On the morning of September 11, 2001, I was a little late leaving for work. As I passed a motel on the 28th Street frontage road, a man ran out and yelled, “They hit the Pentagon, too!” I ignored him. Didn’t have time to deal with some nutcase. I hadn’t heard about the terrorist attacks.
As it turned out, the guy’s freakout was understandable. He was probably from out of town and I was the first person he could talk to. That discombobulated and horrific day provoked a vulnerability in all of us that morphed into a sort of national solidarity.
But soon the Bush administration would squander the public-spiritedness. Soon anybody who dissented from their policies was suspicious. “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,” Bush announced.
The mainstream news media fell in line and discordant political commentators were purged from cable networks. Pop culture, from TV to movies and music, suddenly became jingoistic. Cultural historian Lynn Spigel notes, “It became unpatriotic to suggest that there was anything wrong with the United States.” A radio conglomerate sent out a memo to stations around the country with a long list of songs hosts should avoid.
We were enveloped in a fog of hubris and magical thinking. The U.S. was the only superpower on the planet and we could apparently ignore empirical reality.
In 2004, journalist Ron Suskind interviewed a top Bush aide, later identified as dirty trickster Karl Rove. He told Suskind that guys like him were in “the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.”
Rove said, “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
Let’s go back to 1992 when then-Senator Joe Biden, an influential and rather hawkish member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, raised alarms at a neo-conservative U.S. grand strategy put forth by the George H.W. Bush administration. He denounced it as “literally a ‘Pax Americana.’ A global security system where threats to stability are suppressed or destroyed by U.S. military power.”
The strategy was promoted in 1997 by a newly created Project for the New American Century (PNAC). The group published two letters in 1998 urging the Clinton administration and Congress to, among other things, “be prepared to use (military) force . . . to help remove (Iraqi President) Saddam (Hussein) from power.”
Clinton ignored them but when George W. Bush became president, the neo-conservative worldview dominated foreign policy, with PNAC members such as Dick Cheney (Vice President) and Donald Rumsfeld (Defense Secretary) taking charge.
Hardly five hours after the 9/11 attacks, Rumsfeld was telling his aides to come up with plans for striking Iraq—even though there was no evidence linking Saddam Hussein to the attacks.
Over and over, the Bush neo-conservatives made claims that Saddam was involved with al-Qaeda or even behind 9/11. That Saddam was reconstituting his weapons of mass destruction program. These were lies. The neo-cons clashed with the U.S. intelligence community over this.
We were told that the forceful military might was necessary to stop another 9/11. But the wars grind on without peace or victory. The Costs of War project at Brown University recently released a report saying that the cost of the global “war on terror” stands at $8 trillion and 900,000 deaths.
Donald Trump came along and claimed the elites don’t allow the military to do what needs to be done. He had the attitude of a ‘Soldier of Fortune’ T-shirt which said “Kill Them All And Let God Sort Them Out” (an unofficial slogan of U.S. Special Forces in Vietnam as well as in Iraq and Afghanistan with Allah sorting them out).
Civilian deaths from airstrikes in Afghanistan increased drastically during the Trump era, according to the Costs of War project. The number of civilians killed rose about 330 percent from 2016, the last full year of the Obama administration to 2019. Trump relaxed the rules of engagement for bombing.
Trump’s envoys signed a peace deal with the Taliban without the involvement of the Afghan government. Some 5000 Taliban prisoners were released from prison. This was a signal that the game was over. Afghan tribal leaders cut their own deals with the Taliban. Military commanders surrendered to the Taliban. Is it surprising the regime collapsed so quickly?
In an alternative reality, the war comes home. The arrested January 6 insurrectionists are political prisoners. Climate change is a hoax. The virus is like the flu. Every election is stolen if the Republican loses. Help!
This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.