What Americans Should Learn From 9/11

The second airliner heads into the tower

 Facing Some Unpleasant Truths

It was a crystal clear day just like today, with blue cloudless skies, when the great terror struck New York a decade ago.   And as I survey the panoramic view of downtown Manhattan form my window on Harlem’s Sugar Hill, while listening to replays of the actual broadcasts on WNBC; it all comes back to me, bubbling up from the dusty basements of my consciousness.

The skyline of Manhattan looks natural now, but for a long time after the hijacked airliners crashed into the towers, bringing them down before our eyes, the city looked lopsided.  The Twin Towers were clearly visible from my windows, and I witnessed the second plane crash into the tower and saw them fall!

The towers looked different ways on different days, depending upon how the sun rays were reflecting off them.  They were a daily part of my life.  Hence I felt an acute sense of loss and had a hard time adjusting to the look of the city without the giant towers.

Since I began writing down my responses to the tragedy within hours after it happened, there is a clear record of my reaction. Then as now, I was appalled by the widespread sense of denial by my countrymen. Their expressions of disbelief and insistence on America’s innocence rang hollow with me.

I had been expecting a terrorist attack for several months because of the Palestinian Intifada provoked by Israeli leader Ariel Sharon when he created and incident at the “Dome of the Rock,” which Muslims call “The Mosque of Omar.” As I watched the violence on television, with Palestinians throwing rocks and the Israeli’s firing bullets, I became convinced that we would see a terrorist attack in response.

As the Palestinian people danced in the streets at the sight of the collapsing towers, I was convinced I had been right – in spite of a swift statement of denial from Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat. But history would prove me wrong – I had the right string but the wrong yo yo, as the song goes.  The attack had been the result of misguided American policy in the Middle-East, but the perpetrators had a different argument with the US and the Palestinian issue was almost ancillary.

Al Qaeda, was a far more deadly enemy, and unlike the Palestinian issue there is no obvious solution to the conflict between us; theirs is a historic grievance inspired by a rejection of modern secular society itself.  We had made an enemy that would never go away; entered a state of total war that wouldn’t end until one side or the other was annihilated.  The Bushmen’s misunderstanding of the nature of global Jihad made the 9/11 assault possible.

Despite ongoing attempts to cast the Bush Administration as innocent victims of volatile clandestine forces that nobody could have predicted, the historical record shows otherwise.  The evidence reveals a pattern of arrogance, ignorance and indifference to the advice of intelligence experts that led directly to 9/11, and the Iraq and Afghan wars that we are still fighting 11 years later.

This is the lesson of two very important books on the subject “Your government Failed You” by Richard Clark, written shortly after the attack, and the newly published 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars,” by Kurt Eichenwald, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and a former reporter for The New York Times.

The unique value of Dick Clark’s book is that it provided an insider’s view of the struggle to get then National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice to call a meeting of the different intelligence agencies and have them compare the bits and pieces of intelligence on Al Qaeda and see what picture would emerge, sort of like putting the pieces of a puzzle together.  She refused.

Dr. Rice was an expert on the Soviet era Russian military and nuclear war strategy.  Hence she was so obsessed with building the “Star Wars’ that she ignoring Dick Clarke’s warnings.  I fact, she was scheduled to present an important speech on “National Security” on the day of the attack.  But that speech was not on the looming threat from the Islamic Jihadists in Al Qaeda, but how to build the anti-missile system around Russia, although the soviet threat was gone!  History will not be kind to this wicked witch of the west.

The revelations in Kurt Eichenwald’s book shows how the neo-cons from the Project for a New American century, brought into the Bush Administration by Dirty Dick Cheney confused matters with their obsession with toppling Sadam Hussein in Iraq, a man who posed absolutely no threat to the US.

It was at their insistence that the CIA’s warning about the intention of Al Qaeda to launch a massive terror attack on the US.  And it was this same crew who came to prominence in the Bush foreign policy establishment after the attack, who talked Bush into invading Iraq, the most disastrous foreign policy decision in American history!

I have written at considerable length about how this decision was reached; for a detailed analysis of the decision making process that led to the attack on Iraq read “How the Iraq War was Hatched in a Think Tank” and “The Iraq attack: Bush’s March of Folly” on this blog.  What both of these essays show is that we got into the Iraq war the same way we got into the catastrophic Vietnam War: politicizing intelligence in order to justify a preconceived policy.

Later today I shall be posting a commentary on the present crisis in the Middle East – a complex, multifaceted, dangerous mess – and Mitt Romney’s response to it.  However it is critical that all Americans understand a minimal essential lesson we must from the 9/11 attack to avoid disaster in the future: Meddling in Middle Eastern politics is a very dangerous business, and politicizing intelligence to justify a war of choice deadly folly!

A Warning of Things to Come?

“Ye shall reap what ye sow”


Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

September 12, 2012


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