Can anyone be surprised that, once again, the attacks of 9/11/01 were reflexively ground zero for embattled Republicans? George W. Bush led the way at the Republican National Convention, saying of John McCain, “We need a president who understands the lessons of September 11, 2001.” In his convention keynote address, Rudy Giuliani followed suit, zapping Obama and his supporters this way: “The Democrats rarely mentioned the attacks of September 11. They are in a state of denial about the threat that faces us now and in the future.” Post-convention, it’s evidently time to assure the nation that Sarah Palin is just the pit bull to handle the next 9/11. Now comes the news that this Thursday, the endless presidential election campaign will finally make it — quite literally — to Ground Zero. Barack Obama and John McCain will “put aside politics” and appear together for the yearly ceremonies. By now, however, it’s far too late to “put aside” 9/11, no less remove it from American politics. Our world has been profoundly reshaped, after all, by the decisions Bush and his top officials made in the wake of those attacks.
Still, taking up the President’s implied question, what “lessons” exactly should be drawn, seven years later, other than that you stand a reasonable chance of winning elections by invoking 9/11 ad nauseum? As Andrew Bacevich, author of the New York Times bestselling book, The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, indicates below, there are indeed lessons to be drawn. They are, in fact, devastating to the Bush administration, and unless they are grasped, further disaster is undoubtedly in the offing. (To watch a video of Bacevich discussing those post-9/11 lessons, click here.) Tom
9/11 Plus Seven
The events of the past seven years have yielded a definitive judgment on the strategy that the Bush administration conceived in the wake of 9/11 to wage its so-called Global War on Terror. That strategy has failed, massively and irrevocably. To acknowledge that failure is to confront an urgent national priority: to scrap the Bush approach in favor of a new national security strategy that is realistic and sustainable — a task that, alas, neither of the presidential candidates seems able to recognize or willing to take up.
On September 30, 2001, President Bush received from Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld a memorandum outlining U.S. objectives in the War on Terror. Drafted by Rumsfeld’s chief strategist Douglas Feith, the memo declared expansively: “If the war does not significantly change the world’s political map, the U.S. will not achieve its aim.” That aim, as Feith explained in a subsequent missive to his boss, was to “transform the Middle East and the broader world of Islam generally.”
Rumsfeld and Feith were co-religionists: Along with other senior Bush administration officials, they worshipped in the Church of the Indispensable Nation, a small but intensely devout Washington-based sect formed in the immediate wake of the Cold War. Members of this church shared an exalted appreciation for the efficacy of American power, especially hard power. The strategy of transformation emerged as a direct expression of their faith.
The members of this church were also united by an equally exalted estimation of their own abilities. Lucky the nation to be blessed with such savvy and sophisticated public servants in its hour of need!