Let’s Place Blame Where It’s Due

While social and news media are, justifiably, focused on the terrorist attacks in Paris, let us not forget the incompetence that allowed 9/11 to happen. And then let us not forget how the Bush Administration’s spectacularly wrong-headed response helped create what happened in Paris yesterday.

That said, the new information on 9/11 isn’t entirely new. New details of how badly the Bushies botched national security in 2001 keep trickling out, but it’s been trickling out for a while. See this post I wrote in light of then-new information in 2012.

Another 9/11

A New York Times headline asks, “Will we always remember 9/11?” The article is about the health care and compensation programs for responders and other survivors, which Congress appears willing to let lapse again.

But the question caused me to reflect on memory, and that we’re not all remembering the same day. We’d like to think that our memories are objective recordings of actual events, but they are not. I think memories are narratives we have crafted from our subjective impressions, and I suspect we all “remember” some things that never happened, or that happened very differently from what we remember.

So it was that as the Bush Administration tried to use 9/11 to hustle us into war in Iraq, the pro-war argument was “have you forgotten?” But the people asking that question were the ones who had forgotten, or who had too little experience of 9/11 to actually remember it. The war was never popular in New York City, possibly because people there really did remember.

This is one place where myths come from, I believe. “Memories” of real events become infused with meaning, and from the depths of our subconscious Jungian archetypes are summoned to act out that meaning. Eventually the details of the real event become completely lost, and only the archetypes and the reconstructed narrative remain. Modernity and recording technology frustrate this process but don’t stop it. Trutherism might be an example of post-modern myth making; unfortunately, the poor besotted truthers don’t recognize that’s what they’re doing.

At this point we all do remember that a Big Thing happened on September 11, 2001, but our recollections of that event have all become utterly personalized and subjective, so we really aren’t remembering the same thing.

The 9/11 Truth the Truthers Helped to Hide

Must. Read. Kurt Eichenwald, “The Deafness Before the Storm.”

Executive summary: In the spring and summer of 2001, the Bush Administration was given a lot more intelligence about bin Laden’s pending terrorist attack than has been brought to public attention so far. The infamous August 6 “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in U.S.” brief we do know about was only one of a string of briefs that provided much more intelligence about bin Laden’s intentions. The Bushies ignored this largely because the neocons who had taken over the Pentagon believed that bin Laden was trying to create a diversion from the real evil being concocted by Saddam Hussein. Seriously. Middle East experts who tried to explain that it was absurd to think that fundamentalist bin Laden and secularist Hussein were in cahoots were simply ignored. Although the Bushies did not know the time, place, and specific targets of the pending attack, it’s not unreasonable to think that if they had been on higher alert the 9/11 attacks could have been stopped.

I’m not going to excerpt the article because the whole thing needs to be read and digested. This ought to be bombshell stuff, although it probably won’t be. But I want to talk about the role of the truthers in shutting down inquiry into what the Bushies did, or didn’t do.

I began this blog in July 2002, after a number of news stories came out about how many warnings the Bush Administration had received about a pending terrorist attack. Even then there was much evidence the Bushies had been given a boatload of warnings from the retiring Clinton Administration and from U.S. intelligence that something huge and horrible was about to happen, and the Bushies ignored it.

Time went on, and George W. Bush was mythologized as the Rock of 9/11 who somehow deserved glory and honor for standing up to terrorists, even though he didn’t. I was frantic to have the events of 9/11 thoroughly investigated, and for the Bushies to be forced to answer basic what did they know, and when did they know it questions.

People may have forgotten how hard the Bushies fought to prevent the congressional hearings that eventually did happen, and that happened because some dedicated 9/11 widows didn’t give up. I thought the eventual 9/11 commission report was only a preliminary step, however. Unfortunately, political support for Bush prevented any follow up investigation, and the truthers helped the Bushies get away with this.

