Thursday, 11 September 2014

Thirteen years to start to measure the impact of 9/11

So it’s the 11th of September again.

It was a shocking day back in 2001. But 13 years on it’s clear we haven’t finished measuring the damage it did.

As the Twin Towers fell on 9/11, it was clear the West had to do something. Sadly, in many circles, and above all in government circles, that view became translated into a sense that the West could legitimately do any old thing.

What we did first was invade Afghanistan. Now Britain fought two Afghan wars in the nineteenth century, and even a small postscript Third Anglo-Afghan war in the twentieth. Afghanistan never fell to Britain.

Brilliant success in the First Afghan War
The last British survivor gets back to base
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. Just over nine years later, in 1989, it was forced back out. The opposition it couldn’t crush was spearheaded by Muslim jihadists which the United States armed and financed. The government put in office by the Soviets struggled on for another three years and then fell to the US-backed insurgents, and the fallen President was eventually brutally assassinated.

But just because Britain and Russia failed, that wasn’t going to stop the US leading a coalition into the country to show the Afghans who was boss. And they’ve succeeded. A decade later, the last forces are poised to leave and the Taliban, now the enemy of the US, is poised to move right back in.

Just like after the Russians left.

The second thing the West did was to invade Iraq. There was some rationale behind the Afghan adventure, since the government there backed Al Qaida and offered refuge to its leader, Osama Bin Laden, who organised the 9/11 attack. But Iraq? It had nothing to do with it. One could have understood an invasion of Saudi Arabia, Bin Laden’s home nation and the source of much of his financial support, but Saudi has lots of oil, so it’s an ally. A rich ally.

The justification for Iraq was weapons of mass destruction. They hadn’t been used on 9/11 (the idea that aircraft, which were used, are weapons of mass destruction has some merit, but tends to be held only in more fundamentalist ecologist circles). People who really ought to know, like Hans Blix, then in Iraq as a weapons inspector, reckoned it was unlikely Iraq had such weapons. But we went in anyway.

A decade later, the situation there is if anything worse than in Afghanistan. Iraq is riven by violent sectarian conflict. It is impotent and heavily influenced by the West's great enemy in the region, Iran. Worse still, the fighting has given impetus to the emergence as a major force of the fundamentalist movement Islamic State, which makes the Taliban look almost civilised.

Ah, yes. 9/11 was a disaster. Firstly for the brutality, cynicism and ruthlessness of the perpetrators of the attack. But secondly for the myopia that caused the West to walk straight into the trap before it, eyes wide shut.

The anniversary is a good time to remember the victims. The horror such violent bigotry can cause. But also to bring back to mind just what disasters human folly can lead us to, when we allow it to lead us in our response to terrible events.

Brilliant success in Iraq
The West bringing peace and democracy to the Middle East


Faith A. Colburn said...

Methinks we're in serious danger of wallowing on this one and that we're encouraged to do so by those who don't WANT us to think of the consequences of our response.

Anonymous said...

My prognosis for the next 13 years is very grim. I can see the cancer metastases.


David Beeson said...

Faith, I agree. Sentiment in commemoration is perfectly justified - many have died, or been bereaved, who deserved better, and it's right that we mourn it - but it's used to cover up that we owe them our shame too, for the misguided behaviour we produced in reaction and the many more losses it caused.

San, I share your anxiety. The prospects aren't at all good. At best, we'll pay with pain for achieving something valuable many years from now; at worst, we'll have just pain followed by more pain.