In the Arena

Lessons of 9/11: A Response to Evil

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Shannon Stapleton / Reuters

Luz Maria Arismeldy stands in a moment of silence during ceremonies marking the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center at Ground Zero in New York City on Sept. 11, 2012

It is a perfectly beautiful morning in New York, just as it was 11 years ago today. By the end of that day, the world, as I knew it, had changed. In the small suburb where I lived, nine fathers didn’t come home that night. Our home filled with friends who were stranded because planes weren’t flying and the bridges to Manhattan were closed. We heard they needed shovels and gloves down at Ground Zero — and shovels and gloves were soon stockpiled in front of our local fire station. Neighbors cooked meals for the children of the nine widows. We were terrified, but, for the first time in a long while, we were citizens again, active in one another’s lives. That feeling didn’t last, of course.

Looking back now, the waste of the past decade seems momentous. The miscalculations of the Bush Administration seem stupendous. In the Times today, Kurt Eichenwald has a maddening column about the relentless warnings from the CIA about a terrorist attack in the months before 9/11 and the dismissal of those warnings by “neoconservatives” in the Pentagon. These followed furious red flags about al-Qaeda raised by Clinton Administration security officials during the transition, also ignored. Unfortunately, Eichenwald doesn’t tell us who those neoconservatives were, or very much about what was going on in the CIA at that time. I’d guess that Eichenwald is working on a book and there will be more details to follow. But the truth is, it wasn’t only the neocons but also militant nationalists like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld who were blind to the threat — and blindly pushing for war with Saddam Hussein. The war between the militant fantasist Cheney and the largely accurate intelligence gatherers at the CIA became a defining chapter of the first Bush term. The wards of military hospitals across the country are filled today with Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s handiwork.

(PHOTOS: Eleven Years Later, New York Reflects on the Tragedy of 9/11)

And now these same militant nationalists and Israel-obsessed neoconservatives are pushing us toward a war with Iran. The U.S. military’s position on this war has been consistent since George W. Bush asked the Joint Chiefs about it during a meeting in the Tank, in the Pentagon, in December 2006: the military leadership believes — unanimously, so far as I can tell — that war with Iran is a very bad idea, with all sorts of unpredictable consequences. Sadly, the President made a major election-year concession to the Israel lobby last spring when, in his annual speech to AIPAC, he said containment of Iran’s nuclear threat is not an option. This is nonsense. Of course it’s an option, if Iran actually decides to assemble a bomb — a decision that most intelligence agencies believe has not yet been made, by the way. Containment and deterrence worked with the Soviet Union, a far more serious threat than Iran. (Indeed, Pakistan, which has nuclear weapons and a history of Islamist coups, is a far more serious potential threat to U.S. national security than Iran is.)

And so, on this mournful day, we should remember two things. One is that evil exists in the world and we must be vigilant; that is why drone attacks on al-Qaeda leaders are necessary. The other is that we must be very careful about how we respond to evil — and that the blind, mindless, half-baked aggression that marked the Bush Administration’s response to 9/11, and current neoconservative thinking, must be avoided at all costs.