By Bush’s second term, the truthers and their ridiculous conspiracy theories had so muddied the waters that questioning how much Bush may have known before 9/11 branded one as an unserious crank. Liberals who told pollsters Bush knew about a pending terrorist attack before it happened were lumped into the same boat as people who still believe President Obama was born in Kenya. Van Jones was forced out of the Obama Administration because it came to light that in 2002 he had agitated for a congressional inquiry into 9/11 — you know, like the one that finally happened — and the Right rose up and called him a truther. Even to ask questions about how much the Bushies knew before 9/11 marked one as a lunatic.

Thus it was that truther craziness has stifled serious inquiry into what really happened on 9/11. This was something the late ALexander Cockburn, at least, saw clearly. I thought Cockburn was a crank himself, on many issues, but he’d been around the block enough times to have seen other wild-ass conspiracy theories create cover for the establishment and allow significant events to go uninvestigated.

I ran into a truther recently, on Facebook, who was still promoting the idea that one must either believe 9/11 was an “inside job,” the planes millions of people saw were really missiles, and that the World Trade Center towers fell because of a stealth controlled demolition job, or one must be a dupe accepting the “government version” of events. I really cannot abide truthers. I just hope I live long enough to see the whole story laid bare, in spite of the truthers.

October Thoughts

I had a brief moment of near agreement with George Will when he pointed out that the 10th anniversary of September 11 was observed much more intensely than the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor.

The most interesting question is not how America in 2011 is unlike America in 2001 but how it is unlike what it was in 1951. The intensity of today’s focus on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 testifies to more than the multiplication of media ravenous for content, and to more than today’s unhistorical and self-dramatizing tendency to think that eruptions of evil are violations of a natural entitlement to happiness. It also represents the search for refuge from a decade defined by unsatisfactory responses to Sept. 11.

Aside from Will’s curdled snip at “a natural entitlement to happiness” — a right to the pursuit of happiness wasn’t invented last week, George — I do like the line about a search for refuge from a decade of unsatisfactory responses to 9/11. Of course, Will’s ideas of what would have made a “satisfactory” response are different from mine, and the rest of Will’s column is his usual overwrought verbiage dump.

It might be that the September 11 remembrance was more a media event than a heartfelt national observance. I went to a multi-faith memorial last night held in a community in which several of the 9/11 dead had lived, and attendance was so-so. Maybe people preferred to stay home and watch 9/11 porn retrospsectives on TV.

One of the more interesting retrospective articles from the Washington Post was a pundit score card. It looks back at what the gasbags were saying ten years ago to judge who got it right and who got it wrong.

Some of the “wrongs” surprised me. This pro-torture op ed from November 2001 was allegedly written by the usually level-headed Jonathan Alter, although I see his name is not on it now. And Michael Moore exhibited a bad case of American exceptionalist myopia by declaring the terrorist attack was a reaction to the result of the 2000 presidential election.

Some of the most interesting, or at least significant, reactions are from October 2001.

Max Boot’s October 2001 declaration that the world was hungering for an American Empire is not, unfortunately, in a class by itself. Someday historians may decide that, in some ways, Iraq was to America what Russia was to Napoleon. We are a much diminished nation now, although some people have yet to realize that.

In another October 2001 column by Fawaz Gerges, now a professor at the London School of Economics, wrote that “many Muslims suspected the Bush administration of hoping to exploit this tragedy to settle old scores and assert American hegemony in the world.” Professor Gerges saw this before I did.

One October 2001 observation not mentioned in the Washington Post was by Buddhist scholar David Loy, quoted in a talk by Zen teacher Taigen Leighton.

Loy says, ” President Bush declared that the United States has been called to a new worldwide mission to rid the world of evil.” Bush said, “The government is determined to rid the world of evil-doers. Our land of freedom now has a responsibility to extirpate the world of its evil. We may no longer have an evil empire to defeat but we have found a more sinister evil that will require a long-term, all-out war to destroy.”

