Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We Remember

There are a number of images from 9/11 that I find moving. I wrote about one of my favorites, a painting called “Out of the Ashes,” for my 9-11-2011 post. Another is the one of the planting of the US flag.
image source
Because of last year’s 9/11 attack in Benghazi, Libya, we probably need to add some images from 9-11-2012. I like this one:

This 9/11 the president purposely brought to our attention the threat of Islamic extremists by scheduling a vote on a Syria strike for this date, and as a prelude to that vote scheduling a speech to persuade the American people to go along with him.
The delay of a week, to consult Congress, was puzzling. I’m guessing (with not a lot of ability to read this sort of mind) that the president thought time would allow him to build up more public support for a strike—on account of the sheer force of his personality or something. But the more people looked at the situation, the more opposition there was to a strike. Certainty that Assad was behind the attack was shaken. More suspicion was raised about this administration’s surreptitious help of the rebels—which include the anti-freedom Muslim Brotherhood (whom this administration calls “moderate”) and al Qaeda, the very source of the 9/11/2001 attack on American soil.
There’s an odd form of brinksmanship going on lately. The president was going to attack swiftly, without going to Congress, as announced by his Secretary of State way back in the first days after the gas attack in Syria. But later that same day he contradicted Kerry by announcing that he was going to Congress. He didn’t ask for an immediate vote to respond to the recent action in Syria; he decided to let legislators finish their summer break of townhall meetings in their home districts, and come back on the historic and portentous 9/11 date. (Technically, he could only suggest the date; it was up to Harry Reid and John Boehner to schedule the votes.) And then, in the speech, he ended up requesting that Congress not vote to strike.
Before we get to the talk, I thought it might be helpful, on this day of remembering, to go through some of what we still recall. Dots, not necessarily connected, but maybe: 
·        Saddam Hussein used biological weapons against the Kurds—citizens in his own country—in 1988, well before the Gulf War. At the time of the ceasefire of the war to free Kuwait from Iraqi invasion, Saddam admitted to having these weapons, as well as a list of other weapons he was required to destroy (including efforts to develop nuclear capabilities). The ceasefire was not an end to the war, but simply a temporary ceasing of attack on a dictator who was severely overpowered militarily, allowing the surrender of weapons. This was to be verified by UN inspectors. Saddam Hussein refused to produce the weapons or supply evidence of their destruction; nor did he allow inspections of specified facilities, and eventually he ousted the UN inspectors entirely. He suffered numerous UN sanctions, essentially saying, “Hey, you’re not supposed to do that.” But without the resumption of force, he simply thumbed his nose at the authorities.

·        After 9/11/2001, the immediate need was to retaliate against the Al-Qaeda-sponsoring Taliban in Afghanistan. Secondary was the looming, continuing threat of Saddam Hussein in Iraq. We still had a list, from the ceasefire of the Gulf War, of the weapons he admitted to having. And he’d had an additional decade to build up more weapons, without the scrutiny of inspectors. There were at those times photos online (and therefore I can’t be certain of their veracity) of satellite photos from earlier in the 2001 of an Al-Qaeda training location (Salman Pak, I believe) in Iraq that included a 707 fuselage. Along with intel from our own sources and a number of trusted allies, who have yet to deny the veracity of their intel, there was evidence that Iraq was intending and attempting to increase WMDs, both biological and materials for a nuclear program. It’s possible, and many believe, the existence of WMDs was a ruse by Hussein to boost his image of power. But was it safe to assume all the intel was wrong? Along with the history, was the evidence enough to qualify as a “grave and gathering threat”? [That was the phrase used in Collin Powell’s address to Congress, not “imminent threat,” which seems to have become part of the collective memory. Bush, in his 2003 SOTU address specifically said Iraq was not an imminent threat and must not be allowed to become one.] I believed so then, and I still do. Majorities of the public above 60%, and large majorities in Congress and the Senate also agreed, as well as some 40 other nations who joined with us in the world-protecting action.

·        In the months during which preparations were made for invading Iraq, there were reports of mobile biological weapons facilities (possibly in trailers, some of which were eventually found, empty) as well as missiles, being moved toward the Syrian border. When the known WMDs did not turn up after the invasion, that transport to Syria seems a much more believable explanation than that all of the world’s intelligence agencies and Saddam Hussein’s own inventory were wrong.

·        Following the 9/11/2012 attack on the Benghazi embassy, the president lied to the American people, blaming an obscure anti-Islam video—clinging to that line weeks after we all knew it was a terrorist attack. A year later, there is still very little truth forthcoming from the administration (which asks, “What difference does it make?”) We don’t know why requests for added security were not heeded. We don’t know why Ambassador Stevens was asked by SOS Hillary Clinton to meet with some mysterious actors, possibly related to the attackers, in the dangerous Benghazi area on the dangerous anniversary of 9/11. We don’t know why rescue efforts were ordered to stand down. Shortly after the event, and continuing since, are rumors that the deal was to facilitate under-the-table arming of Al-Qaeda-affiliated Syrian rebels.

·        On the anniversary of the Benghazi attack, the president had wanted the Congress to red-light his attack on Syria’s regime, harming Assad and helping the Al-Qaeda-affiliated rebels.
If this were a novel, the clues would add up to the president betraying his own people, with some nefarious scheme—a scheme that, if all the details were to become known, would very likely be prosecutable as treason. That would make exciting reading. But in our real, beloved America, such a president still seems unthinkable.
I do not like suffering through this president’s speeches. The condescending tone and twisting of truth are like fingernails on a chalkboard. But I was curious about what he could say under these circumstances, so I gave in and both listened and read the transcript Tuesday evening.
That speech was, if nothing else, proof positive that “the great orator” is a misnomer, even with a teleprompter. But it does reveal some things we should know—whether they are what the president wanted us to learn or not.
So in the next post we’ll go over what he said, and possibly also what the words mean—because what he says and what he means are not necessarily equivalent.

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