On the twentieth anniversary of the 9/11 attack, we republish the following article, written in 2011 by Alan Woods on the tenth anniversary of that atrocity. It was already clear that the so-called "War on Terror" was a complete failure. Meanwhile, the recent eruption of the Arab Spring had provided a stunning illustration of the power of the masses to sweep aside reaction and imperialism from the region.
On the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers millions of people will relive the horrors of that fateful day. The television screens are filled with shocking images of death and destruction.
Once again we see the flames of blazing fuel as the planes struck the tall buildings; the desperate people throwing themselves into empty space; the collapsing edifices that filled the New York air with choking dust and turned day into night, and the men and women covered in gray dust looking like creatures from another planet.
The events of September 11th 2001 undoubtedly represented a turning-point in history. The tenth anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon provides us with an opportunity to make a balance sheet of the past decade, a decade that has reshaped the history of the world.
The past decade was dominated by the so-called war on terror. Its imagery has been burned on the collective psyche. Everybody remembers the burning towers, followed by the battle on the slopes of Tora Bora, the invasion of Iraq, the horrific pictures of hooded prisoners in Abu Ghraib, the caged prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the assassination of bin Laden.
However, the “war on terror” is a blatant misnomer. A war presupposes the existence of two armies of more or less comparable strength, and two governments that can declare the start of a war and also end it. It also presupposes definite war aims on both sides. None of these things are applicable in this case. Al Qaeda is not a state but a terrorist organization. It has no standing army. Its war aims are vague and its supporters are dispersed among the populations of different lands. They operate in the shadows, not on the battlefield.
The idea that such an enemy could be taken on by a conventional army with tanks, guns and airplanes was always ludicrous. Terrorism is not fought on a battlefield, but by a combination of intelligence, police methods and politics. The use of conventional military means in this context was the equivalent of a surgeon wielding a battle axe instead of a scalpel, or a man using a machine gun to swat a mosquito.
Were we told the truth?
In an article that we wrote on the same day as the attack we said the following:
“This terrorist act has a completely insane and criminal character and must be condemned - but not for the hypocritical reasons given by Bush and Blair. Marxists oppose individual terrorism because it is counterproductive and plays into the hands of the most reactionary sections of the ruling class. This is clearly the case here: this bloody outrage will play into the hands of US Big Business and imperialism. It will give Bush a free hand to do anything he wants in the Middle East and on a world scale. US public opinion will be softened up for any reactionary policies at home and abroad.
“It will have a similar effect on US public opinion to Pearl Harbour, which Roosevelt publicly condemned but secretly welcomed. The American public will now be prepared to accept the atrocities of so-called counter-insurgency and counter-terrorist actions abroad, and also reactionary and anti-democratic legislation at home.” (US Suicide Bombing - Terrorism Aids Reaction, written by Ted Grant and Alan Woods Tuesday, 11 September 2001)
There were many unanswered questions about what happened that day. Ten years later these questions remain unanswered. It seemed impossible that the Intelligence Services of the USA were unable to detect this existence of a plot of such vast dimensions. In the same article we expressed a tentative opinion:
“How is it possible that the CIA was so ignorant and inept as to permit such a devastating attack on the nerve-centres of the nation? One possibility has not been mentioned - namely that it was the result of a provocation that went badly wrong. In the shadowy world of intrigue, provocation and counter-provocation that characterises the activities of the secret services, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that a section of the US military Establishment decided to allow the terrorists to launch an attack inside America as a means of boosting public support for an aggressive policy and rearmament. This would explain the surprising failure of US intelligence, although the devastating nature of the attack would suggest that the provocation got out of hand.”
I am no friend of conspiracy theories, but it is true that the “official” reports raise more questions than they answer. Ten years later, I think that the explanation we put forward at the time probably comes fairly close to the truth. We may never know. But if the facts of the action are unclear, its results are very clear indeed.
The events of 9/11 suited the imperialists very well. What GW Bush did when he declared his “war on terror” had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. It was intended to whip up a bellicose atmosphere in order to justify setting in motion the vast military machine of the USA for the sake of foreign adventures.
The imperialists are always in need of some external threat – real or imaginary – to justify aggressive foreign wars. In the past they shouted: “remember the Maine!” or “remember Pearl Harbour!” Now every sign of dissent was immediately drowned out by a deafening chorus of; “remember 9/11!”
September 11th provided the excuse for the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. A case could at least be made for taking action against al Qaeda in Afghanistan, where they had their main base, protected by the Taliban regime. But why attack Iraq? Immediately after 9/11, Rumsfeld was beating the drum for this line of action, which surprised even elements in the White House.
