Chomsky Reconsiders Bombings in '9/11'


In the aftermath of the horrific 9/11 terrorist attacks that forever left searing images of the twin towers of World Trade Center collapsing and killing 3,000 Americans, any probing of George W. Bush’s decisions almost inevitably triggered the response, “Why do you hate America so much?” as cartoonist Tom Tomorrow so astutely observed.

When Noam Chomsky published a brief book in 2001 on the terrorist attacks and their context in late 2001, he stepped into a politically radioactive environment as Americans grieved for the loss of 3,000 American lives and many called blindly for revenge. Despite the fact that Chomsky’s book, simply titled 9/11, was published by the small Seven Stories Press, it became an international best-seller and hit the top-selling list in the New York Times, and got published in 24 nations.

The New Yorker captures the central reason for its global popularity and power: “It was practically the only counter-narrative out there at a time when questions tended to be drowned out by a chorus, fed by the entire United States Congress, of God Bless America.”

Indeed, Congress rushed to pass the repressive USA PATRIOT Act and to absurdly re-label French fries as “freedom fries.” Alternative responses to war were contemptuously marginalized as unpatriotic or naïve. The unprecedented appeal for the US to avoid war, made by unprecedented gatherings totaling 10 million to 15 million people across the globe in February, 2003, reflecting majority opinion in virtually every nation, was brushed aside with a sneer from the White House.

Bent on pressing ahead with the war, the George W. Bush /Dick Cheney administration plunged into an unfocused, indiscriminate “War on Terror” reaching Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The war on terror has actually consolidated extreme forces in the Muslim world, making the US actually less secure, as Chomsky predicted in 2001.

Ten years later, Chomsky has returned to the topic with a new edition of the book, called 9/11: Was There an Alternative? featuring an indispensable new section focused on the provocative question asked in the title.

“A different approach could have isolated bin Laden and his forces, Chomsky argues. “There is every likelihood that the Jihadi movement, much of it highly critical of bin Laden, could have been split and undermined after 9/11.” Instead of being driven by George W. Bush’s “You are with us or with the terrorists” mentality,” the US could have summoned the international community in tracking down and administering justice to those responsible, Chomsky maintains.

“The ‘crime against humanity,’ as it was rightly called, could have been approached as a crime, with an international operation to apprehend the likely suspects. That was recognized at the time, but no such idea was even considered.”

Instead, the US quickly launched an invasion of Afghanistan in the name of capturing bi Laden, a goal quickly abandoned as the Bush-Cheney administration began to focus its resources on preparing for the invasion of Iraq, which was uninvolved in 9/11. US forces quickly tossed out the Taliban, whom few in the media dared to identify as the product of US-backed Islamic fanatics brought into Afghanistan to fight the Russian-backed rulers of that nation in the 1980s.

By concentrating the most zealous, ultra-fundamentalist and violent adherents of a twisted version of Islam from more than three dozen nations into one fighting force, the US created a hothouse of fanaticism from which both the Taliban and al Qaeda emerged. Moreover, the US provided these forces with billions of dollars of weapons, including thousands of compact surface-to-air missiles capable of shooting down civilian airliners. In the words of former CIA senior official Michael Scheuer, who was responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden since 1996, “US forces and policies are completing the radicalization of the Islamic world, something Osama bin Laden has been trying to do with substantial but incomplete success since the early 1990’s. As a result, I think it is fair to conclude that the United States remains bin Laden’s only indispensable ally.”

The US has consolidated its ironic alliance with bin Laden through the deaths of untold hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the application of waterboarding and other techniques of “advanced interrogation,” “special rendition” of suspects to US allies for advanced interrogation techniques overseas, the killing sprees by the Blackwater (now Xi mercenaries), permitting the destruction of Iraq’s heritage (eg., the looting of the Baghdad museum), the decimation of its infrastructure providing electricity and clean water, and the death of innocent Pakistanis by unmanned drones. (Chomsky thoroughly discusses the full impact of US aggression among these nations in books such as Failed States, Hegemony or Survival and What We Say Goes.) The US occupation of Iraq has also been included turning control of the economy over to zealous young US conservatives, who shut down needed government-owned industries like cement-making and destroyed scarce jobs because of their eagerness to re-shape the society according to their rigid free-market blueprint, as Naomi Klein recounts in The Shock Doctrine.

By conducting itself in such a fashion, the US has reinforced bin Laden’s depiction to young Muslims of America’s dominating and lawless role in the region. Even by shooting an unarmed bin Laden in the head, the US fell into his “diabolic plan” by so predictably acting out the part ascribed to it by the al Qaeda leader.

While many in the US reacted with undisguised jubilation at the carefully planned killing of bin Laden and his burial at sea, other Americans and the rest of the world viewed it more soberly as a missed opportunity to finally bring bin Laden to justice and reassert the value of respecting international standards of conduct. Former German Prime Minister Helmut Schmidt declared that “the US raid was ‘quite clearly a violation of international law.”

