4.03.2006

MUST READ: Notes on The Road Not Taken


Clips from "The Hyperpower Hype and Where It Took Us" by Tom Engelhardt of Tom Dispatch from Antiwar.com:
This [9-11] was – let's be blunt – an extraordinary accomplishment for a tiny band of men with one of the more extreme religious/political ideologies around; and, if the testimony under CIA interrogation of al-Qaeda's Khalid Sheik Mohammed is to be believed – summaries were released at the Moussaoui sentencing hearing – what happened seems to have stunned even him. ("According to the CIA summary, he said he 'had no idea that the damage of the first attack would be as catastrophic as it was.'")

And yet, so many years later, there have been no follow-up attacks here. This was obviously never the equivalent of breaking through military lines in war. There were no al-Qaeda troops poised to pour through that breach, ransack the rubble, and spread across New York; nor, like the Japanese at Pearl Harbor (to which the 9/11 assault was often compared), did al-Qaeda launch a simultaneous set of strikes elsewhere. Of this sort of activity the group was incapable. Such acts were far beyond its means . . .

Despite the limitless look of the destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, the dangers al-Qaeda posed were of a limited nature. After all, it took the group a long time to meticulously plan each of its attacks, whether on the WTC, or the USS Cole in a harbor in Yemen, or two U.S. embassies in Africa. Years could pass between major attacks. When Osama bin Laden, according to Khalid Sheik Mohammed's CIA testimony, pushed for launching the attack on the World Trade Center in May 2001, seven months after the waterborne assault on the USS Cole, Mohammed ignored him because they simply weren't ready.

Their attacks could be devastating locally, killing startling numbers, but that would be the end of matters for months or even years to come. Other than a finely tuned sense of the power of timing, theatrics, and publicity (which indicated just how "modern" a group calling for the return of a medieval Caliphate really was), the only thing al-Qaeda could brandish was an implicit futuristic threat: That someday they, or another group like them, might get their hands on an actual apocalyptic weapon, leaking out of the arsenals or labs of one of the two former Cold War superpowers or from those of proliferating lesser powers. Then they might create an actual Ground Zero, subjecting some city somewhere, possibly here, to a genuinely apocalyptic moment . . .

But of course nothing like this happened. In that terrible moment when a choice might have been made between the vision of apocalypse and the reality of al-Qaeda, between a malign version of the smoke-and-mirrors Wizard of Oz and the pathetic little man behind the curtain, the Bush administration opted for the vision in a major way. Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, and other top officials chose to pump up al-Qaeda into a global enemy worthy of a new Cold War, a generational struggle that might comfortably be filled with smaller, regime-change-oriented, "preventive" hot wars against hopelessly outgunned enemies who – unlike in those Cold War days – would have no other superpower to call on for aid . . .

On their part, Bush and his cohorts were all-too-ready to dance with this minor set of apocalypts, in part because they were themselves into fantasies of world domination – and considered themselves anything but mad. With visions of a "New Rome" – and a one-party democracy at home – dancing in their heads, they took that handy, terrifying image of the apocalypse in downtown New York and translated it into every sort of terror (including mushroom clouds threatening to go off over American cities and unmanned aerial vehicles spraying poisons along the East coast). In this way, they stampeded the American people and Congress into their crusade of choice.

The story of what followed you know well. Miraculously, al-Qaeda grew and the United States shrank. For one thing, it turned out that top American officials and the various neocons who worked for them or simply cheered them on from Washington's think-tanks and editorial pages, had been taken in by their own hype about American military power. They deeply believed in their pumped-up version of our hyper-strength, our ability to do anything we pleased in a world of midgets; and with the Soviet Union gone, if you just checked out military budgets and high-tech weapons programs, it might indeed look that way. Economically, however, the U.S. was far less strong than they imagined and its military power turned out to be far more impressive when held in reserve as a threat than when put to use in Iraq, where our Army would soon be stopped dead in its half-tracks.

In retrospect, the Bush administration badly misread the U.S. position in the world. Its officials, blinded by their own publicity releases on the nature of American power, were little short of self-delusional. And so, with unbearable self-confidence, the administration set out flailingly and, in just a few short years, began to create something like a landscape of ruins . . .

"Imperial overreach" is too fancy a term for what the Bush administration has actually done. While its officials have talked a great game when it came to achieving "victory" in Iraq and exporting democracy to the Middle East, its main exports have turned out to be mayhem and ruins. And those it can continue to export. With every new move, yet more rubble, yet more terror, and undoubtedly yet more terrorists in Iraq and, sooner or later, in the wider region will be created. This is where the most essential choices made by the president, vice president, and their chosen officials in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, have taken us.


Regardless of "terrorists", terror has clearly won.

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