Learning Lessons from September 11th

The carnage continues in Iraq but you won’t see too much of it on the news or in the newspapers. 47 dead today and hundreds are wounded outside a Baghdad police headquarters. Just another day of mayhem in Iraq: the new Beirut for the aught decade.

But we are more interested in everyone in Oprah’s audience getting new cars and Kitty Kelly’s new book on the Bush family. And speaking of the Bush he and his ilk are trying to put the label of “flip flopper” on John Kerry despite lots of evidence that John Kerry cannot begin to fill W’s flip flopping shoes. Sideshows are distracing us during the main event.

Professor Juan Cole knows the truth: we have lost the war in Iraq. It is all over but the body count. But there are precious few of us Americans who understand this. The rest of us including John Kerry appear to be as deeply in denial as George W. Bush. As I’ve alluded to before it is a war that cannot be won. It is folly. Perhaps our latest foolish actions like trying to retake the town of Tall Afar from rebels that disappear when we arrive will drive home the pointlessness of it all. Insurgents are smart. They fight skirmishes, not battles with our forces. They use guerilla tactics, withdraw when the firing gets too intense, regroup and then try again when we let our guard down. They know they will eventually win through a war of attrition.

The truth is that we’ve pretty much surrendered the country. In Fallujah we fight insurgents/terrorists (same thing in Bush’s tiny mind) by launching weapons from the air at 6 a.m. and leveling houses. We have no plans to actually go in and invade the city again. It was folly last time and our commanders understand now that would be folly again. But it’s not just Fallujah. There are plenty of other cities that are effectively controlled by the opposition, including the Shi’ite slum of Sadr City in Baghdad that we foolishly try to control at the continuing loss of life and limb.

All this “liberation” and it is only costing us $4B and 50-100 soldiers a month to maintain and increase the anarchy. Our soldiers are repeatedly sniped at. August saw the highest levels of wounded in action to date in Iraq. Goodness, someone needs to tell the president. It’s been more than a year since “Mission Accomplished”.

And Iraq is just a part of the war on terrorism that we are messing up. Bin Laden is still on the loose. The Taliban is resurging in Afghanistan and poll workers there are killed. The Australian Embassy was attacked in Indonesia. Iran is threatening to enrich uranium. We learn South Korea has been surreptitiously learning the process. Meanwhile acting like a kid playing with dynamite North Korea experiments with enriched uranium. Nuclear sites in the former Soviet Union and East Block states have weapons grade material that is comparatively easy picking for terrorists but we argue with Russia over details for securing these sites. Apparently our administration can’t sort out the real threats from terrorists from the fake ones.

The tragedy in Beslan in Russia encourages Russian President Vladimir Putin to push for non-democratic reforms and to embrace Bush’s disastrous doctrine of preemptive war. On the third anniversary of the September 11th attacks one has to wonder if there is any way back to the good old days of, say, the Cold War. Defending the country was much simpler when you only had to worry about other superpowers.

I have been reflecting a lot on this anniversary of 9/11. I keep wondering what could have been done to prevent this terrible tragedy. What lesson could we learn that would keep it from recurring in the future? Just how had we become a target for Bin Laden in the first place?

The answer is simple: Israel. For fifty plus years we have supported and armed the state of Israel. It was President Harry S Truman who eleven minutes after Israel became a state on May 14, 1948 recognized it. Since then Israel has been one of our closest and most valued allies. Through our tax dollars we have kept Israel a viable nation-state. Clearly the United States is seen as allied with Israel. Most Arabs think that without our money Israel would have ceased to exist long ago.

Readers may accuse me of being anti-Semitic. This is a word that paints with a very broad brush. Any compassionate human being can acknowledge the suffering of the Jews and understand their desire for their own state. I am neither for nor against Israel. I do believe though that Israel if it is to survive it should do so with its own resources, not ours. And I like Semites as much as I like any other ethnic group. Lots of Jews are Semites. Palestinians are also Semites. Perhaps there could someday be a truly Semitic state consisting of both Palestinians and Jews. But of course Israel wants to be a Jewish state, or at least a state where the Jews are always in the majority, which amounts to the same thing. I have nothing against Jews, but I don’t necessarily think having a Jewish state is truly in their best interest.

To get some idea of how Arabs feel about Israel let’s imagine. Imagine if fifty years ago a huge Spanish armada had landed in Florida and had taken over the state by force. Suppose for the next fifty years they succeeded in retaining Florida and made it into a Basque homeland, perhaps as a final solution to that perennial problem. (I realize this is a far-fetched fantasy.) Imagine Europe and the Soviet Union provided overwhelming amounts of money and arms to make sure we couldn’t reoccupy Florida. Then imagine the Basques started pushing out Americas from their own houses and sending them to Georgia and Alabama when they could, or confining them to undesirable areas around the Everglades when that was impossible.

Would Americans be mad? You darn betcha! The Spaniards would of course say, “Hey, we were the first to land in Florida! Remember Ponce de Leon? We have the original claim! Get off our friggin’ land!” But we would be ticked and resentful. If some American insurgents blew themselves up on Miami buses we’d likely be cheering them on and calling them patriots.

That’s how the Arabs feel. It’s not that they necessarily hated Jews. It’s just that a Jewish state upset their cultural apple cart. A Muslim area of the world became one somewhat Balkanized by this new state of Israel. It was perceived to have the wrong religion and the wrong form of government. But also non-Jews were not exactly welcome. They were made into second-class citizens.

So is there a lesson to learn from 9/11 that could prevent it from happening again here in America? To me it is this: if we truly want to deter incidents like this from happening again then we have to be much more careful to think through the consequences of supporting countries. (We may be making a similar mistake now by supporting Taiwan.) We all meant for the best when we recognized and supported Israel. We Americans just love democratic states (or quasi-democratic states in the case of Israel). We just didn’t care about or minimized the feelings of the people that Israel displaced and its neighbors.

Bad things happen all the time. But almost certainly 9/11 would not have happened had we not recognized and supported Israel all these years. If we truly want to deter future acts of terrorism against us from Islamic terrorists we should stop trying to micromanage the affairs and people of the Middle East. We also need to cut Israel loose from its apron strings. If it’s a real state it will survive on its own. Is this giving in to terrorism? It can be seen this way. Or we can acknowledge our mistake, learn our lesson and move on.

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