Loy writes, “When Bush says he wants to rid the world of evil, alarm bells go off in my mind, because that is what Hitler and Stalin also wanted to do. I’m not defending either of those evil-doers, just explaining what they were trying to do. What was the problem with Jews that required a final solution? The earth could be made pure for the Aryan race only by exterminating the Jews, the impure vermin who contaminated it. Stalin needed to exterminate well-to-do Russian peasants to establish his ideal society of collective farmers. Both were trying to perfect this world by eliminating its impurities. The world could be made good only by destroying its evil elements. Paradoxically, then, one of the main causes of evil in this world has been human attempts to eradicate evil.”

Loy continues, “What is the difference between Bin Laden’s view and Bush’s? They are mirror opposites. What Bin Laden sees as good, an Islamic jihad against an impious and materialistic imperialism, Bush sees as evil. What Bush sees as good, America the defender of freedom, Bin Laden sees as evil. They are two different versions of the same holy war between good and evil.”

I take it that Loy caught some heat from other theologians for writing that in October 2001. But it stands up pretty well now.

No Glory

I’ve linked to this in the past, but it’s still good — “The Long Funeral” by John Homans, published in New York magazine in 2006.

New Yorkers tended to want to keep 9/11 (“it happened to us”) for their own, but no one believed that could happen. The grief culture this country has lived in for the past five years began in those spontaneous shrines, but it didn’t end there. Before the week was out, many different interests had moved in to stake their claims on its meaning.

As an event, 9/11 was a perfect entry point into the softness and indulgence and inwardness that mass media are most comfortable exploiting. In this, it was clearly part of what came before, the high-rated bathos of the deaths of Princess Di and JFK Jr. (or more recently, for that matter, the cat stuck in the wall of a West Village bakery), the media’s hunger for strong emotion coupled with its ability to make huge numbers of people think the same thing at the same time. The journalistic necessity of putting faces on the story minted a huge new class of celebrities, dead and alive. Jokes, of course, could be told about Princess Di and JFK Jr. But the grief culture that had just been born imposed its own form of correctness. The circles of loss and victimhood created a new etiquette—who could speak first, what could be said.

Paul Krugman writes today,

What happened after 9/11 — and I think even people on the right know this, whether they admit it or not — was deeply shameful. The atrocity should have been a unifying event, but instead it became a wedge issue. Fake heroes like Bernie Kerik, Rudy Giuliani, and, yes, George W. Bush raced to cash in on the horror. And then the attack was used to justify an unrelated war the neocons wanted to fight, for all the wrong reasons.

Back to Homans in 2006 —

Bush and his administration quickly swooped down to scoop up the largest part of the 9/11 legacy. The justified fear and rage and woundedness and sense of victimhood infantilized our political culture. The daddy state was born, with attendant sky-high approval ratings. And for many, the scale of the provocation seemed to demand similarly spectacular responses—a specious tactical argument, based as it was on the emotional power of 9/11, rather than any rearrangement of strategic realities.

Of course, the marriage of the ultimate baby-down-a-well media spectacle with good old American foreign-policy adventurism was brokered by Karl Rove, who decreed that George Bush would become a war president, indefinitely.

Krugman, today:

The memory of 9/11 has been irrevocably poisoned; it has become an occasion for shame. And in its heart, the nation knows it.

Homans 2006 —

The memory of 9/11 continues to stoke a weepy sense of American victimhood, and victimhood, as used by both left and right, is a powerful political force. As the dog whisperer can tell you, strength and woundedness together are a dangerous combination. Now, 9/11 has allowed American victim politics to be writ larger than ever, across the globe. When someone from Tulsa, for example, says, “It’s important to remember 9/11 every day,” what he means is, “We were attacked, we are the aggrieved victims, we are justified.” But if we were victims then, we are less so now. This distorted sense of American weakness is weirdly mirrored in the woundedness and shame that motivate our adversaries. In our current tragicomedy of Daddy-knows-best, it’s a national neurosis, a perpetual childhood. (With its 9/11 truth-conspiracy theories, the far left has its own infantile daddy complex, except in that version, the daddies are the source of all evil.) No doubt, there are real enemies, Islamist and otherwise, more than ever (although the cure—the Iraq war—has inarguably made the disease worse). But the spectacular scope of 9/11, its psychic power, continues to distort America’s relationships. It will take years for the country to again understand its place in the world.

