Two years after the Sept. 11 suicide attacks on the United States, this earthshaking event remains clouded by mystery and misunderstanding.
Was al-Qaida behind the operation? Most likely, but not for certain. Secretary of State Colin Powell promised a white paper proving al-Qaida's guilt. It never came.
A tape that surfaced in late 2001 purporting to show Osama bin Laden gleefully chortling over the attacks, was seen by many in the Arab and Muslim world as a crude fake.
The 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and Spain, not Afghanistan, by young men, mostly Saudis, who were educated and westernized.
Afghanistan's Taliban regime, until four months before 9/11 a recipient of U.S. aid, had nothing to do with the attacks, but did provide a base for al-Qaida, which numbered only 300 members. Most of the "terrorists" in Afghanistan cited by the U.S. were actually independence fighters from neighboring Central Asia. Taliban refused to hand bin Laden, a national hero of the 1980s anti-Soviet war, to the U.S. without proof of his guilt in 9/11, which the U.S. declined to provide.
This allowed far right neo-conservatives to seize control of U.S. national security policy. They immediately launched the invasion of Afghanistan and began preparing war against Iraq. There's now evidence both invasions, intended to seize major oil regions, were being planned long before 9/11.
President George Bush was widely regarded pre-9/11 as a hapless, rather comical figure enmeshed in the Enron scandal. The savage assaults transformed him into a savior on a white horse, bathed in praise by the fawning U.S. media.
The Bush administration created a firestorm of jingoism, war fever, and national hysteria that quickly obscured its failure to protect the nation from an attack that Mideast observers, including this column, had predicted was coming.
Disparate bands of extremists
Bush declared a war on terrorism and dispatched U.S. armed forces to attack Muslim mischief-makers around the globe. This, however, was not a real war, but rather a police action against disparate bands of violent anti-American extremists determined to drive U.S. political and economic influence from their lands, and aid the struggle in Palestine.
Declaring "war on terrorism" made no more sense than declaring war on evil.
Few Americans understand their nation became a modern imperial power after World War II, or that it had recreated in the Mideast a modern version of the British Empire - the American Raj. Most were simply unaware, or uncaring, that their governments had been overthrowing regimes, assassinating foreign leaders, promoting dictatorships and waging undeclared wars on foreign nations since the late 1940s.
Fewer understood the U.S. was de facto ruler of Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf states, and overlord of Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Washington kept highly repressive feudal or military dictatorships in power in all these nations that advanced Washington's strategic interests and brutally crushed all opponents. Most Americans were unaware that Israel was fighting Palestinians with U.S.-supplied arms, financed by U.S. taxpayers, or that in the eyes of most Mideasterners, and all extremists, Israel and the United States had become indistinguishable.
Osama bin Laden kept tirelessly repeating this theme, calling for revolution against the American Mideast Raj and its Arab vassal rulers. That, far more than truck bombs, was bin Laden's real threat to U.S. interests. Interestingly, bin Laden recently predicted he will shortly die a martyr.
The ghastly 9/11 attacks were what Imperial Britain called the "cost of empire." Angry, fanatical natives would strike back, using any means to punish the high-tech empire seeking to rule them.
Britain had Maxim guns; America, terrifying B-52s.
Bush's knee-jerk military response to essentially political problems, an historic blunder, has left the U.S. mired in deepening guerrilla wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, costing over $7 billion US monthly and growing numbers of American casualties.
Heavy bombing of Afghanistan prior to 9/11, what ever-wrongheaded neo-cons say should have been done, would not have prevented 9/11. Having alert security guards at Boston airport would have. The attacks of 9/11 might have been averted by proper coordination between FBI and CIA, and if Bush's astoundingly inept national security staff had done its job.
Instead, Attorney General John Ashcroft, today the self-appointed scourge of Muslim malefactors, actually cut anti-terrorism spending just before 9/11.
Nothing can excuse the sickening barbarity of the 9/11 attacks. But nothing should excuse America's pre-attack delusions of Olympian immunity from the ills of the outside world, some caused by U.S. policies.
Nor America's casual indifference to the death of 500,000 Iraqi children caused by a cruel U.S.-imposed embargo. Nor the bulldozing of Palestinian shanty towns, without realizing that at some point enraged recipients of U.S. geo-strategic discipline would bite back. Nor the risk of aircraft attacks.
This writer was aboard a hijacked Lufthansa A310 in 1993 when the air pirate warned the FBI he would crash the jumbo jet into New York's Wall Street.
All the flag-waving and heart-rending survivor interviews that will mark this week's 9/11 anniversary should not - but, of course, will - obscure the painful truth: the faux-macho Bush administration was asleep while on guard; it refuses to accept responsibility for its dereliction of duty; and continues to mislead Americans about the real causes of 9/11.
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