Sunday, January 10, 2010

A Brief History of World War III... 9-11 Was Worse Than We Thought

The essence of naiveté is the failure to imagine. We had always assumed that our enemies were distant and compartmentalized. We assumed that our sophisticated and undetectable surveillance watched them, and distantly tracked their movements and accessed their authenticity while wielding our own unimaginable authority, endeavoring all the while to verify predicted tropisms that had been perfectly foreseen in our war game planning.

Looking back now, the surprising thing about 9-11 is that, at the time, it came as such a surprise. Pearl Harbor had also come as a complete surprise, but that attack had come from a distant island with a small population of only 75 million who plotted against us from across the largest ocean on earth. But in the half century since Pearl Harbor, the number of human beings on the planet had tripled, and modern air travel had put every spot on earth within a day’s travel time. We felt safe because we spent more on our military-industrial machine than the entire rest of the world was spending on their combined armaments. We had a military presence in 130 foreign countries. These were supposed to be sovereign nations, but we figured that was okay with everyone because we were the good guys. We had perfectly positioned ourselves to prevent another Pearl Harbor. Problem is, we lacked imagination. The 9-11 attackers were able to conceive, plan, organize, orchestrate, implement, and execute something that our superstar Generals in the Pentagon could not even imagine. By thinking at least five steps ahead of us, they had finally learned how to fight us, but it took them 48 years to do it.

In 1948 when Saudi Arabia started shipping oil abroad, and the true extent of the Saudi oil deposits could be calculated, the motive was there for eventually going to war. The founding of the country of Israel gave us a kind of forward operating base, and our policy of propping-up the so-called democratic regimes in Egypt and Lebanon was intended to give us allies in the area. As each of these things came into being, we thought that they were stabilizing forces working to our benefit. For the Muslims and Arabs in the area, however, our efforts in the Middle East only intensified their suspicion and distrust of the U.S.A.

Then in 1953, the CIA clandestinely deposed the rightful ruler of Iran and installed the Shah. To the extent that you can trace the origin of 9-11 to a single event, that was probably the one, and the average American didn't even notice. We were too busy watching Senator Joe McCarthy on TV and worrying about whether our neighbor might be a Communist, because we thought the Communists would be our adversary in the next war. Little did we know that war was already underway and the real enemy was totally off our radar. We would stay clueless until September 11, 2001.

The enemy that would eventually become al-Qaeda received a huge boost in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution in Tehran. This was the catalyst for the spawning of a radical fundamentalist faction within the Islamic religion, and that radicalized minority might have stayed bottled up in Iran if it had not been for the emergence and growth of the Internet. With the Internet, the means finally existed for hard core Muslim fundamentalist radicals to link up with each other from anywhere on earth. The result was al-Qaeda, and the result of al-Qaeda was 9-11.

Looking forward we know three things, none of them positive for the United States. Thanks to the success of the 9-11 attack, al-Qaeda now knows that even a small amount of destruction will be magnified a thousand fold by disruption in the complexities of our culture. Secondly, al-Qaeda has learned to franchise itself so that future attacks can come from any location and any culture on earth. And lastly, al-Qaeda has seen that the American intelligence apparatus is vulnerable because it lacks the ability to connect the dots.

Human events don’t happen in the isolation of a vacuum, and 9-11 was no exception to that rule.

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