Everyone now knows that Iraq had nothing whatsoever to do with the attack on the Twin Towers, and whatever you may think of Saddam Hussein, he was not an ally of al Qaeda but a bitter foe. Yet the reactionary clique of Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney launched the criminal invasion of Iraq under the banner of “the war on terror”. This was based on the most blatant lies, which have now been exposed, in particular, the monstrous falsehood about “weapons of mass destruction.”
Robert Fisk, a highly intelligent and honest observer says we have avoided the real question for ten years: the one thing which any cop looks for after a street crime: the motive. “How many died on 9/11? Almost 3,000. How many died in the Iraq war? Who cares?”
The invasion of Iraq was not at all related to the events of 9/11. It had been decided long before that by a right-wing Republican clique, hell bent on extending the US sphere of influence in the Middle East after the fall of the USSR. The problem with Saddam Hussein was not that he was a dictator (the USA has supported many dictatorial regimes in the Middle East: the Shah of Iran, Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, the Sheikh of Bahrain, the Saudi monarchy, the Algerian generals etc., etc.). The problem was that he was not sufficiently obedient to commands from Washington.
It is true that the regime of Saddam Hussein was a brutal and bloody dictatorship, which was hated by the majority of the Iraqi people. But the task of overthrowing that oppressive regime was the task of the Iraqi people themselves. When America toppled Saddam Hussein it only replaced one dictatorship with another oppressive and corrupt dictatorship, masquerading under a false “democratic” facade.
The idea that the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney clique was remotely interested in bringing democracy to Iraq is a joke in very bad taste. They conveniently ignored the fact that the USA had previously backed Saddam Hussein, and armed him in a criminal war of aggression against Iran. They turned a blind eye to all his crimes and even provided him with poison gas to murder the Kurds. Donald Rumsfeld personally went to Baghdad to express his firm support for Saddam Hussein in his war of unprovoked aggression against Iran.
The people of Iraq have been forced to endure the humiliation of foreign occupation and the torment of sectarian slaughter that engulfed it immediately after the American invasion. This criminal act, far from damaging al Qaeda, enormously boosted it. Previously, al Qaeda had no base in Iraq, now it has plenty of them, and an army of recruits helpfully provided by GW Bush, and its other two chief recruiting sergeants, Rumsfeld and Cheney.
Recently al-Qaeda was able to launch 42 attacks across the country on a single day. And when the last American troops depart at the end of this year, what will they leave behind them? If they hoped to install a friendly government in Baghdad, they have failed. Nuri al-Maliki stands far closer to Teheran than to Washington. Nor is Iraq a democracy in any meaningful sense.
Has the war on terror succeeded?
Over the past decade the military assault on al-Qaeda has been both relentless and, from a narrow military point of view, successful. Leon Panetta, a former director of the CIA and now US defence secretary, said during a recent visit to Afghanistan that America was within reach of inflicting a “strategic defeat” on al-Qaeda.
Is this true? A large number of jihadis have been captured and killed and for ten years the organization has been unable to repeat anything on the scale of 9/11. Osama bin Laden was assassinated in May, and his new second-in-command was killed only a month ago. The organization’s command structure has been seriously disrupted and it has clearly lost a significant part of its operational capabilities.
It is true that al Qaeda still has a presence in Yemen and some other places and may still be able to stage terrorist atrocities. Terrorist acts do not necessarily require big forces. It took only 19 men armed with cardboard cutters to mount the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon ten years ago. Small terrorist groups were able to organize large-scale atrocities in Madrid and London.
However, after a decade of intelligence-gathering, ferocious attacks and mass arrests and detentions in Guantanamo, al Qaeda has been severely weakened. This was the case even before American SEALs killed bin Laden. Yet the myth of al Qaeda, a supposedly omnipresent and ever-present terrorist threat, is still maintained and carefully nurtured in the media. Why?
Every year the USA spends huge amounts on arms. There are powerful vested interests in justifying this vast expenditure, especially at a time of economic crisis and concerns about the colossal US deficit. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the Military-Industrial Complex needed another external threat in order to defend its economic interests. The right-wing clique around Bush also represented powerful oil interests that had an eye on the vast oil reserves of Iraq. These were the real interests behind the so-called war on terror.
The “war on terror” was allegedly fought in defence of American democracy. But the latter has been one of the first casualties. The Economist writes:
“To secure the homeland, America did not just wage foreign wars. It also created a colossal security and intelligence bureaucracy at home. The Washington Post reported last year that more than 1,200 government organizations and almost 2,000 companies were working on programmes related to counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence.
