The Path from 9/11 to Syria

Reuters Photo: Haleem Al-Halabi

by Mark A. Dunlea

Reuters Photo: Haleem Al-Halabi

Reuters Photo: Haleem Al-Halabi

Every year on the anniversary of 9/11, I have written an op ed reflecting on the horrors of that day and on the still many unanswered questions. And the lack of justice for those that were murdered.

This year’s anniversary is especially jarring because President Obama wants to bomb Syria – over their alleged use of chemical weapons – the type of weapons we couldn’t find after we invaded Iraq over 9/11. Obama also wants to send a variety of messages: that he is tough enough to enforce his redline; that he wants to break the Axis of Resistance against Israel (Iran, Syria, Hezbollah); that Iran should be scared that their turn is next.

Bush used our cries of grief after 9/11 to launch what has become perpetual war. In this case, Obama is saying that we need to attack Syria to show our condemnation over the use of chemical weapons. Yet the US has repeatedly used chemical weapons in war.

We use white phosphorous and depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan. White phosphorous is legal against military forces but not civilian, a distinction often loss on the battlefield (e.g., the battle for Fallujah). While various UN Commissions have proposed that depleted uranium (coated on shells to make it easier to penetrate armor) is illegal, including under the treaty against chemical weapons, a formal ruling has yet to have been made. But our use has led to a significant rise in birth defects in the two countries. And while we deny that we knew that Hussein was using chemical weapons when we supported him in his war with Iran, we provided military intelligence to help him target Iranian troops.

Once we bomb Syria, we won’t be able to extract ourselves from that complex mix of revolution, civil war, and proxy war until it runs its many-year course like Lebanon, 1975-1990. We would in reality also be attacking Syria’s allies – particularly Russia and Iran. Drawing in Russia to the battle could lead to nuclear Armageddon.

Has the US government learned nothing from 9/11? That we shouldn’t take military action based on unconfirmed reports? That such terrorist attacks are best handled as the criminal acts that they are? That our response should begin with a robust investigation of the crime (rather than preventing UN investigators from completing their work.) Those found responsible should be held criminally liable. And we should seek to bring all the parties to the table to negotiate a resolution.

The administration argues that we tried to work within the UN to stop Assad but Russia and China used their veto power to block us. Granted, it won’t be easy – but neither will war.

Russia and China feel burned by the West following their acquiescence in permitting military action against Libya. They did not authorize the US et al to operate an anti-Gaddafi air force or to change the regime, but that’s what happened.

When asked recently by Congress what the US will do once the bombing is completed, Secretary of State Kerry said that the others parties including Russia are willing to sit down and talk. So why not skip the bombing and move to the negotiations?

While Russia and China will block a UN authorized military intervention at this time, they are willing to pass a Security Council resolution saying the UN should investigate to find those responsible for the chemical attacks and prosecute them through the International Criminal Court in accordance with the treaty banning chemical warfare.

Once again the issue of fossil fuels is part of the political equation for the US. For example, the natural gas reserves of Qatar that the oil sheiks want to pipe through Syria rather than Iran. Qatar has reportedly provided several billion dollars to the forces fighting Assad.

Many people say it is time to move on from 9/11, it is over with. That the murder of three thousand innocent Americans has been avenged – ten, if not 100 times over.

I might be more willing to do that if the federal government had moved on, declaring the resultant war on terror a failure, called a halt, and restored civil rights in our country, cut the military budget by a least half to the pre-9/11 levels and invested in rebuilding jobs and our infrastructure and services here at home.

I am willing to accept as a starting point the main narrative of 9/11 provided by the American government – that middle eastern terrorists sought to kill Americans in retribution for our activities in their countries.

The official report was that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Commission couldn’t figure out who financed the attack but said ultimately it was not important since the Saudi ruling family provided tens of millions of dollars annually to Al Qaeda, so they could have paid for it out of petty cash. (The Commission failed to investigate mainstream media reports that the Pakistani ISI – their version of a combined CIA and FBI – had also financed the hijackers).

The Bush administration and Congress didn’t declare war on Saudi Arabia however. First they invaded Afghanistan – a country that first President Carter and then Reagan helped destabilize by financing armed militias in order to ensnare the Soviet Union in a civil war on their southern border. Our second step shortly thereafter – before the first war was completed or the terrorists apprehended – was to invade a former partner, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretense that our security was threatened by weapons of mass destruction that we were sure were there.

The neoconservatives (Cheney, Rumsfeld) who controlled our defense establishment had publicly written through the Project for the New American Century of the need for a new Pearl Harbor (e.g., outside terrorist attack on America) to provide the political cover for an invasion of Iraq in order to seize control of the oil fields. Might have been helpful if Congress or the media had publicly questioned them about this.

