked off women and children while searching for militant leaders and their generic followers? And don’t you find it odd that all of this has been done in the name of wiping out the terrorists and their movements, despite the fact that wherever our drones strike, those movements seem to gain in strength and power?
Fourteen years later, don’t you find it improbable that our “war on terror” has so regularly devolved into a war of and for terror; that our methods, including the targeted killings of numerous leaders and “lieutenants” of militant groups have visibly promoted, not blunted, the spread of Islamic extremism; and that, despite this, Washington has generally not recalibrated its actions in any meaningful way?
Fourteen years later, isn’t it possible to think of 9/11 as a mass grave into which significant aspects of American life as we knew it have been shoveled? Of course, the changes that came, especially those reinforcing the most oppressive aspects of state power, didn’t arrive out of the blue like those hijacked planes. Who, after all, could dismiss the size and power of the national security state and the military-industrial complex before those 19 men with box cutters arrived on the scene? Who could deny that, packed into the Patriot Act (passed largely unread by Congress in October 2001) was a wish list of pre-9/11 law enforcementand right-wing hobbyhorses? Who could deny that the top officials of the Bush administration and their neocon supporters had long been thinking about how to leverage “U.S. military supremacy” into a Pax Americana-style new world order or that they had been dreaming of “a new Pearl Harbor” which might speed up the process? It was, however, only thanks to Osama bin Laden, that they -- and we -- were shuttled into the most improbable of all centuries, the twenty-first.
Fourteen years later, the 9/11 attacks and the thousands of innocents killed represent international criminality and immorality of the first order. On that, Americans are clear, but -- most improbable of all -- no one in Washington has yet taken the slightest responsibility for blowing a hole through the Middle East, loosing mayhem across significant swathes of the planet, or helping release the forces that would create the first true terrorist state of modern history; nor has anyone in any official capacity taken responsibility for creating the conditions that led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands, possibly a million or more people, turned many in the Greater Middle East into internal or external refugees, destroyed nations, and brought unbelievable pain to countless human beings. In these years, no act -- not of torture, nor murder, nor the illegal offshore imprisonment of innocent people, nor death delivered from the air or the ground, nor the slaughter of wedding parties, nor the killing of children -- has blunted the sense among Americans that we live in an “exceptional” and “indispensable” country of staggering goodness and innocence.
Fourteen years later, how improbable is that?
Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.
The Real Enemy Is Within
Posted on Sep 6, 2015
By Chris Hedges
If you are not dedicated to the destruction of empire and the dismantling of American militarism, then you cannot count yourself as a member of the left. It is not a side issue. It is the issue. It is why I refuse to give a pass in this presidential election campaign to Bernie Sanders, who refuses to confront the war industry or the crimes of empire, including U.S. support for the slow genocide carried out by Israel against the Palestinians. There will be no genuine democratic, social, economic or political reform until we destroy our permanent war machine.
Militarists and war profiteers are our greatest enemy. They use fear, bolstered by racism, as a tool in their efforts to abolish civil liberties, crush dissent and ultimately extinguish democracy. To produce weapons and finance military expansion, they ruin the domestic economy by diverting resources, scientific and technical expertise and a disproportionate share of government funds. They use the military to carry out futile, decades-long wars to enrich corporations such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. War is a business. And when the generals retire, guess where they go to work? Profits swell. War never stops. Whole sections of the earth live in terror. And our nation is disemboweled and left to live under what the political philosopher Sheldon Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” Libertarians seem to get this. It is time the left woke up.
“Bourgeois society faces a dilemma,” socialist Rosa Luxemburg writes, “either a transition to Socialism, or a return to barbarism ... we face the choice: either the victory of imperialism and the decline of all culture, as in ancient Rome—annihilation, devastation, degeneration, a yawning graveyard; or the victory of Socialism—the victory of the international working class consciously assaulting imperialism and its method: war. This is the dilemma of world history, either-or; the die will be cast by the class-conscious proletariat.”
The U.S. military and its array of civilian contractors operate as enforcers and hired killers across the globe for corporations, many of which pay no taxes. Young men and women, many unable to find work, are the cannon fodder. The U.S. military has served as the handmaiden of capitalism since it committed genocide against Native Americans, carried out on behalf of land speculators, mineral companies, timber merchants and the railroads. The military replicated this indiscriminate slaughter at the end of the 19th century in our imperial expansion in Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean, in Central America and especially in the Philippines. Military muscle exists to permit global corporations to expand markets and plunder oil, minerals and other natural resources while keeping subjugated populations impoverished by corrupt and brutal puppet regimes. The masters of war are the scum of the earth.
