Two years after 9/11, and here we are, mired in isolationism like a petulant bully on the world's playground, still wearing the blinders of "terrorism" that keep Washington fixated on some hazy, star-spangled Brigadoon where we could be exempt from the world's despair. Two years on, and look what we have wrought.
Osama bin Laden, the alleged mastermind of 9/11, remains at large while the Taliban has resurfaced in Afghanistan and the country is once again descending into chaos. Iraq, once held together under the iron fist of Saddam Hussein, is fracturing along ethnic and religious lines, as the State Department has for years known that it would without Hussein at the helm.
The occupation of Iraq is open-ended and morale among the troops is sinking, while the cost of the conflict, excluding the price to rebuild the country, spirals upward. The monthly sum, adjusted for inflation, now equals what we spent to wage all-out war in Vietnam.
More U.S. soldiers have died since the president on May 1 declared an end to the fighting than those killed "during the war." Another 1,124 have been wounded, according to the Washington Post, which reported Sept. 2 that "Central Command keeps a running total of the wounded, but releases the number only when asked -- making the combat injuries of U.S. troops in Iraq one of the untold stories of the war."
And what about the Iraqi people?
Conservative estimates in mid-July put Iraq's civilian casualties at between 6,058 and 7,711. Kate Gessert in "Eat the State!" a Washington state biweekly, tells the stories of just two among the thousands: On March 30, 14-year-old Arkan Daif was digging a trench in front of his Baghdad house to protect his family from bombing when a bomb tore off the back of his head. "He was a boy 'like a flower' his father said." On April 6, Nadia Khalaf, 33, had just finished her psychology Ph.D. She and her sister were at home in Baghdad, talking and laughing, "when a missile came their window and drove Nadia's heart out through her chest."
Is all this (to use former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's words) "worth it"? Are Americans safe now?
London's Guardian newspaper reported Monday that a new tape purporting to be from Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network has threatened "an onslaught against Americans so devastating it would obliterate memories of the Sept. 11 suicide attacks."
But it turns out safety wasn't the issue after all. Neither was Hussein, nor Iraq's apparently non-existent weapons of mass destruction.
At least 11 countries reportedly warned Washington in advance of the 9/11 attacks. Britain's Daily Telegraph reported on Sept. 16, 2001, that two senior security experts from the Israeli Mossad alerted the CIA and the FBI in August 2001 to a cell of 200 terrorists said to be preparing a major operation. The list they provided reportedly included the names of four of the 9/11 hijackers.
As early as 1999, according to The Guardian, a U.S. intelligence report noted that "al-Qaida suicide bombers could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the CIA, or the White House."
But we now know that a blueprint for the creation of a global Pax Americana was drawn up for Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Jeb Bush, et. al., a full year before 9/11. "Rebuilding America's Defenses," by the neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century, shows that Bush's Cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam Hussein was in power. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein," the September 2000 document states.
It pinpoints North Korea, Syria and Iran as dangerous regimes, and says their existence justifies the creation of a "worldwide command and control system."
How neatly 9/11 fit into that picture. How neatly, too, have some of Bush's biggest donors, not to mention his own vice president, profited from this scenario.
At home, meanwhile, civil liberties remain under assault. Attorney General John Ashcroft proclaims the necessity and effectiveness of sweeping measures that allow government agents to conduct "sneak and peek" searches of our homes and offices, access highly private data such as library, bookstore and medical records, and engage in "data-mining" without congressional authorization.
Coincidentally, the number staff members at the Justice Department charged with responding to Freedom of Information Act requests has been cut, as the number FOIAs skyrockets.
Meanwhile, Americans are wrestling with fewer jobs, more crime, dirtier air, shrinking health insurance and leaner schools. Predictably, polls show Bush's approval ratings heading south, which raises well-founded fears that the president -- who has been willing to stop at nothing, least of all the absence of a public mandate -- will engage in some lethal, high-profile derring-do in an effort to win popular support in time for the '04 election.
This is where the hand-wringing must stop and the action must start. In politics, as leading progressive author Jim Hightower points out, a year can change everything, and so it must.
Independent Media Institute Executive Director Don Hazen lays out "12 steps to regime change" in the September/October issue of the Utne Reader. His final point is to make a commitment -- to network, get involved in the process, and encourage others to pursue their political dreams.
"Dramatic events can short-circuit everything we think we know -- 9/11 of course, but also the fall of the Berlin Wall, the victory over apartheid, the feminist and environmentalist revolutions all took the world by surprise," writes Hazen. "But nothing takes the place of political organizing. Without that, even a lucky break cannot be capitalized upon. Now is the time to dedicate ourselves to the task ahead fully, without ambivalence, minimizing squabbling, knowing we must prevail. The future of our families, our neighborhoods, and our globe is in our hands."
America's next president must be held rigorously accountable for both his domestic and foreign policy agendas. The next occupant of the White House must be no less than a visionary nimble enough to plait tolerance, diplomacy and humanity into a strong rope that can pull us, as a nation, from this economic, moral and political quicksand.
Two years on, there is nowhere to go but up.
Copyright 2003 Brattleboro Reformer