Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Good article from The Guardian: "Can the United States move beyond the narcissism of 9/11?"

By Gary Younge, Here.

I hope that more stories like this come out. No doubt they'll mostly be in the European press. It touches on an essential part of what happened, and what has continued to happen, ever since.

"But beyond mourning of the immediate victims' friends and families, there was an element of narcissism to this national grief that would play out in policy and remains evident in the tone of many of today's retrospectives. The problem, for some, was not that such a tragedy had happened but that it could have happened in America and to Americans. The ability to empathise with others who had suffered similar tragedies and the desire to prevent further such suffering proved elusive when set against the need to avenge the attacks. It was as though Americans were unique in their ability to feel pain and the deaths of civilians of other nations were worth less.

It's a narcissism best exemplified by former vice-president Dick Cheney's answer when asked just last week on what grounds he would object to Iran waterboarding Americans when he maintained his support for America's right to use waterboarding. "We have obligations towards our citizens," he said. "And we do everything to protect our citizens."

However perverse that seems now such views had great currency at the moment, following the attacks, when many of the mistakes that would shape US foreign policy for the next 10 years were made. Terrorism will do that. "Terror is first of all the terror of the next attack," writes Arjun Appadurai in Fear of Small Numbers. If nothing else the Bush administration had fear on its side. "The next time the smoking gun could be a mushroom cloud," said Rice. "They only have to be right once. We have to be right every time."

The trouble is they got very little right. Broad sweeps of people from predominantly Muslim countries resulted in the "preventive detention" of 1,200 people; voluntary interviews of 19,000; and a program of special registration for more than 82,000 – but not a single terrorism conviction. A decade on the US ability to crush al-Qaida still depends almost entirely on its ability to negotiate with Pakistan and doing a deal with the Taliban in Afghanistan, where last month there was the highest US military death toll since the war began. And that's before we get to Iraq.

An effective response to 9/11 that would have truly satisfied the American public in that moment probably did not exist. A combination of diplomatic pressure, targeted intelligence-led operations and a more enlightened foreign policy was what would have been and has proved to be most successful. But following the attacks, when declarative sentences were the only ones heard and those who urged caution and restraint were compared to Neville Chamberlain, something more urgent, punitive and impressive was insisted upon."

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