As you can imagine, righties are having screaming fits over what Krugman wrote today. But as Homans wrote five years ago, there’s a common feeling among New Yorkers that this profound and intimate experience was ripped away from us and exploited and re-interpreted by others who weren’t part of it, who weren’t even here.

New Yorkers responded to the disaster with grace and courage. It still inspires me that so many were able to escape, and they did so helping each other, often strangers, to get away. People were afraid, but no one was trampled to death in the WTC stairwells or on the streets. The courage of the firefighter and other responders also is not diminished.

I even give Rudy Giuliani credit for holding the city together emotionally in the hours and days immediately after the attacks, especially while the “President” was still flapping around aimlessly in Air Force One or hiding in the White House. But the fact remains that his own policies and decisions were partly responsible for the deaths of many firefighters that day. And since then he’s taken self-glorification to Olympic, and sickening, heights. But for a while, he found the right words when the city needed the right words.

But I utterly disagree with Jeffrey Goldberg

Self-criticism is necessary, even indispensable, for democracy to work. But this decade-long drama began with the unprovoked murder of 3,000 people, simply because they were American, or happened to be located in proximity to Americans. It is important to get our categories straight: The profound moral failures of the age of 9/11 belong to the murderers of al Qaeda, and those (especially in certain corners of the Muslim clerisy, along with a handful of bien-pensant Western intellectuals) who abet them, and excuse their actions. The mistakes we made were sometimes terrible (and sometimes, as at Abu Ghraib and in the CIA’s torture rooms, criminal) but they came about in reaction to a crime without precedent.

Reaction, yes. That’s the whole problem. We reacted. We didn’t respond, we reacted. I wrote awhile back,

A wise person pointed out to me once that there’s a difference between reacting and responding. As it says here, reacting is a reflex, like a knee-jerk. Reacting is nearly always triggered by emotions — attraction or aversion — and is about making oneself feel better. Responding, on the other hand, is a thought-out and dispassionate action that is primarily about solving a problem.

Another article I had linked to in the paragraph above has since disappeared, but the point is that in reacting, we gave more power to al Qaeda. We let them goad us into reacting with the worst in ourselves. Al Qaeda didn’t torture prisoners at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo; we did. Al Qaeda didn’t play fast and loose with our 4th Amendment rights; we did. Al Qaeda sure as hell didn’t force us to start a pointless war in Iraq.

Basically, what Goldberg is saying is that lynch mobs are blameless because, you know, they’re just reacting to something outrageous. But we Americans like to pretend, at least, we’re better than that. I guess not.

The Usual Hysteria

At Salon, Joe Conason writes about the attempts by Sarah Palin and others to whip up outrage and hysteria about the Islamic center that may be built in lower Manhattan. The world’s greatest city is not siding with the haters, Conason writes.

Certainly, you can find a few people in New York who are opposed to the center. I understand that about 100 or so showed up at a hearing a few days ago to protest the building. But in a population as big and as dense as Manhattan’s, I bet there are at least 100 people who sincerely believe they are the Tooth Fairy.

I’m sure many people around the nation hear about a 13-story building and picture it looming over Ground Zero. But the block just south of the mosque site is filled by a 20-story office complex. And the block just south of that is dominated by a massive federal building. Here is a satellite image of lower Manhattan that shows these buildings directly in between the proposed mosque site and Ground Zero.

So no, people will not be able to see Ground Zero from the mosque site, unless they have x-ray vision. Likewise, people at ground level at the old World Trade Center site will not be able to see the mosque. Given the size and location of the federal building, I’m not sure people would be able to see the mosque from Ground Zero even from a tower.

