It is now a little over two years to the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and when that doleful event comes round can there be any doubt that we will have to say that the terrorists have won a victory beyond their wildest imaginings?  In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington the civilised world was united in the belief that those who perpetrated the atrocities must be brought to justice and that we had urgently to create a safer world in which such things could not happen again. Well the justice hasn’t happened – Osama bin Laden is still at large and terrorism remains rife. True the United States has so far escaped any further attacks on its citizens at home but the rest of the world, from London to Madrid to Lahore, Riyadh and Kabul and beyond has not been so fortunate.

The objectives of Mohamed Atta and his accomplices were comparatively simple – to cause the maximum damage to the United States, kill as many of its citizens as possible and to become, in the eyes of his Muslim extremist ideological brothers, a martyr and a hero. He achieved what he set out to do. But for Osama and the leadership of al-Qaeda 9/11 was just one tactic in a much longer and more ambitious campaign to cause the maximum long-term damage to the West, the United States in particular, and to punish the heathens who did not adhere to his own brand of fundamentalist Islam. The heathens included not just Christians and other non-Muslims but also the leaders of Islamic states, such as Saudi Arabia, who Osama and his supporters felt had deviated from the true faith by their alliances with the West.   Immediately after 9/11 the US administration had a unique opportunity to create a global partnership against al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers – a partnership which could have included much of the Islamic world. The moral highground was so overwhelmingly with the United States that it could well have been possible not just to destroy Bin-Laden’s band of fanatics and their sponsors the Taliban but also work towards a peaceful and permanent solution of the multitude of problems in the Middle East – from the Arab/Israeli conflict to the threats to peace posed by Iraq and Iran. The bigger picture went way beyond the micro-issue of the imperative for punishment of al-Qaida.

As we now know, and to our collective shame, the opportunity to use the overwhelming goodwill to the United States immediately post 9/11 was ignored – and largely because the Bush administration saw 9/11 as an opportunity to pursue their pre-existing neo-conservative agenda. And the pursuit of this agenda would lead to the most shameful and institutionalised abuse of Human Rights that any democratic country has ever perpetrated.  It started in early 2002 with the opening of Guantánamo Bay a move which was cynically and unforgivably designed to “allow” the US to ignore the Geneva conventions. To those of us who were once inspired by the moral imperatives of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights the idea that an American President could authorise torture and other abuses is almost beyond belief.  But of course worse was to follow because Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice then moved fatally beyond the legitimate aims of a terrorist hunt in the mountains of Afghanistan to the pursuit of regime change, not just in Afghanistan but in Iraq as well. The illegal Iraq war was not just a moral outrage in its own right but it also diverted effort away from finishing the job in Afghanistan and, crucially, thoroughly antagonised the whole of the Muslim world. From a situation immediately after 9/11 when the United States had the sympathy and potentially or actually the co-operation of most Islamic countries she moved in less than two years to a situation where all of these potential allies were turned into implacable opponents. 
The victors in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein were not the Iraqi people hundreds of thousands of whom died in this grossly bungled debacle. Nor were they the American people who security has been damaged not enhanced as a result of this adventure. Nor was there any positive outcome for the troubled Middle East region as the centuries long conflict between Sunnis and Shiites   was given new impetus and ferocity by the “regime change” in Baghdad. In Iran the absurd and venal Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would probably never have gained power in 2005 had he not been able to give substance to his personal anti-American rhetoric by pointing to American abuses and failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. Similarly the rise of Hamas in Gaza might well not have happened had America pursued a properly diplomatic and morally supportable peace initiative post 9/11 rather than indulging in the Iraq war and the grotesque human rights violations of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib.

The overwhelming beneficiaries of the United States actions during the Bush presidency were the very people that he sought to destroy post 9/11 – the terrorists themselves. For them the return to fundamentalism in Afghanistan, the chaos (still) in Iraq, the anti-Americanism in Iran, the antagonism of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Muslim world, the inflammation of the Sunni/Shiite quarrel, the horrors of Gaza and the American-inspired marginalisation of the United Nations have all been major victories. Add to this the disruption to many of things that we in the West took for granted including personal liberties and justice for all and you can see the extraordinarily extensive nature of the terrorist successes. There is, for some a clear moral division and no equivalence between 9/11 and Guantanamo. For others there is the shame that a country that has seen itself as a “beacon of freedom” should have sought to counter one undeniable evil with evils of its own. And for the terrorists there is the satisfaction that the country they so viciously attacked was then damaged as much by its own subsequent unprincipled actions as ever it had been by the attacks of 9/11 themselves.


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