Saturday, September 11, 2021

1/6 Is What They Claimed 9/11 Was


Confederates under General Jubal Early in Maryland, getting uncomfortably close to the Capitol in 1864. Via Smithsonian.

With regard to that Spencer Ackerman op-ed ("How Sept. 11 Gave Us Jan. 6") that Steve is talking about this morning, I have a narratological take: namely, that Ackerman is right to bring the episodes of 9/11 and 1/6 together, but does it the wrong way when he treats one as the cause and the other as an effect. Rather, they belong to two entirely different stories, in paradigmatic rather than syntagmatic relation (that is, to be compared, not connected), and what we can learn about one from the other is not what Ackerman thinks.

The story of 9/11 is the story that begins in the years from 1979, when the USSR lost its war in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards took the hostages in the US embassy, to 1990, when Saddam Hussein attempted to conquer Kuwait as the USSR hurtled toward dissolution; it's the story of how the American rightwing sought an enemy to replace the Cold War Soviets and discovered it in militant Islam. It was a terrible story, in its ignorance of the diversity and conflict among Muslims and its narcissistic certainty that everything is "about us", but when Osama bin Laden finally succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center in 2001 it seemed, for a while, to be really true.

This isn't to disrespect the horror of 9/11 or suggest it wasn't a terrible thing. It was a terrible, shocking thing, a moment of incalculable suffering, and of course the occasion of extraordinary courage and sacrifice, especially on the part of all those firefighters—all honor to them! But it didn't prove that Radical Islamic Terror now occupied the position that Soviets had previously held as the primary threat to US security policy, as Wolfowitz and Cheney and Rumsfeld eagerly decided it was. It had always been stupid to assign that position to the Soviets, for that matter, though at least they had a real nuclear arsenal, while Arabs or Persians alike didn't, and could always be prevented from acquiring one (if you just attended to it more carefully than the Bush regime attended to North Korea). 

And it was even stupider to conclude that what the US needed to do to combat Radical Islamic Terror and reestablish its international hegemony was to mount a massive attack on it in the person of the not especially devout or even radical dictator of Iraq. That was just a colossal mistake, as was clear to pretty much everybody by 2006 or so, which is when the 9/11 story began to lose its totemic power and people generally had less and less grasp of what it was about at all, other than our own being "tested" and the "unity" we achieved, as if it had been a natural disaster, a flood or an earthquake, or explained by meaningless nostrums such as "they hate us for our freedoms". Even as documentation emerged showing that the strategic motivation of the attacks had been to torment the US government into doing exactly what the Bush administration had proceeded to do—

  1. Provoke the United States and the West into invading a Muslim country by staging a massive attack or string of attacks on US soil that results in massive civilian casualties.
  2. Incite local resistance to occupying forces.
  3. Expand the conflict to neighboring countries and engage the US and its allies in a long war of attrition.
  4. Convert al-Qaeda into an ideology and set of operating principles that can be loosely franchised in other countries without requiring direct command and control, and via these franchises incite attacks against the US and countries allied with the US until they withdraw from the conflict, as happened with the 2004 Madrid train bombings, but which did not have the same effect with the July 7, 2005 London bombings.
  5. The US economy will finally collapse by the year 2020, under the strain of multiple engagements in numerous places. This will lead to a collapse in the worldwide economic system, and lead to global political instability. This will lead to a global jihad led by al-Qaeda, and a Wahhabi Caliphate will then be installed across the world.

—in order to get the rest of the Muslim world, from Somalia to the southern Philippines and  from Chechnya to New Jersey, to recognize their leadership of the Caliphate (it's in that sense that it's not "about us", because it's really about them). 

If the US had been satisfied with quickly and surgically crippling the Qa'eda force in Afghanistan and getting out (as I hoped they would do myself in 2001), and had left Iraq alone, steps 2 through 4 couldn't have taken place.

Meanwhile, a story had been emerging through the 1990s of an Enemy Within of domestic terrorists, emulating the bushwhackers (like Jesse and Frank James) and marauders (like the First Klan) of the Reconstruction era and all the various white nationalist and nativist resistance groups that followed them, leading (as Steve describes it) to the modern militia movement, from 1972 and The Turner Diaries to the incidents in Waco and Ruby Ridge, the formation of the Michigan Militia, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the border vigilantes of 1997. A homegrown insurgency which, I would add, constantly associated itself with Republican politicians and "Conservative Christian groups" sharing many of the same aims of paternalistic regulation of sexual morality, weakening of federal land rights, lowering of federal taxes to take assistance from Black and brown people, suppression of nonwhite voting, and so on, whose existence is periodically noted and warned against by FBI and ATF and other domestic intelligence agencies, and repeatedly pooh-poohed by the GOP, for some reason.

That's a story from the left, which reached a climax of its own on 6 January 2021, when a mob of white nationalists, including many members of militia-type organizations and a pretty large number of lower-level Republican officials and affiliates alongside the cops, retired servicemembers, doctors and lawyers, architects and real estate brokers, and other petits-bourgeois, attacked the Capitol in Washington in the vague hope of putting the defeated Republican presidential candidate in permanent office. And they even hate us for our freedoms! (Like women being able to decide whom to have sex with and when to have children, or history students developing their own assessment of the Founders, or Black people choosing what neighborhood they want to live in and where they want to go to school).

Al-Qa'eda failed to hit the Capitol—that was the job of the plane that the brave passengers downed in Pennsylvania, dying to protect our democracy—but Y'all Qaeda somewhat succeeded, and many of us thought this was the moment when everybody would have to wake up and realize that white nationalist terror really is our biggest security problem, the thing that will destroy our democracy for real if it has the opportunity. 

Which hasn't really been understood so far, I'm afraid, partly because Republicans are making it such a partisan issue that the press is afraid to take it on directly, anxious as they are about giving countenance to the idea that Republicans themselves are dominated by white nationalists, even as white people cease to be a majority and GOP ability to win elections dwindles, and the abandonment of democracy looks more and more like a solution to their troubles. 

The 9/11 story was false; the attacks were horrible, as I've said, but the Qa'eda organization wasn't the world's greatest threat, much as it would have liked to be (and the Bush administration response made it much more dangerous than it otherwise would have been, in addition to giving rise to more determined enemies like ISIS). The 1/6 story is true, but not everybody is convinced, partly because Republicans don't want to hear about it. I hope the media get the message before it's too late.

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