“Some might say that America has paid a big price in the loss of freedoms great and small. It has become normal to remove your shoes before boarding an aircraft. America did not intern Muslim citizens after September 11th, as it did Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour, but the Bush administration rode roughshod over cherished liberties. Congress, the courts and a new president eventually pushed back, but not all the way. Though America no longer subjects suspected terrorists to waterboarding, Guantánamo is still open, an emblem of everything America is supposed not to stand for. Many of its inmates could spend the rest of their lives in captivity without ever having a proper trial.”
These lines are sufficient to expose the reactionary consequences of terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular. For a time it strengthened the hand of imperialism and the most reactionary circles of the US ruling class. But now all that is beginning to unravel. Ten years after 9/11 the winds of revolution are blowing everywhere.
The Arab Revolution
The only way to bring about a genuinely democratic regime in Iraq and the rest of the Arab world is by revolutionary means – as shown by the events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. This marks a complete repudiation of al-Qaeda’s authoritarian and fundamentalist doctrine. The jihadists and Islamic fundamentalists played little or no role in these revolutionary movements, although in some countries they may still succeed in hijacking them if the workers do not take power into their own hands.
The West can claim no credit for this awakening. It was not inspired by the invasion of Iraq, to which the Arabs were fundamentally opposed. The Arab street understood very well that Iraq’s new government is a puppet regime. They knew that George Bush’s “freedom agenda” meant only the freedom of the imperialists to loot Iraq and rob it of its oil and other resources. They do not trust the “democracy” preached by governments that for decades have propped up the most vicious Arab regimes.
When the revolutionary wave finally swept over Tunisia, Egypt and the whole of the Arab world almost a decade later, it was not the result of America’s display of “shock and awe” tactics but a spontaneous eruption of rage and frustration at intolerable conditions. Its sole motor force was the revolutionary people, especially the workers and the revolutionary youth, for whom the USA is not a model, but rather an enemy who backed the hated old regime till the eleventh hour and after.
In Libya, too, the Gaddafi regime was overthrown by the armed people. NATO, hiding behind the fig-leaf of the so-called United Nations, intervened when it became clear that Gaddafi was in difficulties. Their bombing campaign was intended to tip the balance in favour of the rebels, and thus to safeguard the interests of the Americans and Europeans after his overthrow. But the imperialists were not prepared to arm the rebels, who they distrusted, and still distrust.
The people of Libya are not so stupid that they cannot see through the intrigues and lies of the imperialists who supported Gaddafi and his regime up to the last moment, when they conveniently switched sides. It is public knowledge that both the Europeans and the USA had close links with the Gaddafi regime, that they sent arms to Gaddafi and that their secret services collaborated actively with the old regime.
The victory of the rebels has meant the opening of the archives of Gaddafi’s secret police and military intelligence. This proves beyond any doubt that the CIA and British Intelligence (MI5 and MI6) provided intelligence to the Gaddafi regime to combat the Libyan opposition, and handed over oppositionists to the torture chambers, including the present leader of the Libyan armed forces. All this was done in the name of “the war on terror”. These facts show the repulsive hypocrisy of the imperialists and their false attachment to “democracy”.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
In Afghanistan, America succeeded in chasing out al-Qaeda and its Taliban protectors. But al-Qaeda and the Taliban, with the aid of the Pakistan Military Intelligence (IS), merely shifted their operations to new bases over the border in Pakistan, from whence they proceeded to launch attacks on the US forces.
In retaliation, the CIA sent unmanned drones to bomb them inside Pakistan. But since most of the victims of these drone attacks are civilian Pushtoons, this bombing campaign has stoked the fires of hatred towards America and provided the Taliban insurgency with a new influx of recruits eager to continue the bloody war of attrition in Afghanistan.
Years of savage war have reduced large areas of Afghanistan to rubble. Nobody knows how many people have been killed. And there is no end in sight. Despite all the brave talk of Obama, the Americans are preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in what will be a humiliating and ignominious retreat. It remains an open question how long the corrupt Karzai regime that the West is propping up in Kabul will survive after NATO’s planned departure in 2014.
They talk about victory, about inflicting a military defeat on al-Qaeda, “taking out bin Laden” etc. But these are hollow boasts. The price of this alleged “victory” has been to create new dangers everywhere. By carrying the war into Pakistan, America has further destabilized what was already a very fragile and unstable country. With a population of 190million Muslims, and a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan represents potentially a far bigger threat to America than either Iraq or Afghanistan.
All along Pakistan has been playing its own game in Afghanistan. For decades the Pakistan military and especially the ISI have been manoeuvring for control in Kabul. The Taliban were – and remain – their allies. The government in Islamabad has been kept afloat by American money, but key sections of the Pakistan state are secretly supporting the Taliban and their jihadist allies. The ISI obviously knew where bin Laden was hiding, which is why the Americans decided not to inform Islamabad of their raid on bin Laden’s house.