It was the war profiteers and the military, as Seymour Melman has pointed out, that conspired after World War II to keep the country in a state of total war, deforming the economy to continue to produce massive amounts of weapons and armaments in peacetime. The permanent war economy is sustained through fearmongering—about communists during the Cold War and about Islamic jihadists today. Such fearmongering is used not only to justify crippling military expenditures but to crush internal dissent. The corporatists and the military, which have successfully carried out what John Ralston Saul calls a “coup d’état in slow motion,” have used their political and economic clout to dismantle programs and policies put in place under the New Deal. Brian Waddell writes of this process:
The requirements of total war ... revived corporate political leverage, allowing corporate executives inside and outside the state extensive influence over wartime mobilization policies. ... Assertive corporate executives and military officials formed a very effective wartime alliance that not only blocked any augmentation of the New Dealer authority but also organized a powerful alternative to the New Deal. International activism displaced and supplanted New Deal domestic activism. Thus was the stage finally set for a vastly extended and much more powerful informal U.S. empire outside its own hemisphere.
The war machine is not, and almost never has been, a force for liberty or democracy. It does not make us safe. It does not make the world safe. And its immense economic and political power internally, including its management of the security and surveillance state and its huge defense contracts, has turned it into the most dangerous institution in America.
Military expenditures bleed the federal budget—officially—of $598.49 billion a year, or 53.71 percent of all spending. This does not, however, include veterans’ benefits at $65.32 billion a year or hidden costs in other budgets that see the military and the war profiteers take as much as $1.6 trillion a year out of the pockets of taxpayers. The working and middle class fund the endless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen and a host of other countries while suffering crippling “austerity” programs, massive debt peonage, collapsing infrastructures, chronic underemployment and unemployment and mounting internal repression. The war industry, feeding off the carcass of the state, grows fat and powerful with profits. This is not unique. It is how all empires are hollowed out from the inside. As we are impoverished and stripped of our rights, the tools used to maintain control on the outer reaches of empire—drones, militarized police, indiscriminate violence, a loss of civil liberties, and security and surveillance—are used on us. We have devolved, because of the poison of empire, into a Third World nation with nukes. We are ruled by an omnipotent, corporate oligarchy and their Pretorian Guard. The political class, Republican and Democrat, dances to the tune played by these oligarchs and militarists and mouths the words they want it to say.
C. Wright Mills in “The Power Elite” warns of a military machine that not only holds the political and economic life of the nation hostage but also has the ability to form public opinion. The Pentagon spends $4.7 billion a year and has some 27,000 employees who work on recruitment, advertising, psychological operations and public relations, according to a 2009 report by The Associated Press. But millions of dollars more for propaganda are hidden within classified budgets. The Pentagon places its commentators and pundits on the airwaves, produces “news” stories for the press, has ubiquitous advertising, runs junkets for Wall Street capitalists and elected officials and manages how Hollywood and television portray war and the military. Mills writes:
… [I]n all of pluralist America, there is no interest—there is no possible combination of interests—that has anywhere near the time, the money, the manpower, to present a point of view on the issues involved that can effectively compete with the views presented day in and day out by the warlords and by those whom they employ.
This means, for one thing, that there is no free and wider debate of military policy or of policies of military relevance. But that, of course, is in line with the professional soldier’s training for command and obedience, and with his ethos, which is certainly not that of a debating society in which decisions are put to a vote. It is also in line with the tendency in a mass society for manipulation to replace explicitly debated authority, as well as the fact of total war in which the distinction between soldier and civilian is obliterated. The military manipulation of civilian opinion and the military invasion of the civilian mind are now important ways in which the power of the warlords is steadily exerted.
The extent of the military publicity, and the absence of opposition to it, also means that it is not merely this proposal or that point of view that is being pushed. In the absence of contrasting views, the very highest form of propaganda warfare can be fought: the propaganda for a definition of reality within which only certain limited viewpoints are possible. What is being promulgated and reinforced is the military metaphysics—the cast of mind that defines international reality as basically military. The publicists of the military ascendency need not really work to indoctrinate with this metaphysics those who count: they have already accepted it.
The naked greed and violence that define empire, understood by writers such as Joseph Conrad, Eduardo Galeano and Arundhati Roy, is masked within empire behind the cant of patriotism and nationalism, which sanctify self-exaltation and racism. Imperial war is transformed through the magic of propaganda into glorious spectacle. Galeano once wrote that “each time a new war is disclosed in the name of the fight of the good against evil, those who are killed are all poor. It’s always the same story repeating once and again and again.”
