The incompetence that confounds us still

TW: 9/11 attacks, conspiracy theories, “truther” movement

Eleven years after the terrorist attack that killed several thousand civilians in Lower Manhattan and a field in Pennsylvania, as well as many military employees in the Pentagon, and there’s almost nothing left to say about the event. In fact, it’s been half a decade now since people started pointing out that the attacks were a tragedy but within the endless series of tragedies stretching back centuries and promising to stretch forward into the future indefinitely. It’s likewise been a few years since people started pointing out that the deaths on 9/11 are among thousands of deaths every year so perhaps we should not only dwell on those lost but help those we can still save.

After British documentaries on the ensuing global and asymmetrical war, Bollywood fictionalizations of the new hostility towards perceived Muslims in America, French novels depicting the horror of the attack itself, and American films mentioning the attacks as simply a part of the backdrop, the only thing left to say is that there’s nothing to say, it sometimes seems. And that’s getting old itself. But this date eventually turns up on the calendar again, and those of us in the United States and many living elsewhere have to grapple with it once more. We can’t quite let this date become just another day.

The reasons why seems straightforward enough, if difficult to confront. Immediately after the attacks, the United States was gripped with questioning why the attacks occurred, and nearly every political group has sought to answer why anyone would want to do this. Much less commonly asked was how anyone could do it, but it still gnaws on many of us. Many Americans correctly saw the “truther” movement as built on counterfactual appeals, but those responses miss that the movement isn’t built on logical argument.

What happened on September 11, 2001 defied the logical universe of much of the population of the United States. For years certain truths had seemed evident: that the federal government was extremely well armed and that it didn’t use or at least rarely use its arms on American civilians because it had a vested interest in keeping Americans alive. When the attacks began, many people could not reconcile those facts with what they witnessed. Either the most technological advanced military-security system on the planet had somehow failed or American leaders had decided that certain American civilians were expendable.

There’s a less frequently explored third option – that the Bush Administration, while well-armed and mostly well-intended with American civilians’ lives, was so disastrously inept as to fail to act on the intelligence they had concerning the planning of 9/11. Even Tony Blair, who personally witnessed the subsequent failure in planning for the Iraq War, brushed aside evidence that incompetent advisers and cabinet members (particularly Donald Rumsfeld) were developing implausible Iraq War plans, insisting “Bush will make the decisions”.

If you truly want to spend this eleventh year anniversary reflecting on 9/11, think about the often overlooked component of how the attacks came to be. This could be particularly helpful in light of the recently declassified White House records showing not only a single report on bin Laden’s intentions that Bush and his administration ignored, but a series of them. The previous Republican administration had an established pattern of governing not only foolishly and cruelly but neglectfully to their basic duties in a practically criminal way. After how many anniversaries of the attacks will we be able to openly admit and discuss that?

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One thought on “The incompetence that confounds us still

  1. […] alone called the 2000 electoral debacle a constitutional crisis? Did he counter his party on its disregard for the security of the American people? Did he call out the Bush Administration for building the case for an illegal war with known […]

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