Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The Tail of the Chimera: A Reflection on the 9/11 Terror Attacks & George W. Bush

Sergeant Joseph Mosner, a veteran of George Bush's Forever War
As we slouch toward to the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks, the real story of that awful day and its aftermath is now well known.

While the attacks were the darkest day for the world's remaining superpower since Pearl Harbor, astoundingly they were leveraged by President George W. Bush into the greatest foreign policy disaster in American history -- the Iraq war.

This American flag-draped act of hubris and deceit is so colossal that its bloody consequences have brought the Republican hegemony in Washington to a crashing end and assured Bush's place in history as a manipulated mediocrity who squandered America's world standing in the service of a fool's mission. No matter when or how the Iraq war ends, his actions will reverberate for many years to come.

In the eight months that Bush held office prior to the 9/11 attacks, the intelligence community that he pledged to reinvigorate slept the sleep of the complacent, rousing itself only when there were turf battles to be fought.

This despite the fact that:

* The CIA, NSA and FBI had detailed intelligence that Al Qaeda was plotting an attack on the homeland and so informed Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security advisor, and possibly Vice President Cheney, as well.

* Knew the terrorists' modus operandi if not their exact targets.

* Knew the identities of some of the terrorists and their whereabouts in country.

But Rice, by her own subsequent admission, still was fighting a Cold War that had been over for a decade. Cheney, of course, isn't talking.

Today Rice is secretary of state, while the nation’s spymaster on 9/11 and two of the architects of the Iraq war and occupation were awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, for what the commander in chief proclaimed was "their pivotal roles in great events," but was nothing less than a reflection of and payback for the sycophantic loyalty that he demands.

* * * * *

Could the 9/11 attacks have been stopped?

I have been reluctant to conclude that they could have, but the growing mountain of evidence showing what key U.S. intelligence operatives, Rice and others knew but did not feel compelled to act on has convinced me that there was a reasonable chance that the terrorists could have been intercepted at airports in Boston, Newark and Washington on that deceptively beautiful September morning, if not before.

Could the Iraq war have been stopped?

That’s an easy one. With a compliant Congress and somnambulant news media, Bush’s neoconservative coven was going to get a war that they had long lusted for even if it was in the wrong place at the wrong time and would divert precious resources from the nascent GWOT in general and Afghanistan in particular.

While we will never know how the war in Afghanistan might have turned out if it hadn’t been starved of resources, there is no question that the Bush administration's pushback against Al Qaeda has not been anywhere near the triumph that it claims. The White House's own intelligence mavens say that much of the leadership cadre of the terrorist group remains intact, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and they have rebuilt this incubus to its pre-9/11 strength. Meanwhile, the neocons' built-to-order war in Iraq has become a graduate school where jihadists can hone their skills before exporting them elsewhere.

That Al Qaeda has been able to reconstitute itself so successfully can be traced back to a single event:

In the most ignominious chapter in a presidential tenure littered with bad judgments, the fires at Ground Zero were still burning when the decision was made not to throw the full weight of America's might at Al Qaeda and its leadership but to instead go after Saddam Hussein, a has-been of a brutal dictator who had long been in the neocon crosshairs but of course had only a tangential connection to the jihad against the U.S. and the West.

* * * * *

Little has changed in the homeland since 9/11 except a gross erosion of civil liberties, including the initiation of clandestine domestic spying programs, as well as the abandonment of international treaties and concomitant embrace of torture.

Where George Bush gets a partial pass is that the rot in America's intelligence agencies long predates his tenure and the tenure of his father as a past CIA director and president, as well.

Where he is complicitous is in his appointment of a rogues gallery of political hacks to key homeland security posts while bowing to powerful Republican Party benefactors in the ports, chemical, rail transport and other key industries in backing away from homeland security reforms that have real teeth. (It should be noted that Congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, eagerly aided and abetted.)

America remains frighteningly vulnerable to another big hit and its intelligence agencies have made only modest steps to be able detect, let alone prevent, an encore performance. Despite the urgent need for more Arabic-speaking intelligence agents and analysts, there has been only a modest increase in their numbers and key officers with these skills have quit out of frustration.

The obsession of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with preventing copycat 9/11 attacks has led to important steps such as reinforcing passenger aircraft cockpit doors and screening for weapons and bombs, but there has been little coherent analysis on what form future attacks might entail although it's a good bet that they will bear little resemblance to the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

This is called "risk management" in the real world. Bush's DHS, where fully one quarter of the top jobs remain unfilled, is pretty much inured to that world.

But the most gaping hole in America's homeland security armor is disaster management. No events better captured the incompetence of this administration than the Ground Zero cleanup, which despite its claims that the air was safe to breathe exposed thousands of emergency workers and others to appallingly high levels of toxins that will significantly shorten many of their lives, and of course the response to Hurricane Katrina.

