The Catalyzing Event

I’m not going to write a remembrance of 9/11. David did a lovely one this morning and I have nothing of substance to add to it. Like everyone else, I remember what I felt and thought on that day with crystal clarity and I’ll never forget it. I had nightmares for years about being caught in the towers after reading first person accounts of those who got out. I still avoid listening to those voice mail messages of those who didn’t make it. It’s just too awful.

But beyond the horror of that day was the other story that began to unfold within minutes of the event: the government response. In the early days, the people’s reaction was admirable and it reaffirmed our faith in human nature. But within a very short time, the human decency and common purpose was supplanted by a cynical political strategy to manipulate man’s desire for revenge in order to advance a long held agenda. I believe it started right here:

One year later, with the help of a pathetically puerile media (as tristero devastatingly outlines here) this was where that battle cry had led us:

MR. TIM RUSSERT: Our issues this Sunday: September 11, one year later; the fate of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein; the state of America’s economy; and corporate responsibility and accountability. Our guest, an exclusive interview with the vice president of the United States, Dick Cheney.

Mr. Vice President, welcome back to MEET THE PRESS.

VICE PRES. DICK CHENEY: Good morning, Tim.

MR. RUSSERT: September 11—when you hear those words, “9/11” what are your thoughts?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, it’s become sort of a unique event in our history, one of those events that everybody shared in in some fashion. And I think all of us remember where we were when that happened. I think I bought it a lot in terms of how it’s changed, how I spend my time, what I think about, what we worry about in the administration, it’s a watershed event. The world before 9/11 looks different than the world after 9/11, especially in terms of how we think about national security and what’s needed to defend America. Those are the thoughts that crop up…

MR. RUSSERT: Let me turn to the issue of Iraq. You have said that it poses a mortal threat to the United States. How? Define mortal threat.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: You know, this will take some time, but it’s important for us, as I mentioned earlier, to remember that the world has changed. That prior to 9/11, we really focused our defense capabilities on the possibility, for example, during the Cold War the Soviet Union attacking, and we worked with strategies of deterrents and containment. If we could hold at risk the targets the Soviet Union cared about, then they wouldn’t attack us. That strategy, obviously, worked. What we found on September 11 is that the danger now is an attack that’s launched from within the United States itself, not from some foreign territory, as happened with respect to the hijackers on 9/11. Also that, in this particular case, it was backed up by a cell, terrorist cell, operating in Hamburg, Germany. You have to completely recalibrate your thinking in terms of how you deal with that. Now, if you start with that as background, then you deal with Saddam Hussein and his 11 years, now, since 1991, since the end of the war, his refusal to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions. If you look at the extent to which he has aggressively sought to acquire chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, over the years, the fact that he has previously used them-he used chemical weapons both against the Kurds and against the Iranians during the 1980s-the fact that he has twice invaded his neighbors. He’s launched ballistic missiles against four of his neighbors over the years. There’s a pattern and a track record there that one has to be concerned about.

Now, the more recent developments have to do with our now being able to conclude, based on intelligence that’s becoming available, some of it has been made public, more of it hopefully will be, that he has indeed stepped up his capacity to produce and deliver biological weapons, that he has reconstituted his nuclear program to develop a nuclear weapon, that there are efforts under way inside Iraq to significantly expand his capability. There are other elements that need to be considered here. For some 10 or 11 years now, the international community has attempted to deal with this, but it’s been generally ineffective.

The sanctions are breaking down. The willingness of nations to trade with Saddam Hussein is increased. He’s also sitting on top of about 10 percent of the world’s oil reserves and generating enough illicit oil revenue now on the sides that he’s got a lot of money to invest in developing these kinds of programs. So we find ourselves, on the one hand, with the demonstrated greater vulnerability of September 11; and, on the other hand, with the very clear evidence that this is a man who is resuming all of those programs that the U.N. Security Council tried to get him to forgo some 10 or 11 years ago. And increasingly we believe that the United States may well become the target of those activities.

[...]
MR. RUSSERT: ….Would this administration be willing to go before the United Nations, the world, and show convincingly just exactly what Saddam has, as best we know?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I think we’ve started that process already, Tim. The president’s going to address the General Assembly of the United Nations this week. He will lay out his concerns at that point. We have begun to share, as much as we can, with committees of Congress. A lot of this, I hope, eventually will be in the public arena so that we’ll be able to discuss it not only with our allies overseas, but also with the American people here at home. They have a right to know and understand what it is that’s happened here.

