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9/11 Twenty Years On and On and On….

Summary:
By Lambert Strether of Corrente There are any number of 9/11 retrospectives right now using the “20 years on” locution (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and on and on and on). This is one more of them. For me, the event of 9/11 is only the spark that flashed along a long-laid fuse to the powder keg what was the Iraq War, an enormous strategic debacle, albeit very profitable to some[1], that is still playing out. I remember the day myself; for some reason, I turned on the television and there were the Twin Towers, burning. I was living in Philadelphia then, and later that day I handed my laptop bag over to security at Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse Square, and when the guard returned it to me, it was bricked, and I lost a lot of work that was important to me. Great metaphor. While

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By Lambert Strether of Corrente

There are any number of 9/11 retrospectives right now using the “20 years on” locution (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and on and on and on). This is one more of them. For me, the event of 9/11 is only the spark that flashed along a long-laid fuse to the powder keg what was the Iraq War, an enormous strategic debacle, albeit very profitable to some[1], that is still playing out. I remember the day myself; for some reason, I turned on the television and there were the Twin Towers, burning. I was living in Philadelphia then, and later that day I handed my laptop bag over to security at Barnes and Noble in Rittenhouse Square, and when the guard returned it to me, it was bricked, and I lost a lot of work that was important to me. Great metaphor.

While at the bookstore, I had turned several particularly offensive Bush and Republican hagiographies face down; it seemed the only possible form of defiance. The political atmosphere in 2000-2003 is almost impossible to describe to anyone who hasn’t lived through it; overheated and airless, like a church basement in winter during and endless coffee hour with the doors and windows nailed shut. After Bush v. Gore in 2000, liberal Democrats went into a sort of numbed trance; for a couple of years[2], literally the only mainstream dissenting voice was Paul Krugman, through whom I found Atrios, the great Philadelphia blogger, who was gave me an entree into the blogosphere, for which I will be forever grateful. If you want to know the stories that somebody blogging about the run-up to the Iraq War would have posted about a daily basis, Mother Jones (of all places) has a useful timeline, going back to the 90s. Vanity Fair (again, of all places) has a timeline for the Bush Administration. Disinformation is not new, not at all.

My view, after the Twin Towers fell, was that 9/11 was obvious blowback, a term we actually used back then. I thought then Mehdi Hasan thinks now: 9/11 was a crime, and should be handled as a matter of law:

Surely, in retrospect, for anybody whose mind and spirit are not consumed by greed or the lust to kill, it would have been better to capture the perpetrator(s)[3], and put them on trial in the Hague, as we did in fact do with Milošević. More economical, more supportive of that famous “rules-based international order,” enormous soft power good for decades to come. But that is not the route our country took.

This will not be an analytical post. I will present no theory of how 9/11 turned into Iraq, why we did what we did in Iraq, or why it turned out so horrifically. Rather, I will look only at individuals. First, at people affected by the Twin Tower’s fall; then, at public figures in power then, who, shamefully, are still in power today, twenty years on and on and on. I’ll also comment briefly on a few entities, like the New York Times, also in power then and now. In all cases, my commentary will be shallow and superficial, even lazy. That’s because I want you to join in with your own stories and commentary! There was a lot going on at the time…

Individuals

Let’s begin with “Field of Art: An Ohio Farmer’s Life-Size Tribute to 9/11 is Planting Seeds of Unity for 20th Anniversary.” Here’s the field:

9/11 Twenty Years On and On and On….

From the artist:

[Wilbur Meyer, a farmer in Brookville, Ohio is] also a volunteer firefighter, and his “God Bless America” field picture was also an effort to honor those fallen on that September day.

“We wanted to bring light to a lot of people’s day, especially right now with the current climate in the United States, it’s nice to bring some positive things.”

Well, this doesn’t bring light to my day — except for the technical aspects, which the article discusses — but it’s important to remember that for some people, it would.

From someone who breathed Manhattan’s air that day:

From a games designer:

And:

Interesting because the Bush Administration was driven by an evangelical power surge.

From a Yale epidemiologist:

And:

What he remembers, after the smell of the burning buildings.

From an Army officer:

But ending on a heart-tugging note:

I hate that “We don’t deserve dogs” meme, but in this case, it seems right.

Public Figures

Let us now turn to the march of folly by a few public figures, all of whom should feel great shame, and all of whom should long ago have been driven from public life.

Thomas Friedman (still a columnist at the New York Times). Here he is in 2001:

And in 2003, on our war aims in Iraq:

Listen to it all, to get a sense of where the press was at the time.

David Frum (Hero Of The Resistance™, Senior Editor at The Atlantic).

The sanctimony! It b-u-r-r-r-n-n-n-s!!!!! Frum, of course, was a speechwriter for George W. Bush. In fact, Frum wrote the speech that Bush used to justify the war:

[Bush’s] famous 2002 “axis of evil” State of the Union speech amed Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of the axis of countries that “pose a grave and growing danger….

The speech was widely perceived, as Alex Wagner of the Arms Control Association wrote at the time, to be Bush “setting the stage for military actions against one or all of these states in the next iteration of the administration’s war on terrorism.”