Since the murder of bin Laden, relations between Pakistan and America have become even more envenomed. The Economist (3 September) concludes: “America’s homeland may be safer than it was ten years ago, but its strategic posture has deteriorated in a swathe of the Middle East and South Asia, and will worsen further if Iraq falls under the spell of the mullahs’ Iran, or Pakistan implodes.”
Nowhere is the hypocrisy and double-dealing of the imperialists clearer than on the Palestinian question. In an attempt to woo Arab public opinion, Washington held out the prospect of an American-brokered peace in Palestine, but GW Bush was far more interested in friendly relations with Israel than peace and, for all his fine words, Obama has done no better. Netanyahu continues his encroachment on Palestinian lands and terrorizing of the Palestinians with total impunity.
Has this strengthened or weakened America’s position in the world? Let us consider the human and economic costs. Some 6,000 US soldiers, and many of its allies’ soldiers, have lost their lives in these bloody wars of attrition. As for Iraqi and Afghan losses, nobody knows for sure. But according to one very conservative estimate about 137,000 civilians have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
These wars have created more than 7.8million refugees. The wars’ ultimate cost, including interest payments and veterans’ care, to the United States will amount to up to $4 trillion. To put this in its economic context, this figure is approximately equivalent to the USA’s cumulative budget deficits for the six years from 2005 to 2010.
This represents a colossal drain on America’s resources. And what have they got to show for all this sacrifice apart from the disruption of al-Qaeda – something that could have been better achieved by police methods and counter terrorist units? But there have been wider and potentially even more dangerous consequences. A recent poll for the Arab American Institute reported that America’s standing across the Arab world is now lower than it was at the end of the Bush presidency. The hatred of America has become deep and embittered.
These constant wars and upheavals have unsettled the minds of Muslim youth in the West. The fumes of jihadism have spread like poisonous a cloud to western countries, as when British Muslims set off bombs on the London Underground in 2005. Similar tendencies can be observed in the USA. In 2009 an American Muslim gunned down his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas and last year a new immigrant from Pakistan tried to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times Square.
It may be doubted whether these and other plots were directly organized by al-Qaeda. More likely they were merely inspired by the vague feeling of a need to lash out, copying the methods of the jihadis. But the question that must be asked is what feeds the feelings of frustration and rage that is the main motor force for such desperate actions. It is far more convenient to avoid this awkward question by sweeping references to al Qaeda – as if the latter really represented an all-powerful and ever-present force, instead of a small and beleaguered movement.
Unemployment, poverty, racism and a growing intolerance in the host societies have combined to create an alienated layer among the youth that is not confined to the Muslim population. Unfortunately for the bourgeois it is impossible to declare war on unemployment or to solve the problem of poverty by sending a drone to drop bombs. And in the absence of a strong Marxist party, sections of disaffected youth begin to sympathize with the jihadis.
This is a blind alley that only provides ammunition to the right wing and the racists, while presenting no real threat to the state. While constantly harping on the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the media ignores the threat posed by right-wing and fascist terrorism, which was revealed by Anders Behring Breivik’s murder of 77 Young Socialists in Norway in July. The racist poison is being echoed by the “respectable” bourgeois politicians. Newt Gingrich, a possible Republican candidate for the US presidency, joined a campaign with clear racist undertones to stop the construction of an Islamic centre and mosque in lower Manhattan.
The tactics of al Qaeda, which seem to be “anti-imperialist” in fact serve the interests of imperialism. The two feed off each other and are necessary to each other, like Siamese twins tied together by a fatal umbilical cord.
Splits in the West
The “war on terror” has also produced severe strains in the Western Alliance. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA became the sole world super-power. Along with supreme power came supreme arrogance. Now the Europeans are tired of being dragged into America’s wars. On the other hand, America is exasperated by Europe’s unwillingness to pull its weight. At every turn the stresses and strains come to the surface.
Invoking collective defence, NATO joined the war in Afghanistan, although that country is very far from the North Atlantic. Britain, which had long ago lost its leading role in the world, has become reduced to the humiliating role of a satellite of Washington. Tony Blair, anxious to please Big Brother across the Atlantic was prepared to prostrate himself on all fours, fawning like a pet poodle to the Man in the White House, while all the time maintaining the ridiculous pretence of a “Special Relationship” between London and Washington.