The hypermasculinity of the military, celebrated by Hollywood and the media, is seductive to an underclass trapped in menial, dead-end jobs. Empires feed like vultures on these pools of frustrated surplus labor. They manipulate their feelings of powerlessness. This is why capitalists create pools of surplus labor. Those who are desperate to secure a place in society are easy fodder for the military and ready candidates for underpaid jobs without benefits or job security. Our corporate, neofeudal society is by design.
The sons and daughters of the elites rarely serve in the military. The military, even at the service academies such as West Point, attracts those who have been cast aside by neoliberalism. Often, before joining the military, they lack a clearly defined identity or sense of purpose. They are terrified of being pushed permanently into the underclass. They are especially susceptible to indoctrination. The military teaches soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines not to think, not to challenge assumptions and structures, but to obey and to be “tough” and “strong.” This hypermasculine culture glorifies the state and state violence. It renders all human beings outside the sacred national circle as objects to control or exploit. It creates a binary world of good and evil. It sanctifies violence, especially male violence. It is why rape is endemic in the military. It is why pornography and violence against women are so pervasive in the culture. Tenderness, nurturing and empathy, along with intellectual inquiry and artistic expression, are banished. The weak and the vulnerable deserve to be cast aside. Our enemies deserve to be killed. It is the culture of death. And we drink deep from this dark elixir.
W.E.B. Du Bois warns that empire was the primary tool used to break the working class in Europe and later in the United States. As workers organized and fought for rights and fair wages, the masters of empire started to shift production to countries more easily controlled, countries inhabited by “darker peoples.” This is a shift that is largely complete.
“Here, are no labor unions or votes or questioning onlookers or inconvenient consciences,” Du Bois writes. “These men may be used down to the very bone, and shot and maimed in ‘punitive’ expeditions when they revolt. In these dark lands ‘industrial development’ may repeat in exaggerated form every horror of the industrial horror of Europe, from slavery and rape to disease and maiming, with one test of success—dividends.”
Du Bois also knew that the costs of maintaining empire were offset by the profits. “What do nations care about the cost of war, if by spending a few hundred millions in steel and gunpowder they can gain a thousand millions in diamonds and cocoa?” he asks.
The reality of empire is nearly impossible to see from the heart of empire. Those who speak its truth are banished from the airwaves. They are condemned as traitors or “anti-American.” The cries of empire’s victims are rarely heard. The crimes that empire commits are rendered invisible. The greed of the war makers, along with the corruption and dishonesty of the political, judicial, academic and media courtiers who serve empire, is blocked from public view. The image of empire is scripted like a Walt Disney movie. This mythical narrative is disseminated in films, on television, by the press, in churches, in universities and by the state. It is a lie. But it is a lie that works. And it works because it is what we want. It appeals to our fantasies about ourselves: that we are a virtuous people, that God has blessed us above others, that we have the highest form of civilization, that we have been anointed to police the world and make it safe, that we are the most powerful and righteous nation on earth, that we are always assured of victory, that we have a right to kill in the name of nationalist values—values determined by our naked self-interest and that we conveniently define as universal.
Noam Chomsky, more than perhaps any other American intellectual, has laid bare the latent forces of totalitarianism in our midst and warned us against the contagion of empire. He says:
Those with deep totalitarian commitments identify the state with the society, its people, and its culture. Therefore those who criticized the policies of the Kremlin under Stalin were condemned as “anti-Soviet” or “hating Russia.” For their counterparts in the West, those who criticize the policies of the U.S. government are “anti-American” and “hate America”; those are the standard terms used by intellectual opinion, including left-liberal segments, so deeply committed to their totalitarian instincts that they cannot even recognize them, let alone understand their disgraceful history, tracing to the origins of recorded history in interesting ways. For the totalitarian, “patriotism” means support for the state and its policies, perhaps with twitters of protest on grounds that they might fail or cost us too much. For those whose instincts are democratic rather than totalitarian, “patriotism” means commitment to the welfare and improvement of the society, its people, its culture. That’s a natural sentiment and one that can be quite positive. It’s one all serious activists share, I presume; otherwise why take the trouble to do what we do? But the kind of “patriotism” fostered by totalitarian societies and military dictatorships, and internalized as second nature by much of intellectual opinion in more free societies, is one of the worst maladies of human history, and will probably do us all in before too long.
There can be no rational debate about empire with many desperate Americans who have ingested this as their creed. The distortion of neoliberalism has left them little else. Here lies the virus of fascism, wrapped in the American flag, held aloft by the Christian cross and buttressed by white supremacy. It is a potent and dangerous force within the body politic. And it is growing. The real enemy is within.