It’s been five years already. Usually, anniversaries have a tendency of plunging us back into the past, to isolate an event, to describe it, to do the needed work of remembering, but too seldom to draw useful lessons for the future. But with September 11, 2001, everything is different. The world revolves around this pivotal date, which completely conditions our present lives. Just think about the security measures surrounding air travel.
Certainly, at the time there was the trauma of the attacks and an immense compassion for the American people, who were deeply effected, body and soul. But then there were other tragic events that make September 11 appear as a battle in the midst of an unfinished war. An audacious comparison perhaps, but September 11 reminds us of the disaster at Dunkirk during the Second World War. Both events delivered a psychological shock that exposed our weaknesses and blindness, and confronted us with a world that had changed without our becoming aware of it.
But in large measure, September 11 is the story of the tragic failure of the response to these traumatizing attacks. War in Afghanistan; in Iraq; a hysterical and counterproductive struggle against terrorism, with its slip-ups that tarnished the image of our democracies. When intelligence was required, brutal force against the wrong targets was employed instead.
Let’s be clear about this. After September 11, America could not remain with her arms crossed, merely resorting to diplomacy. Such an attitude would have been interpreted as a sign of weakness; as though the world’s hyperpower is incapable of defending itself. In this context, the war in Afghanistan was undoubtedly legitimate. After all, bin Laden had found refuge amongst the Taliban. And for the record, these same Taliban, and this must be understood, didn’t achieve power in Kabul without the benefit of several backers, including indirect support from the United States.
Even so, there was a certain coherence to the idea of striking the enemy at the heart. The result? pitiful. Bin Laden is still on the loose, the Taliban are making a strong comeback and the country is again covered with fields of poppy. Afghanistan is at the edge of collapse.
The case of Iraq is worse again. To blindness was added a messianic ideology. Saddam was surely a criminal, but he didn’t represent a real threat. He had neither contacts with terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda nor weapons of mass destruction. In this bad American case file all that remains is a helpless rage and the vengeance associated with the desire to control Iraq’s oil resources. In a word, an operation guided by ideology and meant, moreover, to bring home a “jackpot.” As delirious an adventure as was the departure of the Crusaders a thousand years earlier. After all, their motivations while marching to the Holy Land were not only religious.
This series of events has obviously contributed to a hardening on all fronts. Where we should have isolated those who practice terrorism, Washington supplied the compost of fantasy that confirmed their own thesis and reduced reality to a black and white world. As the Americans developed their response, they found echoes and confirmation [of their thesis] amongst stricken populations, who were the first victims of the American steam roller.
At the end of the day, the result is stupefying. Bush’s America, victim of September 11, has become a torturer in the eyes of most of the world’s residents.