COMMENT Seven years on, three big 9/11 lies
By Muhammad Cohen
HONG KONG - Dear, sweet Laura Bush told the biggest, baldest lie at last week's
Republican National Convention. "Let's not forget," the first lady said,
"President [George W] Bush has kept the American people safe."
Mrs Bush, your husband and his administration did not keep the American people
safe. On September 11, 2001, nearly 3,000 people died, and more than 6,000 were
injured as al-Qaeda hijackers crashed commercial aircraft into the World Trade
Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington. The Bush people act as
if someone else was in charge when it happened.
It's the greatest political mystery of the 21st century, perhaps in
American history: how have the Republicans avoided responsibility for 9/11? How
can they keep claiming the deadliest attacks on the American mainland as a
badge of honor, rather than a stain on their record?
Mrs Bush's whopper is one of three big lies that the Republicans keep telling
on national security related to 9/11. The assault on the truth has gone on for
seven years, and last week's convention video of the disaster suggests it will
continue. Meanwhile, Democrats remain afraid to say the Bush administration has
no clothes on when it comes to national security lest they be accused of
politicizing 9/11, while Republicans keep flaunting the tragedy for partisan
The Bush administration's steadfast refusal to take any responsibility for the
attacks is absolutely mind-blowing. No appointee was fired for the most glaring
national security cock-up since Pearl Harbor, if not the British torching of
the White House in 1814. Then-national security advisor Condoleezza Rice
contends no one anticipated terrorists using airplanes to hit skyscrapers, even
though the Federal Bureau of Investigation analyzed the possibility in 1991.
For her incompetence and lack of candor, she was promoted to secretary of
As with other massive failures to anticipate, Hurricane Katrina and
administering Iraq, the Bush administration believes its appointees are always
"doin' a great job". In truth, failures at the highest levels of the national
security and intelligence communities set the stage of 9/11, but the Bush
administration won't admit it, and no one has ever been held accountable.
After bragging that it has kept America safe, Republicans then boast that
America hasn't been hit again. At the convention, Republican presidential
nominee Senator John McCain talked about a second attack "that many thought was
inevitable", even though no credible plot for further attacks has been found.
While it's true there's hasn't been a strike on the American homeland since
9/11, taking bows for that is based on faulty logic. As Bill Clinton might say,
it depends on how you define "again".
The same folks who say the US hasn't been hit again frequently contend the Iraq
occupation lets the US fight the terrorists over there instead of fighting them
in America. Never mind that were no international terrorists in Iraq before the
US invasion, or the implicit suggestion of using American soldiers as
sacrificial lambs to keep the bad guys away from the main flock. By the
over-there logic, the US has been hit 4,152 times and counting since 9/11 in
Some may argue that the US has been hit in other senses, such as the erosion of
constitutional rights at home and standing in the world (see lie number 3).
Anyone who goes through US airport security, tries sending money overseas, or
applies for a student visa with a name like Muhammad will see that the hits
just keep coming.
But the biggest lie in contending that the US hasn't been hit again since 9/11
is that the US did, in fact, get hit again on 9/11. Those attacks weren't a
first strike by an unknown foe but the highlight of a series of attacks by a
dedicated enemy. Al-Qaeda's war on the US began at the World Trade Center in
1993 with an attempt to blow up the Twin Towers with a truck bomb in the
garage. Al-Qaeda went on to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in
1998, and the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000.
But when they entered office, the Bush people downgraded the Clinton
administration's fight against al-Qaeda that included cruise missile attacks on
targets in Somalia and Afghanistan. The Bush people demoted the chief
counter-terrorism adviser to the National Security Council. Condoleezza Rice,
and reportedly George W Bush, saw the August 2001 national security briefing
memorandum entitled "Bin Laden determined to attack inside the United States"
and dismissed it. "It wasn't something that we felt we needed to do anything
about," Rice told the 9/11 Commission. So America got hit again, in the very
same spot where al-Qaeda first struck. Remember that old expression: Fool me
once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.
The final national security lie linked to 9/11 is the one that matters most
now. The Republicans claim that America is safer now because of the invasion of
Iraq. That's wrong by several measures.
Bush's two top reasons for the invasion were to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass
destruction and end its support for international terrorism. Both premises
turned out to be false. Since Saddam Hussein's Iraq posed no threat to the US,
overthrowing his government had negligible direct impact on American national
security. But invasion under the doctrine of preventive war in defiance of
international institutions and under false pretences, plus the deployment of
more than 150,000 troops for more than five years has wrought far-reaching
national security harm.
The Iraq invasion distracted the US military and the world from the real fight
against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. It also pre-empted providing Afghanistan with
the political and infrastructure foundations needed to create a modern nation.
Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden remains at large, and al-Qaeda has orchestrated
attacks on London, Madrid and beyond that have taken hundreds of lives.
The Iraq invasion - a unilateral attack on a Muslim majority country - has
served as al-Qaeda's best recruiting tool. It's given terrorists of all stripes
a training ground, just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did for Osama bin
Laden's generation. But you don't have to be a jihadi or even a Muslim to have
lost respect for America over the Iraq debacle. After enjoying virtually the
entire world's goodwill after 9/11, polls showed America's standing in the
world plummeted after the Iraq invasion. Favorable ratings are only recovering
now because the Bush administration is approaching its end. It's impossible to
calculate the impact of that tide of anti-Americanism in areas from the value
of the US dollar to the potential Einsteins and their parents who have decided
against moving to Bush's America.
It hasn't just been ordinary people who've noticed America is different since
9/11. Nations and their leaders have tacked in the wake of Iraq. Bush's "axis
of evil" designee North Korea has become a nuclear-armed international outlaw,
with the capacity to strike America's closest Asia allies, and perhaps even US
territory. Iran, the third member of the "Axis", has realized that when a
superpower says it will wage pre-emptive war, nuclear arms are the only
With America overstretched and distracted by Iraq and bogged down in
Afghanistan, Russia is reasserting its ambitions. It's using its energy
resources and armed forces against its neighbors, echoing the bygone days of
the Soviet Union. Other local bullies are watching with interest, realizing
that the US lacks the resources to counter military adventurism.
Facing a nuclear North Korea and an aggressive Russia, in debt to China,
reviled in much of the world, and still fighting two wars half a world away
from home, there's no way America is safer now than it was in March 2003 - when
the US invaded Iraq.
Unless, that is, you accept September 11, 2001, as an example of keeping
Former broadcast news producer Muhammad Cohen told America’s story to the
world as a US diplomat and is author of Hong Kong On Air (www.hongkongonair.com),
a novel set during the 1997 handover about television news, love, betrayal,
high finance and cheap lingerie.