Sunday, September 11, 2005

How 9/11 Changed Our Democracy

9/11 and Manipulation of the USA
By Norman Solomon
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Sunday 11 September 2005

Traveling from New York City in late September 2001, on a pre-scheduled book tour, author Joan Didion spoke with audiences in several cities on the West Coast. In the wake of 9/11, she later wrote, "these people to whom I was listening - in San Francisco and Los Angeles and Portland and Seattle - were making connections I had not yet in my numbed condition thought to make: connections between [the American] political process and what had happened on September 11, connections between our political life and the shape our reaction would take and was in fact already taking. These people recognized that even then, within days after the planes hit, there was a good deal of opportunistic ground being seized under cover of the clearly urgent need for increased security. These people recognized even then, with flames still visible in lower Manhattan, that the words 'bipartisanship' and 'national unity' had come to mean acquiescence to the administration's preexisting agenda..."

A lot of media coverage was glorifying people who died and/or showed courage on September 11, 2001. "In fact," Didion contended, "it was in the reflexive repetition of the word 'hero' that we began to hear what would become in the year that followed an entrenched preference for ignoring the meaning of the event in favor of an impenetrably flattening celebration of its victims, and a troublingly belligerent idealization of historical ignorance."

To observe the political manipulation of 9/11 after the towers collapsed was to witness a multidimensional power grab exercised largely via mass media. By the end of 2002, Didion concisely and incisively described what occurred: "We had seen, most importantly, the insistent use of September 11 to justify the reconception of America's correct role in the world as one of initiating and waging virtually perpetual war." Instead of, even in theory, being a war to end all wars, the new war for America would be a war to end peace.

Like many of his colleagues in the upper reaches of the Bush administration, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld went out of his way to stress that this war - with no single nation to defeat and no finite enemy to vanquish - would be open-ended. On September 27, 2001, a New York Times op-ed piece under Rumsfeld's byline emphasized the theme: "Some believe the first casualty of any war is the truth. But in this war, the first victory must be to tell the truth. And the truth is, this will be a war like none other our nation has faced."

Written two weeks after 9/11, the short Rumsfeld essay was an indicative clarion call. And, from the outset, the trumpet was sounding inside a tent pitched large enough to accommodate any number of configurations: "This war will not be waged by a grand alliance united for the single purpose of defeating an axis of hostile powers. Instead, it will involve floating coalitions of countries, which may change and evolve."

Purporting to be no-nonsense, the message from the Pentagon's civilian head was expansive to the point of limitlessness: "Forget about 'exit strategies' ; we're looking at a sustained engagement that carries no deadlines." If the concepts of deadlines and exit strategies were suddenly obsolete, so too was the idea that disfavored historical contexts should or could matter a heck of a lot.

At once, the proclaimed war on terrorism was to be unending, and impervious to information or analysis that might encourage critical scrutiny. As soon as the basic premises of the ongoing war were accepted, the irrelevance of any inconvenient part of the historical record was a given.

And so, when Rumsfeld's essay in the New York Times told a still-shocked nation in late September 2001 that it was embarking on "a war against terrorism's attack on our way of life" - an attack coming from foes "committed to denying free people the opportunity to live as they choose" - some questions were off limits. Such as: Perhaps the attack was more against our foreign policy than against our domestic "way of life" or our opportunity to live as we choose? (Scandinavian countries, for instance, were not notably different in the extent or character of their freedoms compared to the United States, yet those nations did not seem to be in much danger of an Al Qaeda attack.) Explorations along that line were out of bounds.

"By accepting the facile cliche that the battle under way against terrorism is a battle against evil, by easily branding those who fight us as the barbarians, we, like them, refuse to acknowledge our own culpability," journalist Chris Hedges has observed. "We ignore real injustices that have led many of those arrayed against us to their rage and despair."

Numerous reporters seemed content to provide stenographic services for official U.S. sources under the guise of journalism. During a September 17, 2001, appearance on David Letterman's show, the CBS news anchor Dan Rather laid it on the line. "George Bush is the president," Rather said, "he makes the decisions." Speaking as "one American," the newsman added: "Wherever he wants me to line up, just tell me where. And he'll make the call."