The president took a battering in public-opinion polls after Katrina -- in fact, that disaster and not the war was the point at which his approval ratings began dropping precipitously. A reasonable person would assume that an effort has been made in the two years since Katrina to repair the literal and figurative damage that the White House and federal government caused.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency remains the first line of defense and the leading responder for large-scale disasters. Yet the administration did such an effective job of crippling FEMA by folding it into DHS and treating it like a bastard child that a replacement couldn't be found for the disgraced Michael "You're Doing a Heck of a Job, Brownie" Brown despite a lengthy nationwide search.

The reason why the White House finally had to promote someone from within FEMA to run it was because the most qualified replacements -- people with real world disaster-management experience -- were all too aware that the president was not really serious about fixing the agency.

A bipartisan Senate panel has concluded that FEMA is beyond repair and should be abolished. It has not been.

* * * * *

The initial decision to call General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker before Congress to deliver their hugely anticipated Iraq progress report on the sixth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was triply insulting.

It was insulting to the victims of the attacks and their kin, to the nearly 4,000 American soldiers who have perished in Iraq and their kin, and to voters who went to the polls in the mid-term election last November to send George Bush a message that he has ignored:

We are sick of your lies and deceptions and your use of patriotism as a cudgel. Bring the troops home now!

The lame-brained decision to summon Petraeus and Crocker to Capitol Hill on the sixth anniversary of the attacks was made not by the White House, but the Democrats who now control Congress. Petraeus and Crocker will now testifiy on September 15 because the Dems were made aware of their scheduling faux pas, but the original date helps explain in a small but symbolically large way as to why those voters are just as furious at the new majority party as they were with the old majority party.

* * * * *

Even the president's most stalwart supporters must acknowledge as they sit alone with their thoughts and their whiskies in their inner sanctums late at night that the Iraq war is lost. Only the degree of defeat is at issue.

There were no WMD. There will never be the neocon pipe dream of a democracy. The Middle East is a flashpoint or two away from a runaway refugee crisis and perhaps even a regional war. Only the terrorist threat that the Bush administration itself created in Iraq is now cited to justify staying the course.

Like the chimera of Greek mythology, the Iraq war has become a monster with a lion's head, a goat's body and a serpent's tail.

The lion's head represents the brave men and women of our armed forces like Sergeant Joseph Mosner who have sacrificed so much for so little, and the goat's body the president's feckless enablers in Congress. The serpent's tail represents George Bush himself, a nightmare visited upon America that has been incalculably worse than the 9/11 attacks.

The Chimera of Greek mythology finally was defeated by Bellerophon with the help of the winged Pegasus.

How and whether this chimera will be slain is truly a question that cries out for an answer. We can be certain that will take much more than a mere presidential election and the dispatch of George Bush back to his Texas ranch.

Much more.

Photograph by Nina Berman courtesy of Jen Beckman Gallery


Fran said...

My heart is very heavy as I read this Shaun.

I am in the midst of publishing my own 9/11 memories to my blog. While nowhere near any real danger, I was in NYC and it was a day that changed all of our lives.

What you have written here is brilliant and much needed.

Like you, I have not wanted to wander down the "could it have been prevented" trail. Sadly and as you clearly illustrate, it likely could have been.

And the senseless war... that should have never started. Now we have Iran on the horizon. Such madness.

Also - your use of the Chimera is so nicely done and so heartbreakingly accurate.

My heart hurts, it really does.

Thank you for your words. I think I feel a cross post coming on again.

Peace and good wishes to you Shaun and a many thanks for your wise words and inspriration.

Deb said...

Back in 2000 I referred to him as the anti-Christ and people laughed at me but hid motives have always been suspect. With him, the light at the end of the tunnel, is the headlamp of an oncoming train.

Great post!

Anonymous said...


When blood and treasure goes away
Will stalwarts then have any stay
As, staunchly stuck to stubbornness,
Believe all other persons less,
All other options wasting hay?

It was an ill-considered use,
But such for citizens as choose
Fraudulent common nincompoops
To guide them--and dispatch their troops--
"Par for the course" is, as ensues.

It was a choice to run roughshod
Over diplomacy--but trod
Upon the toes of other folks
None kindly take the crush a joke´s
Or say the treader "walks with God."

It was a choice, against all better
Judgement to break both soul and letter
Of international accord
So to release a vengeful lord,
The God of War, from dormant fetter.

It was "to find some weapons hid"
So went the pretext--but why did
Inspectors as had none detected
Thence prematurely get ejected,
From finishing their work forbid?

It was a rush, in many ways,
No danger present--when one plays
With fire one risks the getting burned,
But scars and keloids thereby earned,
Result of which nor leaves, but stays.

Like scattering "legal tender" from
The rooftop, for the winds to come
Distribute without sense or measure,
So stalwarts with their blood and treasure:
Since reason muted, they were dumb.