The other Brian Leiter has posted some purely personal recollections about that day whose fifth anniversary we mark today. Here I want to comment on the political and psychological ramifications of that event. It is not unknown for traumatic events to cause people to lose their bearings, and what is true at the individual level may also be true at the cultural and social level as well. We have seen many instances of individuals, some of genuine ability and talent, who essentially "cracked up" after 9/11, people like Norman Geras and Christopher Hitchens, who started spouting moral nonsense and wish-fulfilling delusions of a kind that their former, unshattered selves would have diagnosed accordingly.
But of far more consequence is the extent to which the United States (which is, after all, the world's most powerful and dangerous nation) has become, in its public culture, completely unmoored from reality. Things that do not (indeed, in some cases, can not) exist--a "war on terror," a "global Islamic jihad," and so on--are now the stuff of ordinary parlance, as though they refer to actual events, movements, and ideas. But as I wrote on an earlier occasion during America's descent into madness:
The central delusion that has gripped the American right since 9/11 is...the idea that every terrorist incident is related to every other one, that the grievances of Chechen separatists have something to do with the grievances of Palestinian suicide bombers which have something to do with Sunni resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq which has something to do with the murderous delusions of religious fundamentalists actually beholden to Osama bin Laden. But these events have almost nothing to do with each other (as we have had occasion to remark previously), except that they serve the propaganda purposes of a decadent and amoral empire. One really can't repeat this often enough: there is no "war on terror," not only because you can't wage war on a technique, but because there is no single agent of terrorism motivated by a unitary set of concerns. The whole "war on terror" is a fraud, and anyone who speaks of such a fake war should be laughed out of serious society. If America had not lost its collective mind after 9/11, there would now be only an international criminal manhunt for bin Laden and other perpetrators of crimes against civilians in New York and London and Madrid (etc.).
To be sure, craven villains and war criminals like Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have exploited the events of 9/11 for calculated ends that we have understood ever since Marx observed that "The modern state is merely the executive committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie." Whatever soco-economic and psychological factors explain why these particular individuals no longer feel the normative force of "the Golden Rule," they shed relatively little light on the condition of the public culture. The crucial question of our time--not just in America, alas, since America could destroy the world--is how the United States can be restored to the league of civilized, post-Enlightenment nations, where epistemic and rational norms still play a role in public affairs.
The single best commentary on the horrific events of 9/11 remains, of course, that of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Aghanistan (RAWA), a group whose members have a particularly vivid appreciation of what it means to be victimized by fundamentalist psychopaths. But their essentially humane and cosmopolitan appeal has been almost totally eclipsed by the need in the U.S. to downplay (for obvious reasons) the role of religious fundamentalism in the events of 9/11 in favor of very different bogeymen. The descent into public madness began in earnest with the run-up to the war of aggression against Iraq, the first make-believe enemy to be constructed out of the ashes of 9/11. As I wrote back in 2004:
Less than nine months after fundamentalist religious zealots inflicted mass casualties on the civilian population of the United States, and only about six months after the U.S. toppled the regime that harbored them, a country of no consequence or relevance to the safety of the United States--a country hated by the fundamentalist religious zealots for its secular ideology and its Western treatment of women, a country with a devastated economy and crippled military, a country that the U.S. and Britain regularly bombed (since it didn't even have sovereign control over all its own terriroty), a nation half of whose population were children, a country which the US outspent on military might 400 to 1--this country was suddenly declared the most pressing threat to the U.S. and world peace.
In an American version of Ionesco's Rhinoceros--the brilliant, "theater of the absurd" rendering of the mass insanity that beset Germany in the 1930s--the American population was progressively whipped in to war frenzy through a series of lies, more or less brazen, to the point that, while no one in their right mind in the summer of 2001 would have described Iraq as a security threat to the U.S., by the late fall of 2002, a large portion of the U.S. population actually believed that. (It's worth noting that the lies, and the cover-up that followed them, were heavily abetted by the blogosphere, despite its self-important, but simply self-serving, claims to be a force for accuracy in news coverage.)
Despite the breathtaking propaganda campaign--the most frightening in the United States during my lifetime--significant portions of the U.S. population remained opposed to the lunatic belligerence of the current Administration; they were joined, of course, by the vast majority of the world's population, though in a signal victory for democracy, their voice was ignored by numerous "democratic" governments, who quickly joined the Administration's "Coalition of the Billing."
Now that the Iraq bogeyman has been so completely discredited, new forces of darkness are needed, and so we have "Islamic jihad" or "Islamic fascism," forces that, in their latest incarnation, now portend a new World War, we are told. You see, the far right in America has largely tired of the specter of the man in the cave toppling the U.S. government (to be sure, not all the know-nothings have), and has opted for a new paranoid scenario in which third-rate military powers (who happen to sit upon and be proximate to large oil reserves) present the new "threat" to the American way of life. This article (linked, of course, by InstaIgnorance) is typical of the new insanity. It begins:
Why is America waiting to be attacked by Iran?