Cokie Roberts, well known as a reporter-pundit for NPR and ABC, appearing on the Letterman show a few weeks later, gushed: "I am, I will just confess to you, a total sucker for the guys who stand up with all the ribbons on and stuff, and they say it's true and I'm ready to believe it. We had General Shelton on the show the last day he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and I couldn't lift that jacket with all the ribbons and medals. And so when they say stuff, I tend to believe it."

Long after September 11, 2001, most U.S. reporting seemed to be locked into a zone that excluded unauthorized ironies. It simply accepted that the U.S. government could keep making war on "terror" by using high-tech weapons that inevitably terrorized large numbers of people. According to routine news accounts, just about any measures deemed appropriate by Washington fit snugly under the rubric of an ongoing war that might never end in any of our lifetimes.

A year after 9/11, Nicholas Lemann wrote in the New Yorker, the "war on terror" was a phrase that "has entered the language so fully, and framed the way people think about how the United States is reacting to the September 11 attacks so completely, that the idea that declaring and waging war on terror was not the sole, inevitable, logical consequence of the attacks just isn't in circulation." In late November 2002, a retired U.S. Army general, William Odom, told C-SPAN viewers: "Terrorism is not an enemy. It cannot be defeated. It's a tactic. It's about as sensible to say we declare war on night attacks and expect we're going to win that war. We're not going to win the war on terrorism. And it does whip up fear. Acts of terror have never brought down liberal democracies. Acts of parliament have closed a few."

Variations on a simple dualism - we're good and people who don't like us are bad - had never been far from mainstream American politics. But 9/11 concentrated such proclivities with great intensity and narrowed the range of publicly acceptable questioning. "Inquiry into the nature of the enemy we faced, in other words, was to be interpreted as sympathy for that enemy," Didion wrote. "The final allowable word on those who attacked us was to be that they were 'evildoers,' or 'wrongdoers,' peculiar constructions which served to suggest that those who used them were transmitting messages from some ultimate authority." On the say-so of those in charge of the government, we were encouraged to believe that their worldviews defined the appropriate limits of discourse.

Four years after 9/11, those limits are less narrow than they were. But mass media and politicians still facilitate the destructive policies of the Bush administration. From Baghdad to New Orleans to cities and towns that will never make headlines in the national press, the dominant corporate priorities have made a killing. Those priorities hold sway not only for the Iraq war but also for the entire "war on terrorism."

While military spending zooms upward, a downward slide continues for education, health care, housing, environmental protection, emergency preparedness and a wide array of other essentials. Across the United States, communities are suffering grim consequences. "Now it should be incandescently clear that no one who has any concern for the integrity and life of America today can ignore the present war," Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967. The same statement is profoundly true in 2005.

Norman Solomon is the author of the new book War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. For information, go to:

Joe Conason on Bush

The bitter lessons of four years
Standing among the wreckage of two national disasters, it is no longer possible to deny the plain truth: Bush and his administration are unfit to wield power.

- - - - - - - - - - - -
By Joe Conason

Sept. 11, 2005 | It would have been almost impossible to imagine, during the days and weeks that followed the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that we might someday look back on that depressing time with a tinge of nostalgia. For Americans, and especially for those of us who live in New York City, those autumn memories are filled with rage and horror, fire and smoke, loss and death; but they are also filled with a spirit of courage, community and real patriotism. United we stood, even behind a government of dubious legitimacy, because we knew that there was no other way to defend what we valued.

In a strange way, Sept. 11 -- despite all the instantaneous proclamations that things would never be the same -- represented a final moment of innocence.

Now catastrophe has befallen another American city, with horrors and losses that may surpass the toppling of the twin towers. And while many people in New Orleans have shown themselves to be brave, generous and decent, this season's disaster has instilled more dread than pride, more anger than unity. Why is the mood so different now? At every level, the vacuum of leadership was appalling, but especially among the national leaders to whom all Americans look at a time of catastrophic peril. As rising waters sank the city, summer vacations in Texas and Wyoming, and shoe-shopping on Madison Avenue, appeared to take priority over the suffering on the Gulf Coast.

Four years after 9/11, we know much more than we knew then about the arrogance, dishonesty, recklessness and incompetence of a national government that was never worthy of its power.