12 years later a new President is calling to bomb another long time partner, the Assad regime. The US had been willing to overlook his brutal suppression of his opponents as long as their rule were beneficial to us. The details of who used the chemical weapons recently remains unclear. There are indications that forces on various sides of the war posses such weapons. Syria itself has never signed the treaty against chemical weapons. Yet the use of such weapons, if proven, would not be a legal justification for the US bombing of Syria, especially without approval of the UN.

Such an attack would pose grave threats to both Americans and the well-being of the residents of Syria and neighboring countries. It is the wrong approach.

There are some legitimate democratic opposition forces in Syria. But as is often the case, they are increasingly overshadowed by military, religious fundamentalists and criminal forces that thrive under the fog and violence of war.

We know that the opposition forces to Assad include a host of militias which are brutal – including Al Qaeda . Syria is being used by various foreign governments as yet another proxy war battlefield. Any military intervention is likely to make the situation worse and can easily spin out of control into a much broader and dangerous conflict.

Russia is clearly motivated by their economic and military ties to Assad (e.g., sales of weapons, access to naval base). Yet they and other countries have legitimate concerns that military intervention could easily make the situation even worse for both the Syrian people and the region.

Our recent military efforts to promote regime change in Libya, Iraq or Afghanistan doesn’t provide any hope that we know how to help build democratic, inclusive civil societies in such countries. (A task that we haven’t done very well at home either.)

The Saudis, whom the 9./11 Commission said financed Al Qaeda, are financing many of the most oppressive elements of the opposition in Syria. The Saudis continue to oppress women, workers, civil rights, democracy – in their own country and in many neighboring countries as well. They have intervened to suppress the so-called Arab spring – intervening in Bahrain, Egypt, and Yemen.- fearing that allowing democracy in one country might lead to their own doorsteps one day. Bahrain hosts the US 5th Fleet.

Is there any reason why the American people should continue to support the ruling family in Saudi Arabia? They stand against many of the principles that our politicians love to proclaim are our core values. Yet from the era of FRD onward, there has been a bipartisan agreement for the US to protect the Saudi family despite its other actions in exchange for keeping their oil spigots open to the US. This blank check will continue as long as the US is dependent on Persian Gulf petroleum.

The 9/11 Commission Co-Chairs wrote a book where they confessed to hiding critical findings of the investigation from the American public. For instance, they had wanted Pentagon generals to stand trial for lying to them about the details of a war game that NORAD was playing the morning of 9/11 that involved fake hijackings of airplanes. Vanity Fair won a lawsuit forcing the government to release a transcript detailing the confusion of the air controllers trying to figure out which of the hijacked airplanes on their radar were real – and which were fake.

The Commission chairs said they couldn’t understand why the Pentagon had repeatedly lied about this. Why indeed? Obviously the confusion gave more time for the hijackers to fly their planes into the WTC and the Pentagon. Did someone – a foreign government perhaps, the Saudis, ISI – provide this information to the hijackers? What other information was leaked to the hijackers (e.g., the weakness of security at the Boston airport) and by whom?

The Commission largely dismissed the incompetence of the American intelligence forces in responding to the various warnings about the pending 9/11 attacks as due to bureaucratic infighting and turf building. Other than creating another new huge bureaucracy – Homeland Security- with some cosmetic changes at the top, there is little evidence that much has improved. No one was held accountable for the failures of the intelligence community.

The Commission did little to investigate the US role in pushing Afghanistan into the chaos that enabled the so-called terrorist training camps came to operate there. What role for instance did the American government and the CIA play in building the career of bin Laden? Bin Laden had gone to Afghanistan to support Islamic fighters seeking to expel the “infidel” Soviets. The US allegedly found bin Laden (whose father was a major contractor close to the Saudi ruling family) a lot easier to use as a go between than the mujahedeen freedom fights who often focused on their own tribal conflicts.

And what role did the Pakistani ISI play in the rise to power and influence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda? And continue to play. Bin Laden was hiding out in what logically was at least an ISI sanctioned safe house. Unfortunately, any answers he might have provided were lost when Obama dumped him into the sea.

Instead of explaining such developments to the public, the federal government – whether under Democratic or Republican leadership – continue to just barrel around in the Middle East, stumbling from crisis to crisis, wasting an enormous number of lives and tax dollars to pursue vague policy objectives (other than trying to control oil), fighting a constantly shuffling set of unsavory dictators who at one moment are our allies and then our enemy.

The unwillingness to seek answers to basic questions about 9/11 ensures the continuing mess of our overall foreign policy and intelligence services, while bleeding our country dry by wasting enormous resources on the military-industrial-complex that Eisenhower warned us would subvert our democracy if we weren’t vigilant.

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