Alas, we can proceed no further. For this is literally the first sentence of this opinion piece, and it is not meant as a weird joke. It would only be slightly weirder if it read: "Why is America waiting to be attacked by Martians?" Or: "Why is American waiting to be attacked by smurfs?" Iran--a country that has not attacked any of its neighbors since the late 18th-century; which the US outspends on military personnel and hardware 50 to 1; and which barely has the military capacity to defend itself against Israel, is going to attack the U.S.? With what? Spitballs? Mean words?
Some on the right who are still not wholly unhinged from reality have greeted these kinds of claims with the derisive response they warrant:
If Iran is really out to conquer the region, it would need tanks, lots and lots of tanks, plus air cover, since tank armadas are dead ducks in the open desert. So, is Iran building up its tank fleet and air force preparatory to its upcoming blitzkriegs? Here's what the Center for Strategic and International Studies says about Iran:
"Most of Iran's military equipment is aging or second rate and much of it is worn. Iran lost some 50-60% of its land order of battle in the climatic battles of the Iran-Iraq War, and it has never had large-scale access to the modern weapons and military technology necessary to replace them. It also has lacked the ability to find a stable source of parts and supplies for most of its Western-supplied equipment, and has not have access to upgrades and modernization programs since the fall of the Shah in 1979."
Here is Iran's tank fleet, according to a site called MILNET:
Tank Type Count Manufacturer M-47/48 150 U.S. (*) M-60A1 150-160 U.S. (*) Chieftain Mark 3/5s 100 U.K. (*) T-54/55 250 Russia/Soviet T-59 150-250 (35-?) Russia/Soviet T-72/S 480 Russia/Soviet T-69II 150-250 ? Russia/Soviet Zulfiqar 100 Iranian made from T-72 and M48 pieces Total Estimate 1600 * delivered prior to the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979
A reader comments:
I believe the name of the Iranian-made main battle tank, the Zuliqfar, literally means "burning torment" and is perhaps best rendered colloquially as "flaming coffin" or "death trap."
And here are other regional powers:
Comments Israel 4300 Modernized, well maintained Egypt 4300 Fairly Modernized, maintained Syria 4600 Fair maintained
but much older technology
Mostly older technology, maybe one to three full divisions of modern equipped Jordan 1217 Fair maintenance, old technology Saudi Arabia 1055 Well Maintained, modernized regularly Lebanon 315
Well aged, poorly maintained,
single battle ready only
So, it looks like Iran would match up pretty well with mighty Jordan.And then there's the Iranian Air Force, which resembles the raw materials for a nostalgic air show more than a war-winning military arm:
Aircraft Made in Count Mission Comments F-14 U.S. 50 Air Defense Poorly maintained, Little/no AAM, gun only MiG-29 Russia 6 Air Defense Highly capable, heavy maintenance costs, fuel hungry F-7M China 35 Air Defense Fairly modern and capable F-4D/E U.S. 260 Attack/Defense Very poorly maintained, parts not available to Iransome in ME market F-5E/FII U.S. 260 Attack/Defense Very poorly maintained,
parts not available from U.S., some in ME market
Su-24 Soviet 30 Attack Some parts purchases with Russia have taken place, these may be the best maintained of all Iranian aircraft Su-25K Soviet 7 Attack Seized during Gulf War (Iraq inexplicably flew them out)
May be operational but doubtful
Mir F-1 France 24 Attack/Defense Seized during Gulf War (Iraq inexplicably flew them out)
May be operational but doubtful
The theoretical bulk of the Iranian air force (520 planes) is made up of F4s, which first flew in 1958, and F5s, which first flew in 1959. If any are still flying, the rest must be used as sources for the cannibalizing of of parts.
So, it looks like Iran would match up pretty well with mighty Jordan.
As for the F-14s, which were the pride of the Shah's air force:
"One report suggested that the IRIAF can get no more than seven F-14s airborne at any one time"
So they've got 6 good MiG-29s, 30 Soviet Su-24s, and 35 pretty good Chinese planes.
In contrast, Israel, for example, has "555 combat aircraft (90 probably stored)." And, of course, Iran is missing most of the components of post-1979 air supremacy, such as AWACS-style flying command posts and stealth planes....
What the Iranians have been investing in are, intelligently enough, missiles and, presumably, nuclear weapons development, which makes a lot of sense if their military strategy is to deter attack.
But back to the latest insanity percolating up from the bowels of the American right:
Why do we listen to the European appeasers as they pretend the Lebanon front is a regional conflict, a national liberation contest, when it is demonstrably the prelude to the wider war — the Spain 1936 to the continental war of 1939?
Saying something is "demonstrable" is not the same as demonstrating it, and the author adopts not even the pretense of the latter in support of his ludicrous analogy.