We saw how the White House squandered, all too quickly, the uplifting national response to 9/11. Within a few months, Karl Rove was heard telling the Republican National Committee exactly how he planned to betray the Democrats who had unanimously lined up behind President Bush in the aftermath of the attack by using the "war on terror" as a domestic political weapon.

Rove replayed his cynical maneuver at the GOP convention last year, when New York served as the backdrop for more patriotic posturing -- while the Republicans in the White House and Congress refused to provide adequate funding to protect New York from another, possibly even more devastating attack. Disproportionate millions went from the Department of Homeland Security to rural towns that will never be threatened, while city and state officials continue to lack the money and manpower to protect ports, power stations and chemical plants. The same neglectful and perverse priorities withdrew funding from the levees protecting New Orleans.

We learned how the Bush administration misled the nation into invading Iraq to suppress a nonexistent threat from "weapons of mass destruction," while assuring us that the war would be cheap, easy, and almost bloodless. The administration's predictions have proved uniformly false and its prescriptions entirely useless, costing thousands of Iraqi and American casualties and hundreds of billions of dollars. The resulting damage to our national prestige, among both allies and enemies, may well be irreparable. And after all the sorrow and destruction, Iraq may end up as a hellhole of warring ethnic and religious groups, a haven for Islamist terrorists, and an instrument of the mullah regime in Iran.

We found out why the president, the vice president, and their aides wanted no investigation of the circumstances leading to the 9/11 attacks. For nine months they'd ignored the warnings of danger, first from the former officials of the Clinton administration, then from White House national security officials, and finally from the CIA itself in the notorious presidential daily briefing of Aug. 6, 2001.

More recently, we have discovered how they failed to act on an ominous report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, just weeks before 9/11, that pointed to the grave likelihood of a terrorist attack on New York City -- and of a deadly hurricane destroying New Orleans.

And we can have no doubt now, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, that critical agencies of the United States government are staffed by patronage hacks unable to fulfill the most basic responsibilities of the modern state. The outstanding example, of course, is Michael D. Brown -- apparently known as "Brownie" to the admiring president -- the FEMA chief whose résumé contains nothing to recommend him to one of the most critical positions in government, although he had amply padded it with unearned honors and bogus titles. He claimed, for instance, to have worked as an assistant city manager, when he was actually a glorified intern. (The holder of a degree from an unaccredited law school, Brown's most significant lifetime work experience was as a "commissioner" for a horse show association, a position he departed involuntarily and left off his official biography.)

In his pathetic insufficiency, Brown evidently was not alone at FEMA. The deputies and acting deputies and various other high-ranking pork-choppers -- many of whom had landed at the agency from positions with the Bush-Cheney campaign -- showed up with no experience in the hard work of saving lives and restoring communities.

But the FEMA phonies stand as symbols of far broader trouble in the Bush administration. When the Republicans first took over in 2001, and for many months thereafter, they assured us that they were the "grown-ups," and that they were "in charge." After 9/11, their flacks returned to this self-congratulatory theme, boasting that all Americans felt more secure and protected by Bush than they would if Al Gore were in the Oval Office. Their standard of accountability is to award the nation's highest decoration for public service to George Tenet and Jerry Bremer, as if nobody had noticed their notorious failures.

Pretenders such as these cannot extricate us from a debilitating war, nor can they rebuild the nation they destroyed; they have no idea how to allocate resources against terrorism, nor how to prepare for the disasters that will surely come. What the Republicans in power can do is set up photo ops, repeat spin points, concoct hollow slogans about "compassionate conservatism," and sidestep responsibility by whining about "the blame game."

On this anniversary, surrounded by the wreckage of four years of disastrously bad government, we must confront a profoundly disturbing reality. The performance of George W. Bush as president has proved to be far worse than even his most alienated critics could have predicted. His administration is far less concerned with our security than with its own self-serving ideology and its petty abuses of office.

Four years ago, as we contemplated potential threats from the enemies of civilization, it was impossible to conceive of the vast damage that our own government would inflict upon America before those enemies could strike again. The danger from the perpetrators of 9/11 has not abated, and suddenly we know how vulnerable we remain -- because the federal officials who have sworn to defend us, beginning with the president, have neither the character nor the competence to fulfill that oath.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

About the writer
Joe Conason writes a weekly column for Salon and the New York Observer. His book "Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth" is available here.
Sound Off
Send us a Letter to the Editor

Whatsoever you do for the least of these, my brothers, that you do unto me

To All My Fellow Americans Who Voted for George W. Bush:

On this, the fourth anniversary of 9/11, I'm just curious, how does it feel?