Mayor Bloomberg refuted Palin’s recent tweets about the mosque:

“I think our young men and women overseas are fighting for exactly this,” Bloomberg said. “For the right of people to practice their religion and for government to not pick and choose which religions they support, which religions they don’t.”

And Borough President Scott Stringer tweeted, “@SarahPalinUSA NYers support the #mosque in the name of tolerance and understanding. You should learn from the example we set here in #NYC.”

This really is the world’s greatest city.

I keep bringing this up because (a) it’s ridiculous, and (b) one of the reasons it has taken so long to build at Ground Zero is that wingnuts around the country keep interfering. Some of the early plans were scrapped, for example, because a proposed art center would have housed a gallery, now located elsewhere, that once upon a time exhibited some paintings with a political message the wingnuts didn’t like. As I remember, at the time, the wingnuts wanted a “museum” — more like a temple — built in honor of George W. Bush’s Iraq War.

Notice that these are the same people who claim to support “small government” and “freedom.” But the only “freedom” they really want is the freedom to control the rest of us.

Wingnuts: If you ain’t a New Yorker, butt out.

Peeing on the Trees

Media Matters says MSNBC actually hosted Pam Geller to explain why a mosque should not be built near the Ground Zero site. To me, this is a bit like bringing on Tom Delay to discuss ethics in government. Although, come to think of it, I believe that’s been done, too.

I understand the mosque is to be built at 45 Park Place, which is a couple of blocks away from the Ground Zero site. Just for fun, I pinpointed that location on Google Maps to show its physical proximity to Ground Zero:

Site of Mosque

Proximity of Proposed Mosque to Ground Zero

Don’t be confused by the World Trade Center subway station. That’s just the name of a subway station. The actual Ground Zero site is below Vesey Street; click here for an expanded view.

The way people had been going on about this, I thought the mosque was going to be built next to Ground Zero, but it isn’t. The mosque will be only 13 stories high, which in lower Manhattan ain’t nothin’. Given the other structures in that neighborhood, I can’t imagine the mosque would be visible from Ground Zero (except looking down on it from a high-rise, if they ever build one there). And I doubt Ground Zero would be visible from the mosque, unless they bulldoze all the buildings in between.

So, what’s the big bleeping deal? Geller said,

GELLER: We know in Islamic history that they build triumphal mosques on the cherished sites of sacred lands of conquered lands. So how is building a mosque, looking down at the cemetery of ground zero where they’re still finding remains outreach?

Unless they’re planning to build a 110-story mosque, it won’t be “looking down” on Ground Zero. However, it appears it might be looking down on the Amish Market. Somebody should alert the Amish.

Apparently there was some kind of hearing on the building of the mosque recently, and from the video it’s obvious hardly anyone showed up for it. I’ve seen some headlines that suggest there is some groundswell of opposition to building the mosque in Manhattan, but I don’t think most Manhattanites are that worked up about it.

To their credit, NBC and CBS have refused to air a hateful Muslilm-bashing ad in opposition to the mosque. But that doesn’t make up for MSNBC actually giving a platform to Crazy Toxic Hate Geller.

Righties are trying to tie anyone associated with the mosque to jihad, but of course to righties everyone remotely associated with Islam is a jihadist. The mosque is a project of the Cordoba Initiative, which appears to be an organization of moderate and peaceful Muslims who oppose sectarian violence. (So if we can’t be tolerant to Muslims who want peace and harmony, which Muslims can we be tolerant to? Why, none, of course. That’s the point, to hate all Muslims because they are Muslims.)

And then there’s the Florida birther-preacher named Bill Keller who wants to build a “9/11 Christian Center” as an alternative (?) to the mosque. As if there aren’t a number of large churches already there, including the famous St. Paul’s Chapel. St. Paul’s, where George Washington went to pray after his first inauguration as President, really is adjacent to the Ground Zero site but, remarkably, sustained only minor damage that day. For weeks after it was used as a “rest” station for Ground Zero workers. Parishioners kept the church open 24/7 and provided food, first aid, and places to rest for the workers.

