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    Middle East
     Sep 11, 2008
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 gain.

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 state.

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 Iraq alone.

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 meaningful defense.

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 America safe.

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.

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