How does it feel to know that the man you elected to lead us after we were attacked went ahead and put a guy in charge of FEMA whose main qualification was that he ran horse shows?

That's right. Horse shows.

I really want to know -- and I ask you this in all sincerity and with all due respect -- how do you feel about the utter contempt Mr. Bush has shown for your safety? C'mon, give me just a moment of honesty. Don't start ranting on about how this disaster in New Orleans was the fault of one of the poorest cities in America. Put aside your hatred of Democrats and liberals and anyone with the last name of Clinton. Just look me in the eye and tell me our President did the right thing after 9/11 by naming a horse show runner as the top man to protect us in case of an emergency or catastrophe.

I want you to put aside your self-affixed label of Republican/conservative/born-again/capitalist/ditto-head/right-winger and just talk to me as an American, on the common ground we both call America.

Are we safer now than before 9/11? When you learn that behind the horse show runner, the #2 and #3 men in charge of emergency preparedness have zero experience in emergency preparedness, do you think we are safer?

When you look at Michael Chertoff, the head of Homeland Security, a man with little experience in national security, do you feel secure?

When men who never served in the military and have never seen young men die in battle send our young people off to war, do you think they know how to conduct a war? Do they know what it means to have your legs blown off for a threat that was never there?

Do you really believe that turning over important government services to private corporations has resulted in better services for the people?

Why do you hate our federal government so much? You have voted for politicians for the past 25 years whose main goal has been to de-fund the federal government. Do you think that cutting federal programs like FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers has been good or bad for America? GOOD OR BAD?

With the nation's debt at an all-time high, do you think tax cuts for the rich are still a good idea? Will you give yours back so hundreds of thousands of homeless in New Orleans can have a home?

Do you believe in Jesus? Really? Didn't he say that we would be judged by how we treat the least among us? Hurricane Katrina came in and blew off the facade that we were a nation with liberty and justice for all. The wind howled and the water rose and what was revealed was that the poor in America shall be left to suffer and die while the President of the United States fiddles and tells them to eat cake.

That's not a joke. The day the hurricane hit and the levees broke, Mr. Bush, John McCain and their rich pals were stuffing themselves with cake. A full day after the levees broke (the same levees whose repair funding he had cut), Mr. Bush was playing a guitar some country singer gave him. All this while New Orleans sank under water.

It would take ANOTHER day before the President would do a flyover in his jumbo jet, peeking out the widow at the misery 2500 feet below him as he flew back to his second home in DC. It would then be TWO MORE DAYS before a trickle of federal aid and troops would arrive. This was no seven minutes in a sitting trance while children read "My Pet Goat" to him. This was FOUR DAYS of doing nothing other than saying "Brownie (FEMA director Michael Brown), you're doing a heck of a job!"

My Republican friends, does it bother you that we are the laughing stock of the world?

And on this sacred day of remembrance, do you think we honor or shame those who died on 9/11/01? If we learned nothing and find ourselves today every bit as vulnerable and unprepared as we were on that bright sunny morning, then did the 3,000 die in vain?

Our vulnerability is not just about dealing with terrorists or natural disasters. We are vulnerable and unsafe because we allow one in eight Americans to live in horrible poverty. We accept an education system where one in six children never graduate and most of those who do can't string a coherent sentence together. The middle class can't pay the mortgage or the hospital bills and 45 million have no health coverage whatsoever.

Are we safe? Do you really feel safe? You can only move so far out and build so many gated communities before the fruit of what you've sown will be crashing through your walls and demanding retribution. Do you really want to wait until that happens? Or is it your hope that if they are left alone long enough to soil themselves and shoot themselves and drown in the filth that fills the street that maybe the problem will somehow go away?

I know you know better. You gave the country and the world a man who wasn't up for the job and all he does is hire people who aren't up for the job. You did this to us, to the world, to the people of New Orleans. Please fix it. Bush is yours. And you know, for our peace and safety and security, this has to be fixed. What do you propose?

I have an idea, and it isn't a horse show.

Michael Moore