HAMILTON (CUP) — By now, nearly every bespectacled misanthrope who spent high school in the sole company of comic books, Star Trek and potato chips has invented a theory to explain the events of September 11, 2001. Whether it be a Bush-sponsored excuse for war, property insurance scam, first step in a worldwide economic takeover by extraterrestrial robotic ninja bankers (that’s this bespectacled misanthrope’s theory), nearly anything you can think of has been proposed as an explanation.
But of all the inquiries into the tragic events of 9/11, the most revealing is the one conducted by the commission assigned to the task: the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States. The bipartisan, 10-member panel (five Democrats, five Republicans) recently completed their final report on the tragedy. More than merely elucidating the failures of American national security that led to the tragedy, the report criticizes America’s foreign and defence policies on a broader scale by essentially making the following points:
– War is not an effective means to defeat terrorism.
– All terrorists involved in 9/11 were Muslim, but this does not mean all Muslims are terrorists.
– America’s national security measures have remained basically the same since the cold-war era, remaining geared towards large-scale conflicts. These measures do little to defend against terrorism.
The panel then criticizes the Bush administration for its failing relationship with the Muslim world. On Afghanistan, the panel criticizes Bush for leaving the country too soon, leaving it in a tumultuous and potentially disastrous political and social state. As for Iraq, Bush’s claim that it is the planet’s terrorist capital is briskly refuted. Most importantly, the commission’s report states that America must rethink it’s relationship with the Muslim world, where its chop-suey approach to foreign policy and resource acquisition is sowing resentment and anger that is quickly growing into terrorism.
The commission falls short, however. Though it rightly criticizes America’s relationship with the Middle East as contributing to the rise of terrorism, it fails to push this assessment to its logical conclusion.
In The Fog of War, the Academy Award-winning documentary about Robert McNamara, the U.S. secretary of defence during the Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War, the point is made that you cannot possibly attempt to defeat an enemy if you can’t understand their cause. In the Vietnam War, the Americans mistakenly viewed the conflict solely on a broader scale: They perceived it as a communist threat to the region or even the entire world. They missed the point; to the Vietnamese it was a civil war, and they were willing to fight on at any cost.
A similar situation exists today with the American war on terrorism. The larger point must be made that you cannot possibly hope to comprehend the intelligence gathered on a group if you don’t attempt to understand their motivations, or even their culture and language. To illustrate this point, simply look at the disastrous situation in post-invasion Iraq and Afghanistan — a prime example of America’s lack of cultural understanding in action.
Despite its shortcomings, the report on 9/11 is a revealing document. It’s available at bookstores, or online at http://www.9-11commission.gov. I promise you, there’s no mention of alien robot ninjas.