Before Sept. 11, 2001, the darkest and arguably most important reason anyone would remember that particular date is because on Sept. 11, 1973, a coup toppled Salvador Allende’s democratic government in Chile. The CIA–at the behest of President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger–had spent three years destabilizing the Chilean economy, creating exactly the kind of conditions ripe for a nice, violent overthrow. The result–which fit perfectly with U.S. interests at the time–was that a brutal anti-communist dictatorship took over for Allende (who killed himself during the coup).
But most people in this country don’t recall that. Instead, the term “9/11” has largely come to symbolize the terrorist attacks of 2001. And since this is America, we do two things on 9/11. First, big corporations (like White Castle, Applebee’s and–I’m not kidding with this one–Official Fleshlight) flood Twitter with sappy patriotic images telling us to “never forget,” as though this nation was capable of forgetting the horrors of the day terrorists hijacked four commercial airliners, damaged the Pentagon and destroyed the World Trade Center. And second, our government gets us into yet another ambiguous, unnecessary and unwinnable Middle Eastern war.
And yesterday and today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz very helpfully sent us two press releases that will help us through all this. Now we like Schatz. He’s one of the most liberal members of the Senate. We endorsed him in the August Primary, and we’ll likely do so again in November. But on this one, he’s just toeing a particularly cynical and bankrupt White House line that needlessly scares people into yet another war in the Middle East.
On Sept. 10, with no apparent sense of irony, President Barack Obama–who had campaigned for the presidency back in 2008 by opposing our then-War in Iraq–announced that we would step up our air assault on the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, though most other people call it ISIS–the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) by bombing military targets in Iraq and Syria currently held by that organization.
The best analysis of ISIS that I’ve found (courtesy The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) says the organization numbers about 11,000. They’re an extremely nasty Sunni organization that, above all else, wants to butcher and exterminate Shiites (they also want to overthrow the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, which I think is also an American goal). For that reason, Al Qaeda expelled them in February of this year. A few hours before Obama’s speech, U.S. Intelligence officials testified before Congress saying the group does not pose a current, imminent threat to the U.S. homeland.
But they’re organized conventionally, with armor and air power taken from the Iraqis, throughout Iraq and Syria. In a straight-up fight, a single American infantry division would probably make quick work of them.
That we spent many billions of dollars and nearly a decade building up and training the Iraqi Army, only to watch it melt away in days, like ice left on a summer sidewalk, is the great crime here (and one so far largely ignored by Obama). Nonetheless, ISIS recently executed two journalists, then posted videos of the murders online. Guess that means war, and Schatz is for it:
“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—ISIS—cannot be ignored. Compared to other terrorist groups in the region, this extremist Army is a unique threat to U.S. interests in and outside of the Middle East. It holds territory in Iraq and Syria where it trains with impunity; it uses extraordinary brutality to exert influence over local populations; and it uses force to try to redraw borders in an attempt to create an Islamic state. The United States must address this threat, but it cannot do so alone. We must coordinate with NATO allies and partners in the region to craft a deliberate, multilateral strategy to disrupt, degrade, and ultimately defeat ISIS.”
Schatz’s statement goes on about how he “opposes boots on the ground” but says “American air power can put pressure on ISIS fighters where they operate” (whatever that means–Obama’s also sent or will send about 900 “advisers” to Iraq, though it’s unclear how they’ll succeed where the U.S. Army failed over the last decade). It ends, perhaps because irony is the first casualty of war, with the following: “Regardless of whether or not the Administration has sufficient authority under the law to go after ISIS, it is prudent for the President to seek additional authorities from Congress to clarify the scope of the mission, ensure sufficient funds to support the effort, and reassure the American people that the United States will not become entangled in another costly war in the Middle East.”
It’s easy to blame former President George W. Bush for our being entangled in Iraq (he did, after all, order the invasion in 2003 based on the completely false pretexts that Saddam Hussein had active weapons of mass destruction and was cavorting with Al Qaeda) but American presidents throughout the Cold War have tried to “stabilize” the Middle East (ie, make sure the oil keeps flowing). Hell, it was President Ronald Reagan who provided covert intelligence assistance (and even chemical weapons) to Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War. We’ve been entangled in that region for decades, and it’s not ending anytime soon.
Which brings us to today, the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist acts. And another news release from Schatz:
“As we commemorate those who tragically died on 9-11, let us stand united with love for our country, in gratitude of our brave service members who keep America safe at home and abroad, and with determination for a world free of terror.”
That “determination for a world free of terror” pretty much guarantees that American missiles will rain down on the Middle East forever. It means American firepower will forever be destroying towns and killing civilians (whether accidentally or on purpose, it doesn’t much matter), which creates the conditions and recruits that breathe life into organizations like Al Qaeda and ISIS. And it means we’ll forever be allying with dictators like Assad and Saddam, before or even after we fight dictators like Assad and Saddam.
If only White Castle had told us to “learn from history” instead of merely to “never forget,” then maybe there might be hope.
2010 photo of controlled detonation in Iraq: The U.S. Army/PFC Gary Silverman/Wikimedia Commons