There’s your “9/11 Christian Center.” What Bill Keller wants to do isn’t “Christian,” it’s just territorial marking. He wants to come here and pee on our trees, so to speak. Keller, stay home.

Great Day for America: Only 300 Brainwashed Dupes Rally to Appease Terrorists

Someone named Kejda Gjermani writes about being among 300 to 400 people on Foley Square, Manhattan, yesterday. They were protesting the upcoming trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others alleged to be responsible for the 9/11 attacks. In Manhattan, you can more people than that to line up for coffee and bagels. Even the dimmer New Yorkers who don’t grasp the significance of a civil trial are not worked up enough about it to protest, apparently.

Doubtless, the weather deterred many would-be attendees. But the 300-400 people who had shown up were determined and righteously angry–at the president’s and attorney general’s measly arguments for extending to the 9/11 mastermind the same legal privileges of American citizens; at the travesty of justice that his civil trial would entail; and at the cheap rhetorical shots through which the administration is dismissing the critics of its decision.

Cheap rhetorical shots like calling the lot of you cowards and appeasers of terrorism, Kejda Gjermani? Because as far as I’m concerned, that’s what you are. Instead of standing up to terrorists, you would rather fearfully betray our laws and values and demonstrate to terrorists we’re the despots they thought we were. Thanks loads.

The poor sap Gjermani actually quotes the engraving on the New York State Supreme Courthouse — “The true administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good government” — as an argument for military trials. Stupid, much?

The rally was sponsored by something called the 9/11 Never Forget coalition, which is supposed to be “a diverse group of 9/11 victims, family members, first responders, active and reserve members of the military, veterans, and concerned Americans.” The comment I left on their website is awaiting moderation and I don’t expect it to be posted, so here it is —

Speaking as someone who was in lower Manhattan on 9/11 — after years of listening to President Bush claim that we were attacked because “they hate us for our freedoms,” it seems to me that trying KSM in a civilian court in New York City is the biggest flipped middle finger we could display to the terrorists. Trying KSM secretly in a military court is cowardly and caving in to terrorists, and all of the people on this panel should be ashamed of themselves.

But someone named Joe Citizen left a better comment —

I respect all of you, but think you terribly wrong on this issue. I am thrilled that the Justice Department has refused to play the game that KSM and his ilk wish, that they be considered some sort of legitimate military force fighting for their people. They are the lowest form of murderous criminals, and I am thankful that a jury of New Yorkers will get to pass judgment on their crimes.

I don’t know why exactly you people have chosen to take the opposite position on this. Some amongst you are driven, I am sure, by rank political opportunism, some others I fear, do not have much confidence in the American judicial system, or the American people. Maybe there are other more benign motivations, but they are erroneous and damaging.

Our American system, and our American values, are fully capable of dealing with horrendous crimes like this, and I wish you all would understand and support that.

That says it all pretty plainly, and it got past the site moderator. Glory be.

The Bush Ministry of Truth

The word disgust isn’t strong enough.

In a press conference today, a reporter asked White House Press Secretary Dana Perino about the administration’s ongoing efforts to find Osama bin Laden, calling him the “mastermind” of 9/11. Perino interrupted the reporter, claiming bin Laden was not the true “mastermind” of the attacks:

Q But Osama bin Laden is the one that — you keep talking about his lieutenants, and, yes, they are very important, but Osama bin Laden was the mastermind of 9/11 –

PERINO: No, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was the mastermind of 9/11, and he’s sitting in jail right now.

And we’ve always been at war with Eastasia. See also Cernig.

I’ve published my annual September 11 sermon on the other blog. It’s a bit dark; I seem to be in a dark place these days. If you’re tired of me rambling on about how awful things are, please do read this talk given by Zen teacher Taigen Leighton on October 6, 2001. He foresaw that the Bush Administration was about to lead us down a very wrong road.

Update: Larisa points out that the FBI’s most wanted listing for bin Laden doesn’t mention 9/11 at all.