On the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, let us never forget the role that the U.S. government played in engendering the anger and hatred that produced the attacks.
Yes, I know the standard statist response: “You’re a justifier! You’re a justifier! You’re just justifying the 9/11 attacks that killed almost 3,000 Americans.”
But that’s nothing more than a clever tactic designed to keep people from focusing on the role that the U.S. national-security state played in engendering the anger and hatred that led to the attacks. At the risk of belaboring the obvious, motive is different from justification. Just ask any criminal prosecutor, who emphasizes the motive of the accused to commit the criminal act while not justifying or defending what the accused has supposedly done.
With the end of the Cold War in 1989, people were talking about a “peace dividend,” a concept that necessarily questioned why it was necessary to continue having an enormous national-security state.
Both the military and the CIA went into overdrive to convince American taxpayers as to why they should continue their existence. There was, of course, the ever-present international drug war, which the military and the CIA could wage in foreign countries. The military and the CIA could also work in tandem with American businesses to open up new markets around the world. And the military and the CIA never ceased to remind us that we continued living in an unsafe world, notwithstanding the end of the Cold War, and that the national security state could keep us safe.
Most important, after the end of the Cold War the U.S. government went into the Middle East and did its very best to poke hornets’ nests. There was the Persian Gulf intervention against the U.S. government’s old, faithful ally, Saddam Hussein, which killed and maimed countless Iraqi people. There was the Pentagon’s intentional destruction of Iraq’s water and sewage facilities with full knowledge that such action would help spread infection and disease among the Iraqi populace. There were the illegal no-fly zones that brought about the deaths of more Iraqis, including children. There were the brutal sanctions on Iraq, which prevented the water and sewage facilities from being repaired and which squeezed the economic lifeblood out of the Iraqi people, which contributed to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. There was UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright’s infamous statement that the deaths of half-a-million Iraqi children from the sanctions were “worth it.” There was the stationing of U.S. troops near Islamic holy lands, with U.S. officials knowing full well the adverse effect such action would have on Muslim sensitivities. There was the foreign aid provided not only the Israeli government but also dictatorial regimes that brutally oppressed their own people, such as those in Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.
Prior to 9/11, the scholar Chalmers Johnson, who had previously served as a consultant to the CIA, warned that unless the U.S. ceased and desisted from these provocative acts, there would almost certainly be terrorist retaliation on American soil. That’s what his remarkable book Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire was all about. It was published before the 9/11 attacks.
He wasn’t the only one. Here at The Future of Freedom Foundation, we were publishing articles that were saying the same thing — that the U.S. government was doing things in the Middle East that were provoking massive anger, rage, and hatred within people in that part of the world, emotions that were likely to lead to terrorist retaliation on American soil.
And how could it be otherwise? If you go poking hornets’ nests, it’s only natural that the hornets are going to strike back. How come the U.S. government didn’t see that?
In fact, what’s amazing is the U.S. government’s steadfast determination to continue its provocative actions even when warning signs appeared with respect to terrorist retaliation. There was the terrorist attack on the USS Cole. There were the terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in East Africa. There was the 1993 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, which was no different in principle from the attack that would follow several years later on 9/11. There was the terrorist attack on CIA officials outside CIA headquarters in Virginia.
The motivation given by the people who committed those attacks was always the same: anger, rage, and hatred arising out U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. None of them ever cited hatred for America’s freedom and values for what motivated them to retaliate.
Why didn’t the U.S. government change course after those terrorist attacks? Why didn’t it cease and desist from what it was doing in the Middle East? Why didn’t U.S. officials see that a major terrorist attack on U.S. soil was likely to result from U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East?
We’ll never know the answers to those questions. What we do know is that the U.S. government just continued poking the hornets’ nests, which ultimately culminated in the 9/11 attacks.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. government used the 9/11 attacks to continue doing the same things in the Middle East that it was doing before the 9/11 attacks. Since the sanctions had failed to effect regime change in Iraq, U.S. officials used the 9/11 attacks as the excuse to accomplish their goal with a military invasion, one based on a bogus threat of WMDs. That military invasion, of course, rained even more death, destruction, torture, chaos onto the Iraqi people, none of whom had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. How could that not produce more anger and hatred against the United States?
Rather than treat the people who committed the 9/11 attacks as a criminal justice problem, which was the case with the 1993 attack on the WTC, the U.S. government used the military to address the problem, invading Afghanistan and effecting regime change there as well. In the process, the military killed countless people, including brides, children, and others who had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. How could that not produce more anger and hatred against the United States?
The death and destruction wrought by the invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan brought more anger, rage, and hatred, ensuring an endless stream of people who were eager to retaliate with terrorist acts.
And so it is today that the national-security state, which had lost its justification for existence at the end of the Cold War, claims that its continued existence is necessary to protect us from the terrorists—people whose terrorism is motivated by what the national-security state has done to people abroad.
For Americans, 9/11 also meant a denigration of our constitutional order, thanks to the national-security state. The military set up its prison camp and “judicial” system at Guantanamo Bay precisely for the purpose of avoiding any application of the Constitution there. Believing that 9/11 gave them extraordinary dictatorial powers, Pentagon officials declared the military would have omnipotent authority to treat its prisoners any way it wanted at Gitmo. No lawyers. No Bill of Rights. No Constitution. The military, which had ostensibly taken an oath to support and defend the Constitution, wanted to establish a system in Cuba by which the military’s powers were as omnipotent as those wielded by such military dictatorships as those in Egypt and Chile under Pinochet, both of which the U.S. national-security state had ardently supported.
It also meant a revolutionary upheaval in the relationship between the national-security state and the American citizen. Before 9/11, Americans were protected by the Bill of Rights. After 9/11, the military wielded the power to take Americans into custody without a federally issued arrest warrant, cart them away to a military dungeon or concentration camp, hold them indefinitely without trial, torture them, and even execute them, perhaps after a kangaroo military tribunal. As the federal courts affirmed, everything the military did to American citizen Jose Padilla, it could now do to every American.
There is obviously only one solution to this entire catastrophe: a dismantling of the national-security state. That’s what should have been done after the Cold War (and even before). It was a giant mistake to have left it in existence. It will be a giant mistake to leave it in existence.
The problem we face, of course, is the extreme reverence that all too many Americans have for the military and the CIA. It’s that reverence that prevents Americans from recognizing that the vast military-industrial complex, the CIA, the NSA, and the other parts of the national-security state are responsible, in large part, for the woes our country faces.
There is, of course, the out of control federal spending and debt. Even worse, there are the ever-growing infringements on the liberties of the American people. As long as Americans place the national-security state, including the military and the CIA, in a god-like status, they’ll never be able to bring themselves to do what needs to be done to restore a free, peaceful, prosperous, harmonious society to our land.