For June 2011 Zahranicna Politika
On May 1, 2003, George Bush gave a speech that stated that the major operations in Iraq are over. The aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, where he delivered this speech, was carrying a banner that said “Mission Accomplished.” Anyone with a remote awareness of the last 10 years recognizes why this event became infamous: the toughest, bloodiest and most expensive phase of the Iraq war has not even begun. 8 years and a day later, when his successor announced the death of Osama Bin Laden, Americans celebrated in the streets and I couldn’t help but wonder if we’re living through another “Mission Accomplished” moment. Will history remember this as yet another premature declaration of victory or misguided celebration?
The connection between the two events is more than accidental. While the official pretext for the war in Iraq were the weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration alleged Saddam Hussein either had or was developing, it’s useful to remember that the context that enabled the Iraq war was that of the post-9/11 war on terror. More specifically, in the lead up to the Iraq offensive, the Bush administration reinforced the connection between 9/11 and Iraq so much that by the eve of the war, almost half of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in 9/11. In May 2011, when Osama Bin Laden was executed, it clearly did not matter what Americans did or did not believe in 2003. Apparently all that mattered was that he was dead. However, as people rejoiced over this raw act of vengeance, I started thinking about all the things that happened in the wake of 9/11. The wars in Afghanistan and in Iraq with the hundred of thousands of soldiers and Iraqis who died in them were bad enough. But how about the mountain of debt that the US accumulated as a result of all the military and national security spending in the last decade, money that the country could have invested in its neglected infrastructure or education or health care or any of the many other things that make nations great? It is no coincidence that during this time, the US became further indebted to China, while China was growing by leaps and bounds, investing in its infrastructure, growth, research, education and health care. And let’s not forget the regime of torture that was instituted in places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo during the frantic hunt for clues that ensued after 9/11, which to this day corrodes the American justice system and makes the US a violator of a wide array of international treaties and conventions. Furthermore, I would be remiss not to mention the Patriot Act - a piece of legislation passed in October 2011 which gave unprecedented powers to law enforcement agencies to monitor Americans. Torture, violated conventions, encroached individual rights - these were some of the ways that the US government dismissed the principles of the rule of law and liberty on which it was founded. As if to drive the point home, even the killing of Bin Laden - in lieu of an arrest and a trial - was likely a violation of both international law and the simple principle of criminal procedure. My purpose in listing these effects of 9/11 is not to argue that they were the right or the wrong steps to take in those circumstances - perhaps they were even the best! Instead, my point is that the response to the event had wide and dramatic effects on the US, and was in many instances detrimental. OBL’s stated goal was to bring down America and while 9/11 clearly did not do that literally - no single attack could obviously do that - reviewing the aftermath reminds me how effective it was in accomplishing that goal. And so as Americans celebrated the death of OBL, I failed to see how the killing of one man was supposed to make all those things somehow better. Does it mean the war on terror is over? Can Americans stop worrying about terrorists? Will the government fully investigate and prosecute all the abuses of power and violations of law that occurred in the last ten years during the hunt for Bin Laden? Will they pull out of Iraq and Afghanistan with the knowledge that those places with be the same as when they entered them? No way. Instead, I found the occasion to be a sad reminder of how deep America sank in the last ten years and how and why it keeps sinking.