It’s also important not to focus just on the nuclear threat. I mean, that sort of grabs everybody’s attention, and that’s what we’re used to dealing with. But come back to 9/11 again, and one of the real concerns about Saddam Hussein, as well, is his biological weapons capability; the fact that he may, at some point, try to use smallpox, anthrax, plague, some other kind of biological agent against other nations, possibly including even the United States. So this is not just a one-dimensional threat. This just isn’t a guy who’s now back trying once again to build nuclear weapons. It’s the fact that we’ve also seen him in these other areas, in chemicals, but also especially in biological weapons, increase his capacity to produce and deliver these weapons upon his enemies.

MR. RUSSERT: But if he ever did that, would we not wipe him off the face of the Earth?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Who did the anthrax attack last fall, Tim? We don’t know.

MR. RUSSERT: Could it have been Saddam?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I don’t know. I don’t know who did it. I’m not here today to speculate on or to suggest that he did. My point is that it’s the nature of terrorist attacks of these unconventional warfare methods, that it’s very hard sometimes to identify who’s responsible. Who’s the source? We were able to come fairly quickly to the conclusion after 9/11 that Osama bin Laden was, in fact, the individual behind the 9/11 attacks. But, like I say, I point out the anthrax example just to remind everybody that it is very hard sometimes, especially when we’re dealing with something like a biological weapon that could conceivably be misconstrued, at least for some period, as a naturally occurring event, that we may not know who launches the next attack. And that’s what makes it doubly difficult. And that’s why it’s so important for us when we do identify the kind of threat that we see emerging now in Iraq, when we do see the capabilities of that regime and the way Saddam Hussein has operated over the years that we have to give serious consideration to how we’re going to address it before he can launch an attack, not wait until after he’s launched an attack.
[...]
Mr. RUSSERT: One year ago when you were on MEET THE PRESS just five days after September 11, I asked you a specific question about Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Let’s watch:

(Videotape, September 16, 2001):

Mr. RUSSERT: Do we have any evidence linking Saddam Hussein or Iraqis to this operation?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: No.

(End videotape)

Mr. RUSSERT: Has anything changed, in your mind?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I want to be very careful about how I say this. I’m not here today to make a specific allegation that Iraq was somehow responsible for 9/11. I can’t say that. On the other hand, since we did that interview, new information has come to light. And we spent time looking at that relationship between Iraq, on the one hand, and the al-Qaeda organization on the other. And there has been reporting that suggests that there have been a number of contacts over the years. We’ve seen in connection with the hijackers, of course, Mohamed Atta, who was the lead hijacker, did apparently travel to Prague on a number of occasions. And on at least one occasion, we have reporting that places him in Prague with a senior Iraqi intelligence official a few months before the attack on the World Trade Center. The debates about, you know, was he there or wasn’t he there, again, it’s the intelligence business.

Mr. RUSSERT: What does the CIA say about that and the president?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: It’s credible. But, you know, I think a way to put it would be it’s unconfirmed at this point. We’ve got…

Mr. RUSSERT: Anything else?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: There is-again, I want to separate out 9/11, from the other relationships between Iraq and the al-Qaeda organization. But there is a pattern of relationships going back many years. And in terms of exchanges and in terms of people, we’ve had recently since the operations in Afghanistan-we’ve seen al-Qaeda members operating physically in Iraq and off the territory of Iraq. We know that Saddam Hussein has, over the years, been one of the top state sponsors of terrorism for nearly 20 years. We’ve had this recent weird incident where the head of the Abu Nidal organization, one of the world’s most noted terrorists, was killed in Baghdad. The announcement was made by the head of Iraqi intelligence. The initial announcement said he’d shot himself. When they dug into that, though, he’d shot himself four times in the head. And speculation has been, that, in fact, somehow, the Iraqi government or Saddam Hussein had him eliminated to avoid potential embarrassment by virtue of the fact that he was in Baghdad and operated in Baghdad. So it’s a very complex picture to try to sort out.
And…

Mr. RUSSERT: But no direct link?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I can’t-I’ll leave it right where it’s at. I don’t want to go beyond that. I’ve tried to be cautious and restrained in my comments, and I hope that everybody will recognize that.
[...]
MR. RUSSERT: The foreign minister of Turkey said, “Any change in Iraq’s government system should be carried out by that country’s people.” Dick Armey, Republican, said that, we as a nation should not be doing pre-emptive strikes. International law-where is our right to remove or topple another country’s government?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: We believe that, especially since September 11th, we have to consider action that may, in fact-I suppose you can call it pre-emptive-we’ve talked about it in the past-to head off an attack against the United States. If we have reason to believe someone is preparing an attack against the U.S., has developed that capability, harbors those aspirations, then I think the United States is justified in dealing with that, if necessary, by military force.