This turned out to be mostly correct: The speech was indeed part of the administration’s political groundwork for launching a war against Iraq. David Frum, the White House speechwriter credited with the “axis of evil” line, wrote in his memoir that the speech was designed to build a case for invading Iraq.

According to Frum, White House head speechwriter Michael Gerson approached him in December 2001, just three months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, to write the speech. “Here’s an assignment,” Gerson told him. “Can you sum up in a sentence or two our best case for going after Iraq?” According to Frum, “His request to me could not have been simpler: I was to provide a justification for war.”

Tellingly, the White House asked for the speech months before the Bush administration “revealed” intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction that would serve as casus belli for the invasion.

This suggests, as several investigations of Bush administration decision-making have independently found, that the Bush administration decided to invade Iraq irrespective of any links to weapons of mass destruction or the 9/11 attacks, and then later sought justification.

Dave, good job, both the speech and the “understanding” becoming “less certain with each passing year,” a sentence that in a just world would have been spoken from the dock at the Hague Tribunal.

And who can forget President George W. Bush (Elder Statesman)? Here he is, in 2001, standing on top of Twin Towers’ rubble — and, no doubt, body parts — with his bullhorn:

In 2008, an Iraqi does what we should have done:

George W. Bush today:

Finally, Bill Clinton:

It’s almost like Murder on the Orient Express, isn’t it? Plot twist: They all did it.

Institutional Entities

First, the New York Times, running interference for warmongers in 2001:

And running interference for warmongers now:

The Onion did much, much better:

Second, the press generally. From Responsible Statecraft, “Day of reckoning for the media handmaidens of war“:

For many critics, the very low point of the media’s pusillanimity came with the firing of talk show host Phil Donahue just one month before the first bombing of Baghdad in March 2003.

The longtime talk icon has always insisted he was sacked because of his vocal opposition to the coming invasion (ironically his slot was temporarily filled by an extended “Countdown: Iraq” show hosted by Lester Holt). “They were terrified by the anti-war voice,” he told Democracy Now 10-years later. “We weren’t good for business.”

According to former Minnesota Governor and Navy Seal Jesse Ventura, his own show on MSNBC was also canceled after a three-month run in 2003 because the network found out he had been publicly opposed to invading Iraq. Ashleigh Banfield, then at NBC, was literally reporting on the 9/11 attacks in New York when one of the towers collapsed behind her. She says her clock started ticking after she gave a controversial speech at Kansas State University criticizing war coverage in 2003 and sending a memo to her colleagues urging them “not to wave the banner and cover warfare in a jingoistic way. It didn’t sit well with my employers at NBC…I think they overacted. I was banished.”

This was hardly an NBC problem. Corporate media conformity after 9/11 was so powerful that the Bush administration was not only able to push through some of the most constitutionally questionable federal law enforcement powers in modern times, but launch two wars within a year and half of each other.

After supporting the Afghanistan operation in 2001, the establishment of Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay, and passively reporting the first signs of detainee torture by American forces, the media then gave the Bushies and their neoconservative surrogates a soapbox to promote the Iraq invasion in 2003. In the lead up to Iraq, according to one study, 75 percent of the guests and panels on the major networks were current or retired government officials toeing the administration line. “Major newspapers and magazines gave them prime space to make their case, including the possibility that 9/11 had been ‘sponsored, supported and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein,’” said Bill Moyers in a 2007 documentary called “Selling the War.”

Third, liberal Democrats. From the same source:

But while these few independent forums on the left and the right struggled for attention, liberal moderates dominated the networks, top newspapers, and magazines, and were absolutely critical in swaying elite opinion in favor of Bush’s second war That included voices like Fareed Zakaria, New Yorker editor David Remnick, and the New York Times’ Bill Keller, who penned a column entitled “The I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk-Club.” Michael Kelly wrote an essay for the Washington Post supporting the impending invasion as a liberation of the Iraqi people from under the “boot” of Saddam Hussein. Tragically, he was the first American journalist killed in Iraq two months later at the age of 46.

Fourth, CEOs:

Safe to say that in a just world all these entities would have far less power than they do today. CEOs especially!

Conclusion

I don’t really have a conclusion for this parade of horribles; suffice to say I watched it all unfold, and blogged about a lot of it in near-real time. Funny how many of the characters are the same, how similar the playbooks are, how groveling the press still is, and how disinformation pervades and corrupts all. Meanwhile, dull normals pull bodies out of the wreckage.

Oh, and as for 9/11: Ralph Nader was right:

So it goes. Readers, please feel free to share your own recollections….

NOTES

[1] Of course there was the oil:

But it’s not clear how well the “carving up” really went, at least for the United States.

[2] Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 911 came out only in 2004; I remember the view of people mingling outside the theatre was “Finally! Somebody said it!” Al Franken’s Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them came out only in 2003. Before that… Paul Krugman.

[3] I am being deliberately vague. However, this is not a 9/11 thread. So, as far as steel beams and aircraft fuel, or buildings that pancake, don’t even think about going there.

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