Notes on 9/11, 1998 and the 2012 Election

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Notes on 9/11 and the 2012 race

1998 was a long time ago—13 years, to be exact. It was an entirely different world then; the physical dimensions are the same, the topography has been only slightly altered, and the water and air aren’t that much filthier than they were—except in certain parts of China, Mexico and everywhere else. One thing that has changed dramatically, though, is the way people think about the world, especially in the United States and Europe. There were, to be sure, mass quantities of what actor/musician Tricky called “pre-millennium tension”, small wars and mild recessions, and individual concerns always abound, but folks were generally wildly optimistic about what awaited their country and the world in the new century ahead.

“Optimistic” is not the optimal word to describe how people are feeling now. Things have changed a little bit, thanks to 19 men who, on September 11, 2001 used four hijacked planes to set all-time records (in both individual and team categories) for the fastest time a human soul was sent directly to Hell. They didn’t just hijack planes; they hijacked the future of the entire human race, beginning with the United States itself. All the hard work of the post-war era to build the greatest economy ever, the strongest military in history, the most awesome industrial, agricultural and technological force that ever has or ever possibly could exist on this Earth again—all backed by delicate interlocking diplomatic and trade relations that our nation has been developing since the days of Patton—was undone in ten years flat.

How? For years, America’s enemies openly theorized and strategized about how to break our control over their affairs. Eventually, Osama bin Laden and “al-Qaeda” (whatever the hell it actually is) came along and developed a plan to make this country break itself by drawing it into a war of attrition that would a) bleed the US economy, b) drive a wedge between the US and its allies, and c) provide cover for further attacks against other targets. This is not conspiracy theory; these are their own words, but I would advise you against trying to look it up.

It’s highly unlikely that the billionaire guerilla warfare experts did not scout their enemy and figure the context in which their action and the repercussions would occur. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were probably of no strategic value to al-Qaeda at all, other than getting rid of mutual foe Saddam Hussein; they even game-planned for that by placing Zarqawi in Iraq well in advance of the war. No doubt alliances were formed and friendships made in those places, but it’s unlikely that suicidal, homicidal, genocidal madmen would really be all that concerned for collateral damage; they’ve pretty much made that clear.

On the whole, though, holding that territory or protecting the people there was never a priority; the point was to make America spend money and political capital they knew could not be sustained for very long. How did they know? Because everyone in America knew. The need for balanced budgets, to reign-in spending and pay-down debt, to press for peace in the Middle East (while eschewing nation-building) and to crack down on predatory violence in the streets of our own country, was uniformly acknowledged by both nominees in that ridiculous 2000 election, and Bush came into office on a similar track as both presidents before him. But 9/11 put an end to all that.

Now, how exactly does 9/11 this relate to the 2012 presidential election, and what do either of them have to do with the year 1998? Good question. Basically, as the events of 9/11 must necessarily continue to shape the political future of our country, so too should they stand as a window through which can see the past anew. In the years leading up to the 2001, the biggest issue in American politics was the impeachment of Bill Clinton. So fully did this story occupy the business of government, it became a major issue in the 2000 election, by way of a distracting debate on “values” that helped swing the race toward the Bush—which was the point all along. Congressional Republicans never seriously thought removing Clinton was possible, but they correctly figured it could be used as a wedge to weaken Democrats and smooth the way toward an eventual retaking of the White House.

The last years of the Clinton era were helmed by a lame-duck president whose credibility had been sapped so badly that even his ill-fated retaliatory strikes against al-Qaeda in 1998 were dismissed, by many observers, as a distraction from his impeachment. Bush then took office under a cloud of electoral drama, and was not even considered the legitimate President by much of the world until 9/11 galvanized support for America and allowed him to consolidate power, in a form that held for five years. In other words, the United States had a significant power vacuum that opened on January 16, 1998 (the day the Lewinsky story hit the media) and did not finally close until 9/11. That three-and-a-half year period (in particular, those last 24 months of the Clinton era) was the time in which government intervention could have possibly prevented the massive terrorist strikes that eventually took place.

The historical record now reflects that multiple individuals, working independently of each other in different branches of government and law-enforcement, most of whom had zero knowledge of the others’ existence, discovered aspects of the 9/11 plot as well as some of the people involved in its planning and execution. The record also reflects that, in pretty much all cases, their efforts to expand their investigations were scuttled. Now, there is no evidence of any willful negligence by the assorted functionaries implicated in all this, so one can presume that all these different requests were denied because their superiors thought it just wasn’t that important. There was no unified, coherent counter-terror message coming from government prior to 9/11, despite clear evidence (such as a steady, consistent escalation of the size, scope and audacity of previous attacks) that something was coming.

Why? Because the time, energies and mental resources of our political and media class in that period were almost totally wrapped-up in the impeachment of Bill Clinton on spurious, non-essential charges unrelated to his actual functionality as President. Given that the ranking House and Senate members who allowed that charade to proceed were also among the same ones who received the highly-classified briefings that documented the growing threat in the 1990s, one is inclined to ascribe some level of incompetence to their conduct. One is further inclined to hope that anyone involved in pushing the impeachment hype would be forever disqualified from ever holding public office again, or at least the Presidency.

By the time of Florida’s GOP primary on January 31, the field will have been narrowed down to four main candidates: Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and front-runner Mitt Romney. Of these four, Romney (who was in the private sector back then) is the only one who had no role whatsoever in the impeachment hype, and as such is the only Republican in this field worthy of anything resembling an endorsement. Indeed, while Paul is a perpetual candidate, one with no obvious intent of ever becoming president, the presence of Gingrich and Santorum in the race is an unpleasant reminder of the days when America laid down for terrorism.

As Speaker Of the House, Newt Gingrich holds more responsibility than almost anyone else to force the impeachment process to its embarrassing conclusion. In fact, it could be said that the only good thing to come out of the impeachment debacle is that it precipitated the end of Gingrich’s career in public service. The man’s third act could bring the curtain down on our entire way of life, and if it does, it will be our fault for not having seen it coming.

sheltonhull@gmail.com; January 13, 2012

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