How Well Has the U.S. Responded to 9/11?
On this, the 12th anniversary of 9/11, I am reposting here my opinion piece on the subject, published on September 16, 2001 in the Australian Financial Review. Readers can judge for themselves how well the U.S. and West have managed affairs since that date.
Defeat Terrorists and Their Sponsors
Having sought – and apparently enlisted – the support of its allies, the question is: is the US about to cease distinguishing between those who perpetrate terror and those who harbour or support it, whether openly or tacitly? If so, it can recast its depleted status as a power that defends its vital interests.
Doubtless, military strikes upon Middle Eastern terrorists will stimulate anti-US sentiment there and complicate some US-Arab relationships, at least in the short term. That this complication arises at all, however, is due to a decade of US incoherence in the Middle East.
Ten years ago, America’s writ carried weight in the Middle East. It had ejected Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, saving its Gulf allies, and was exerting influence on all parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict to commence negotiations.
But US resolve was brittle. It left Saddam in place, rationalising this as astute an strategy. It met his rebuilding of his armoury of unconventional weaponry with rhetorical admonitions and military pin-pricks. The Gulf States concluded that the US lacked the will to enforce its own hard-won settlement and declined to support further actions likely only to inflame him. These days, in a region that respects force, Saddam, not the US, attracts admiration.
The US vigorously pursued Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, but set no red lines. As perennial American envoy Dennis Ross later admitted, serial Palestinian violations of signed agreements were ignored, finessed or rationalised. Yasser Arafat drew the conclusion that the Americans – and the Israelis whom they routinely pressured into unreciprocated concessions – had no stomach and that he could afford the option of force. The failure of peace efforts last year, despite US diligence and Israeli flexibility, was preordained.
Today, US prestige in the region is low, anti-American sentiment is high and hateful anti-Western, particularly anti-Jewish, propaganda is widespread. Thus the indecent scenes of joy in parts of the Middle East that greeted the news of literally thousands of innocent Americans slain.
For many in the Middle East, the US has become a scapegoat for their own social and political failures and, in a variant of the Stockholm syndrome, tenured Western apologists are actively inviting us to agree with them.
A terrified hostage can be tempted to concede the claims of his captor in the hope that he proves pliable. It is a flight from harsh realities.
This escapism stems from a vacuous conviction that extreme action is only produced by extreme suffering, that the strong are always wrong, and the weak necessarily right.
In fact, extreme behaviour emerges in people ranging from the suffering poor to the ostentatiously privileged and in both cases from a heedless sense of entitlement. Osama bin Laden, far from being oppressed, is a Saudi-born billionaire, accustomed to luxury and a retinue of underlings. Values and beliefs trump circumstances.
In that sense, America’s Islamist opponents in the Arab world are as implacable as the Palestinian groups opposed to Jews exercising the independence they demand for themselves. Disaster lies ahead for those who dignify imperial pretensions with a basis in justice.
We should note Palestinian statements of regret about events in New York and Washington, coupled with more ominous ones expressing the hope that the US (in the words of the local Palestinian mouthpiece) has “learnt its lesson” and will change course.
Winston Churchill once said there was no purpose in trying to sate a crocodile by feeding him on others. At the end, you face the crocodile compromised and friendless. That, however, is the “lesson” Westerners are again being invited to learn.
It is wise to address resolvable problems – toppling Saddam’s regime; supporting accommodationist Arab regimes; striving to produce an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty. By the same token, it is equally wise to repudiate irresolvable claims – the end of US power status, the destruction of Israel – and to combat those who originate them.
Accordingly, the US and its allies should aim not to socialise the ungovernable, nor merely apprehend the miscreants, but to defeat them and their sponsors. It will be arduous and costly. But there are no responsible, let alone just, alternatives.|
Daniel Mandel, a fellow in the History Department at Melbourne University, is associate editor of The Review, published by the Australia/Israel & Public Affairs Council.