The Iraq war is now universally recognized as an unnecessary war of choice, with Dick Cheney responsible for selectively sifting through intelligence material to justify the war in name of Saddam Hussein obtaining weapons of mass destruction—and punishing those like Joe Wilson who disputed the views of Cheney and other hard-liners. But we know now from the Downing Street Memos (which made a huge sensation in Britain, but created a “dud” as treated by the US media system) that “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.

The war against terror is creating the potential for even worse terrorism.

Thus, the US military presence in Pakistan, the death of innocent civilians from unmanned US drones, and the US incursion into Pakistan to kill bin Laden have been enormously de-stabilizing to both the civilian government and military, and increasing the chances of nuclear material being stolen by Pakistani extremists for development of a weapon to be used in an attack against the West. Chomsky warns of “a nightmare scenario,” steadily being brought closer to reality by the Obama-[Gen.] Petraeus Afpak strategy.” Rather than producing more security, the US operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan “had radicalized parts of a generation f of Muslins who saw the military actions as an attack on Islam,” according to the former chief of British domestic intelligence. “As is often the case, security was not a high priority for state action.”

Moreover, the invasion of Iraq by Bush is the “supreme international crime” as defined by former Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, who was chief counsel for the US at the Nuremberg trial of Nazi war criminals. Chomksy declares, “Uncontroversially, he ... [George W. Bush] is the ‘decider’ who gave the orders to invade Iraq—that is, to commit [what Jackson described] as the ‘supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.’” He further quotes an ominous caution from Jackson: “We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants (accused Nazi war criminals] is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow.”

The US earned the dubious distinction of being the only nation cvoncited of “terrorism” — specifically, “the unlawful use of force” — in the World Court, based on its relentless activities against the revolutionary government and people of Nicaragua in the 1980s. The US financed a war of terror specifically aimed at unarmed “soft targets” — schools, clinics, teachers, doctors and nurses.

It utterly ignored the World Court’s verdict, and e[pisode goes almost entirely without mention in the US media.

Equally absent from the mainstream media is the extensive US role in “The first 9/11,” the bloody overthrow of democratically-elected democratic socialist President Salvador Allende on Sept. 11, 1973.

Leading up to the coup, the US systematically bought off the owners of the nation’s key newspaper in order to publish false news reports and other US propaganda, set up the assassination of a prominent Chilean general, instigated and financed lockouts and strikes, and did “everything possible to “make its economy scream, in the words of Richard Nixon.

The crime of Allende and the Chilean people: a strategy to build a uniquely broad political coalition and to devise socialist economic programs that were a “virus” threatening to infect other nations like Italy where the Left was then steadily gaining ground. The response of the US and its local allies in Chile produced the death of Allende and thousands of other Chileans, the tortuined of tens of thousands, and the installation of harsh “free-market” programs by the Chicago Boys”—economists trained by Milton Friedman—that resulted in the banning of unions, the privatization of Socail Security, and a shift toward one of the most unequal societies on earth. (This is essentially the model that Bush’s youthful zealots sought to impose on Iraq.)

This sort of US intervention in behalf of US multinational corporations and local elites has been a constant of US policy, especially since World War II, as Chomsky has documented in numerous volumes.

As for Chomsky’s original judgments on the effects of 9/11 made back in 2001, they have unfortunately proven to be remarkably prescient:

“Such terrorist atrocities are a gift to the harshest and most repressive elements on all sides, and are sure to be exploited -already have been in fact —to accelerate the agenda of militarization, regimentation, reversal of social-democratic programs, transfer of wealth to narrow sectors, and undermining democracy in any meaningful form.”

Even American Conservative writer Eric Margolis has pointed out how the US,”first under George W. Bush and now under Barack Obama, have rushed right into bin Laden’s trap...

“Grotesquely overblown military outlays and debt addiction may be the most pernicious legacy of the man who thought he could defeat the United States,”

Coupled with Bush’s massive $1.2 trillion in tax cuts for the ultra-rich, the swollen military budget and endless spending on the wars has created significant debt, offering a convenient weapon for conservatives in both parties to take the offensive against public institutions, public workers, and protections against corporate abuse.

As Chomsky states, “The debt is being cynically exploited by the far right, with collusion of the Democratic establishment, to undermine what remains of social programs, public education, unions, and in general, remaining barriers to corporate tyranny.” Over the last decade since 9/11, dangerous economic trends previously highlighted by Chomsky have accelerated. America’s productive base has been hollowed out by the shift of capital to essentially parasitic Wall Street investments while manufacturing jobs in particular are increasingly sent to low-wage, high-repression nations like China and Mexico.

The shrinkage of middle-class jobs and the weakening of unions have contributed heavily to the largest disparities in income and wealth the US has witnessed in nearly a century. CEOs at the top 100 US firms rake in compensation that averages 1,723 times the average pay of their workers, according to Les Leopold’s The Looting of America. Just 1% of Americans earn 24% of all US income, and an even more select top 1/10 of 1% earns more than the bottom 50% of Americans.

The “twin towers” of broadly-shared prosperity and economic security, upon which so many Americans rested their hopes , have collapsed for tens of millions of working families across the US.

Roger Bybee is a publicity consultant in Milwaukee. This article originally appeared at the blog Working In These Times. Email

From The Progressive Populist, October 1, 2011

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