Let me take you back to 9/11, Tim. If we had known what was about to happen to us on September 11th and we could have prevented it by military operation, in effect, pre-empt, would we have done it? The answer is: You bet we would have.

And virtually all Americans would have supported it. We are in a place now that, I think, some Americans, as well as some of our European friends, for example, have difficult adjusting to, because, in the case of the Europeans, they haven’t the experience we have of 3,000 dead Americans last September 11th. They are not as vulnerable as we are, because they’re not targeted. They also really don’t have the capacity to do anything about the threat. You know, if you take-they can participate in an international coalition, but left to their own devices, they can’t deal with Saddam Hussein. Only the United States has the military force capable of doing that. So we find ourselves in a situation where the president has an obligation to defend the nation, and it’s conceivable that that could at some point require him to take military action. We’d like to do it with the approval and support of the Congress. We’d like to do it with the sanction of the international community, but the point in Iraq is this problem has to be dealt with one way or the another.

MR. RUSSERT: We have just a minute in this segment. Will militarily this be a cakewalk? Two, how long would we be there and how much would it cost?
[...]
VICE PRES. CHENEY: Could be very costly. The danger of an attack against the United States by someone with the weapons that Saddam Hussein now possesses, or is acquiring, is far more costly than what it would cost for us to go deal with this problem.

MR. RUSSERT: And the rest of the Arab world would stay stable?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: I think so. But the risk here that has to be weighed, Tim, isn’t just-you know, what’s it going to cost you to do this today? It’s what will the cost be if you don’t do it? And what happens if you delay six months or a year or two years? And at that point, when you start to weigh those prospects, then the cost of military action, if that’s what it comes to, strikes me, would be significantly less than having to deal with it after we’ve been struck once again by a deadly system.

MR. RUSSERT: Bottom line, it looks like we’re going to war.

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Can’t say that. It will depend a lot on what happens over the course of these next few weeks. The president, as I say, has got a major speech before the United Nations on Thursday. It’s a very important event. But there shouldn’t be any doubt in anybody’s mind that this president’s absolutely bound and determined to deal with this threat and to do whatever is necessary to make certain that we do so.

I excerpted so much of that because I think it’s important to remember just how detailed and crafty the lies were, how deviously he wove the thread of 9/11 into the Iraq justification. It was quite masterful. But once the jingoism started, and it started early on when George W. Bush screamed into that bullhorn about “the people who took down these buildings”, it was only a matter of time before we got to that place. A cadre of neocon hawks in the Bush administration who believed that America’s global military empire needed to be massively expanded had been hoping for a chance to wage this war. They had written this just two years before:

“the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event––like a new Pearl Harbor.

As Bush inappropriately quipped, they hit the trifecta. The march to Iraq started before the smoke had cleared from the World Trade Center.

9/11 was many things. It was a horrific human tragedy first and foremost. But beyond that it was an event that enabled a group of fanatics, serendipitously walking the halls of power at the right moment (due to the vagaries of the anachronism known as the electoral college and a partisan Supreme Court ruling) to fulfill their long held desire to flex America’s military might, control “security” in the middle east, and extend what they (oxy)moronically called the “Pax Americana.” As one observer said at the time: “These are the thought processes of fanaticist Americans who want to control the world.” That’s not an exaggeration.

America was filled with pain, fear and anger in the aftermath of 9/11. And our leaders cynically used that emotional confusion to advance an immoral foreign policy agenda that was dreamed up in an obscure right wing think tank and carried out with lies and obfuscation. It led to the embrace of a domestic surveillance state, “preventive” war and torture. Unfortunately it looks as though that legacy will be with us even longer than our memories of the beautiful and tragic humanity that manifested during those early hours and days in New York City. And that’s a terrible shame.

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