There’s No Moving On From Sept. 11

 

Tuesday  March 9, 2004

Linda S. Heard, Special to Arab News

CAIRO, 9 March 2004 — It’s been two-and-a-half years since symbols of America’s power were toppled on Sept. 11, 2001, but George W. Bush is in no mood to forget. Indeed, Bush was quoted as saying last year that Sept. 11 is “a date I will not forget so long as I’m on this Earth”.

Countering accusations that the president’s campaign team is exploiting the tragedy with graphic television ads showing World Trade Center rubble, tattered US flags and draped coffins, Bush’s defenders say Sept. 11 was a defining moment for the Bush presidency and there is no reason the nation shouldn’t be reminded of his sterling leadership qualities.

His detractors insist that Sept. 11 shouldn’t be used as a marketing brand, the ads designed to dig deep into the nation’s still raw emotions.

They maintain that Bush’s leadership qualities could be depicted in a more tasteful fashion. Some have complained that while coffins of Sept. 11 victims are being screened, caskets containing bodies of those who fell in Afghanistan and Iraq are being covertly shipped home. Some have sought to remind Bush of his own post-Sept. 11 urgings that no one exploit Ground Zero for gain.

A group calling itself “September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows” sent an open letter to Bush in February condemning him for declaring “it was an ‘us versus them’ world” and for “pursuing unilateral and unpopular policies that turned the world against the United States and made us less secure”, adding “worst of all, you often used the deaths of our family members as an excuse to pursue that agenda.

Two years later, we ask you to stop exploiting the tragedy of Sept. 11 for political gain and to join us in responding to that tragic day in a manner that brings about genuine healing and peace for Americans and the rest of the world”.

The letter continues: “We have witnessed the photograph of you on the telephone on Sept. 11 sold by your campaign as a fundraising vehicle. We have read Republican Party officials’ acknowledgement that the national convention was planned in New York City at the latest possible date in order to ‘flow seamlessly into the commemoration of Sept.11’. And we have witnessed your administration’s lack of cooperation with the Independent Commission investigating Sept. 11”.

But the US president suffering from falling approval ratings, his back against the wall over three million lost jobs, the country’s burgeoning deficit, and a faltering economy, burdened by a weakened dollar, isn’t about to relinquish the cause celebre of his tenure. On America’s Labor Day holiday, Bush told an audience of union members concerned with dwindling jobs, many of which are being relocated overseas: “I want you to think back to that fateful day, Sept. 11th, and what happened afterwards”.

What happened afterwards was the invasion of Afghanistan and the war with Iraq, which was linked to Sept. 11 when the Bush administration falsely linked Saddam Hussein to Al-Qaeda. Billions of US taxpayers’ money have been spent on those conflicts and many more are being poured into “keeping the peace”.

Like the fallout from Pearl Harbor which led to the radiological decimation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the consequences of Sept. 11 has signaled a dramatically altered world where small nations quiver lest they be labeled as “terrorist supporters”. But while World War II was one with a lid, Bush’s “War on Terror” is so fluid, so broad and so nebulous, it could continue for as long as America sees fit.

The aftermath of Sept. 11 has witnessed a sea change in international politics with much of the world cowed by the superpower’s new policies of preemption, disregard for international treaties and norms, and threats to turn the UN into an empty debating society. Some of those who tried to buck this new world order, such as France and Germany seem to have decided to put their countries’ interests first in a spirit of pragmatism.

Others like Russia and China are still unknown quantities, which could be paying mere lip service to cooperation with the US while carefully planning future strategies.

The Arab world appears to be in disarray with some states hanging onto America’s lapels and others grudgingly doing the Bush administration’s bidding. While Libya — once designated by the West as a rogue state — has thrown in the towel along with its WMD program, Syria refuses to abandon its support of Hezbollah and Palestinian militants risking American-led political and economic sanctions and, perhaps, worse.

Britain’s Premier Tony Blair has jumped onto the Bush bandwagon with unprecedented zeal, basking in the reflected glory of America’s neoimperialistic might. In a recent speech defending his reasoning for war, he made no apologies about the continued absence of Iraq’s WMD and dismissed challenges to the invasion’s legality in an almost cavalier fashion.

Mirroring his US mentor by invoking Sept. 11, Blair said: “The threat we face is not conventional. It is a challenge of a different nature from anything the world has faced before. It is to the world’s security, what globalization is to the world’s economy. It was defined not by Iraq but by Sept. 11th. Sept. 11th did not create the threat Saddam posed. But it altered critically the balance of risk as to whether to deal with it or simply carry on, however imperfectly, trying to contain it.”

For those who believe that a policy of addressing global injustices, a spirit of international brotherhood and cooperation in the face of adversity along with a “hearts and minds” component would have reduced the terrorist threat, Blair’s words were chilling.

Some three thousand lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001 and many more have died in subsequent conflicts waged with that day’s standard flying.

If the American public succumbs to “tug at the heartstrings” advertising — paid for out of the Bush administration’s $100 million plus electioneering chest — how much more blood is likely to be spilled in the name of fighting terror and how much more global power and influence will the US be allowed to grab, still donning the ever fraying garb of Sept. 11 righteousness?

— Linda S. Heard is a specialist commentator on Middle East affairs and welcomes feedback at heardonthegrapevine@yahoo.co.uk

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