What is the explanation for America's willful fiction that the United Nations Security Council can engineer an accommodation in Lebanon, when it is vivid to every member state that this is a replay of September 1938, when Europe fed Hitler the Sudetenland as the U.N. now wants to feed the jihadists the sovereignty of Israel?
Nazi Germany was, dare it be noted, a bit more powerful economically and militarily relative to its competitors than Iran is today; as already noted, Iran can't even hold its own militarily against Israel.
The most threatening answer is that America waits to be bloodied because it has lost its will to defend itself after five years of chasing rogue-state-sponsored gangsters and after three years of occupation in failed-state Iraq against Tehran- and Damascus-backed agents. A grave possibility is that America is now drained, bowed, ready to surrender to the tyrants of Tehran.
"Surrender to the tyrants of Tehran"? Surrender? I realize that American news coverage isn't very good, but did all the major media really fail to report that Iran had demanded our capitulation lest it attack us?
On its face, this kind of rhetoric is transparently ridiculous to any grown-up, but that does not mean it is not already inspiring little suburban brown shirts with computer keyboards to fantasize about global war, who are then joined by big brown shirts with newspapers available to spread the lies. What starker evidence could there be that American public discourse is unhinged from reason and evidence than that this ludicrous chatter analogizing Iran to Nazi Germany is repeated by anyone not already under psychiatric care?
Thank goodnesss for the Lew Rockwell libertarians----the ones who actually care about liberty, and not about shilling for the Republicans--who, when not indulging their free market utopias, are rather good at calling out the nonsense echoing throughout the culture. Herewith, Charley Reese:
For the president to compare Osama bin Laden, a crank with maybe a thousand followers scattered around the globe, with Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Lenin is preposterous, absurd and even laughable. To suggest bin Laden could take over Iraq is even more so. We have 140,000 troops, a Navy and an Air Force, and we can't "take over" Iraq. How in the name of heaven could bin Laden do it with no soldiers at all? He is, after all, a Sunni with only a small following among Sunnis, and the majority in Iraq is Shiite....
Let's not play around. Am I saying the president is crazy? No, not in the clinical sense. But, if he believes that bin Laden, Hitler, Stalin and Lenin are comparable, if he truly believes he is leading the free world in the great ideological war of the 21st century, then he has cut his anchor chain and drifted off into the Sea of Delusion....
The president, I believe, is desperate to be what he knows he is not – a great man. He has fantasized that he is a second Winston Churchill leading the forces of democracy in a great crusade against the forces of darkness. The only trouble is, there is nobody out there in the dark.
Sure, bin Laden and his small band of followers hate our guts. So what? They are half a drop in the bucket of 6 billion people. Bush has so distorted his view of reality, he does not seem to realize that most of our "allies" in the Middle East are dictators, and the people he calls terrorists – Iran, Hamas and Hezbollah – participated in free elections.
Even his so-called war on terror is phony. You can't wage a war against a tactic. Most of the groups he labels as terrorists are local groups with local grievances and don't think twice about us.
If America had not lost its collective mind after 9/11, there would have been a massive international criminal manhunt for Osama bin Laden and his associates; dramatically improved security at airports and ports; and renewed efforts to control and contain the spread of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. That's it.
Instead, billions have been squandered on imperialist aggression that has killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, turning Iraq into the new training and recruiting ground for would-be terrorists; port security remains almost as weak as it was five years ago; airport security is only somewhat improved; Osama bin Laden is free, his popularity at an all-time high in much of the Islamic world thanks to Bush's carnage, or sanctioned carnage, in Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Lebanon; and there is a worldwide rush by those countries fearing the American juggernaut to acquire weapons of mass destruction.
And to top it all off, delusional paranoids--or individuals whose cynicism simply knows no moral limits--are trying to foment a new war of aggression against Iran!
This morning, I found an e-mail sent at 9:57 am (Texas time) on the morning of September 11, 2001. By that time five years ago, the sickening images of hijacked planes exploding, the desperate and trapped jumping to their deaths, the towers collapsing, and on and on--all these had been paraded again and again across the screens. The flurry of calls and e-mails that morning to family, friends, and colleagues in the Northeast and elsewhere, all gave expression in one form or another to fear, horror, shock, despair, concern. This particular e-mail (to my father, in the New York area) was no different, though it concluded with the following clumsy line, though one whose resonance is now positively creepy: "This bodes ill for the future, since the only available responses will be hatred and more violence. I just hope the lunatics in the white house don't nuke Iraq in the next 24 hours as a response." They didn't use nuclear weapons on Iraq, and it took more than 24 hours for them to launch their war of aggression against that country. They now, however, talk openly about using nuclear weapons against Iran.
Unless the mental disturbance that has now all but consumed the public culture of the United States abates, even darker days, I fear, lie ahead for humanity, both in the U.S. and abroad. We shall, however, carry on with our mundane duties, hoping, as always, for the best.