Sunday, September 10, 2006

Reflections on the fifth anniversary of "9-11"

My experience of 9-11 is different than that of most Americans. When the Twin Towers and Pentagon were bombed, I was in a remote area of “upcountry” Sri Lanka, completing my book, Paradise Poisoned: Lessons about Conflict, Terrorism and Development from Sri Lanka’s Civil Wars. I first heard the news from my host as I was leaving the house for an early morning walk. My fist reaction was disbelief.

In Sri Lanka, bombings were part of daily life. Three weeks earlier, half of Sri Lankan Airlines passenger jet fleet – six Air Busses – had been bombed on the runway of the international airport. My first reflection was that America was now experiencing what my Sri Lankan friends had, for years, come to accept as part of their daily lives. My principal news sources for many days were short wave broadcasts from Voice of America and the BBC. Later I was able to watch contrasting accounts of unfolding events on India and Pakistan television outlets from my room at the Police barracks guesthouse in Chandigarh, the capital of India’s Punjab Province.

In the immediate post ‘nine-eleven’ aftermath, Americans’ were united and the world was united in sympathy for America. How much things have changed, five years later. In my view the ill-considered invasion of Iraq and subsequent post invasion “blunders” (the phrase used by the conservative Economist magazine) are the principal culprits.

To acknowledge this reality says nothing about how best to extricate America from the circumstances in which our nation is presently mired. But as we listen to reflections on the anniversary of 9-11 three points seem worth bearing in mind.

1. The war in Iraq and the “war on terror” are not the same war. Arguably, America’s commitment to democratizing Iraq, laudable though it may be, diminishes America’s ability to fight the “war on terror” and to marshal the support of others in that fight.
2. The evidence that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the events of ‘nine eleven’ is overwhelming though some reports say that 60 per-cent of Americans believe otherwise. Since President Bush frequently makes such a connection, knowing full well that it is false, the widespread misperception of many Americans is not surprising.
3. Polarizing rhetoric and political tactics may seem attractive in the short term, but like the mustard gas used as a weapon in World War I, have a tendency to blow back upon the user. (The metaphor is from Barbara Tuchman’s THE MARCH OF FOLLY, which offers useful lessons for America’s current circumstances – and leaders.)

I grieve for those who lost loved ones on ‘nine eleven.’ And I grieve for America, my country, whose leaders seem to have lost both their way and their moral anchors in the five years that have followed.


Anonymous Tommy said...

What's worse is that now Venezuela wants a 2-year seat on the UN Security Council, which would give it only more opportunity to rail against the United States. Although Chavez would still be berating the United States even without an Iraq war, it's recent American policy in the Middle East that's enraged and united the world against us. While the US is supporting Guatemala for the 2-year seat, Russia and China both back Venezuela. Why not?

The Iraq War has certainly caused a torrent of problems. Is it too extreme to go so far as to say that with growing economic powerhouses like China and India, and the belief held by much of the world that America is an imperalistic nation, we are in a state of decline?

We've been there before, but I worry that this time there's no escape. We will see if anything improves with the election of a (hopefully) Democratic Congress and Administration.

7:03 AM  

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