The only thing special about it was its especially nauseating character of Blair’s subservience. It goes without saying that the Americans soon got tired of this ridiculous charade, which lasted only as long as they needed it to create the illusion of a “Coalition of the Willing”. The problem was that not many were willing. Only a few others who aspired to the position of “Special Friends” of Washington, such as Poland and Ukraine, rushed to volunteer for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But the really important counties in Europe, Germany, and especially France, kept a safe distance. And for most public opinion in Europe, including Britain, the war in Iraq was deeply unpopular. And after a decade of body bags the appetite of the American people for foreign wars has been sharply reduced. The economic crisis that began in 2008 and is still continuing means that ten years after 9/11, the attention of the people is focused elsewhere.
The splits in the Western alliance have coincided with the growing economic difficulties on both sides of the Atlantic. There is less money for foreign adventures, and therefore increased tension as to who should pay for them. This was exposed by the Libyan affair. America, having burned its fingers in Iraq and Afghanistan, was not keen to get involved in a war in Libya. The Germans decided to stay out of it altogether. The British and French governments were in the first ranks of those baying for military action.
It suited the Americans to present the Libyan campaign as a NATO operation. But it only served to expose the weaknesses of NATO. Its European members keep some 2million men in uniform but they only managed to send between 25,000 and 40,000 to Afghanistan. And after only 11 weeks of the Libyan campaign, they had run short of munitions and needed American help. Even such a limited campaign exposed serious weaknesses in both the French and British armed forces.
After 9/11 the “Bush doctrine” was meant to show the world the power of imperialism, which was supposed to sweep all before it. Ten years later what is being exposed are the limits of the power of imperialism. It is compelled to intervene everywhere, but this constant pressure is undermining its very foundations.
On 11th of September 2001 we wrote the following:
“Overnight, the greatest super power the world has ever seen turns out to be a colossus with feet of clay. The most powerful military state the world has ever seen has shown its powerlessness in the face of terrorism. Before the Second World War, Trotsky predicted that America would emerge as the victor and establish world hegemony, but he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. These prophetic words have now turned out to be literally true. Ten years ago, after the fall of the Soviet Union, President Bush's father promised a New World Order. Now the reality has struck home with a vengeance.
“The rape of the planet by Big Business has created a world fraught with misery, war and chaos, which has now impacted on the heart of world imperialism. This is the real cause of the present atrocity. The terrorism of world-wide hunger, disease, misery, exploitation and oppression which torments millions of men, women and children each and every day of their lives, is the root cause of the turmoil and instability which is sweeping the planet in the dawn of the 21st century.”
Subsequent events have confirmed this prognosis. One war follows another. One shock after another has shaken the foundations of society and in the process has also shaken up the consciousness of millions of people.
To most ordinary Americans today the events of 9/11 must already seem like ancient history. Sure the shocking images of the collapse of the Twin Towers still arouse powerful feelings. But there is no longer any appetite for flag waving chauvinism. As time passes the intoxicating fumes of chauvinism wear off, leaving people with a bad headache and no desire to repeat the experience.
Even some Republicans have been forced to recognize the new mood. In Iowa last month, Ron Paul, a Republican presidential candidate, was cheered to the rafters when he called for the troops to come home. The 2012 election will focus not on “the global war on terror” but on unemployment and falling living standards. The people of America want to hear less about foreign adventures and more about the problems they face in America itself.
Instead of talking about nation-building abroad, most Americans want to hear more about nation-building at home. This new mood can easily revert to old-style isolationism. The problem is that this option is no longer available. The USA is now inextricably bound up in world affairs and cannot avoid getting involved. The whole world is now one single, indissoluble whole. There is no escaping the fact of globalization. But globalization now manifests itself as a global crisis of capitalism.
The USA has accepted the role of world policeman that in the past was held by Britain. But whereas Britain derived vast profits from its imperial role, for the USA it has become a colossal drain. The difference is that British power was at its height in a period of capitalist upswing, whereas the USA’s world role coincides with a period of capitalist downswing.
The crisis of capitalism affects all countries, big and small. But America is affected most of all. The crisis of American capitalism is graphically expressed in its colossal deficit, which the ruling class is attempting to solve by placing the burden on the shoulders of the working class and the middle class. Sooner or later this will have revolutionary consequences, as we have already seen in Wisconsin. The 21st century was born in the shadow of war. But the decisive war of the 21st century will be the class war.
London, 9th September 2011
- US Suicide Bombing - Terrorism Aids Reaction by Ted Grant and Alan Woods Tuesday, 11 September 2001
- The first war of the 21st century by Ted Grant and Alan Woods Thursday, 20 September 2001
- The Fall of Kabul by Alan Woods Tuesday, 13 November 2001
- Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul: Is the war over? by Alan Woods Thursday, 15 November 2001