Like you, I've been thinking and reading a great deal about September 11, its prequels and sequels and it seems to me that those now dashing about the world looking for someone on whom to inflict justice have failed to see the world through their enemies' eyes. It is axiomatic that those who choose a terrorist strategy hold the upper hand because they can choose the time and place of the attack. But more to the point, they choose the motivation and the weapons and from this, if we listen careful, we can learn, and so far I see learning outside the power structures and much failure within it.
The evidence so far suggests that;
1. This attack is probably the end of a process rather than its beginning
2. The "organisation" that perpetrated it is a purely new economy one and no longer exists
3. If there are more attacks against the USA, they will be long down the track and perpetrated by entirely different people.
It is my observation that the final stage of a failed military process is extravagant violence. It happened in places like Serbia, Romania, East Timor, even the US involvement in Vietnam saw the progressively more extravagant use of violence until the only choice was to leave. Nixon’s terrorism in bombing Cambodia was designed to give Kissinger a credible threat to the North Vietnamese; “Give us a face-saving way out or I can’t guarantee that this madman will not nuke Hanoi”; but the point is that you only adopt that strategy when you have reached the end of your tether. The current bombing campaign in Afghanistan is similarly showing signs of desperation. We remember the outcome of three days of bombing when Donald Rumsfeld bragged that the US was not running out of targets, Afghanistan was; if that is true, why is the bombing getting ever heavier? Try panic, try the end of a strategy.
When we invoke the divine wind, the Kamikaze, we reach to the very limit of that strategy in October 21, 1944 when Japan had already lost the war in a strategic sense and needed literally a miracle to avoid being completely humiliated. In other words, it is the tactic of a combatant whose power has gone or, as with Palestinian suicide bombers, of a combatant who has never had any power in the first place. To extrapolate to Al Qaeda, they have tried numerous times in Lebanon, Africa, Yemen to provoke the US and they failed each time, they had run out of options to fight the US on their own territory, so they had to climb into the belly of the beast and do what they did on September 11 to make any impression at all. But if that had failed, what could they have done next? I am reminded of Muhammed Ali’s fight in Zaire against George Foreman. Where Ali demonstrated his power by his ability to take the best Foreman could give him and only when his opponent was exhausted did Ali even deign to throw a punch. Plainly we have not opted for that strategy, it may be a mistake.
I will give good odds that there were more attackers due to fly on September 11 who failed in their missions for any number of reasons; but they are now either gone to ground or out of the country or possibly dead to ensure that the trail remains cold. And what could they do to follow up such a theatrical triumph? If that didn't provoke the US into a huge tantrum, what possibly could they do? The answer, I believe, is nothing.
The other major failure of the west in relation to this event is to characterize it as war, or even terror. It is not, and it wasn't designed as such. The perpetrators are dead, their suicide, while on a grand scale, was no different from many other suicides; it was an act of punishment. Punishment is designed as the end of a process.
When we punish someone it is on the basis that their debt is paid and they have no further right to retaliate against us. That is the character of the WTC attack. By their lights we have been accused, judged and convicted and the sentence passed. They have carried out the sentence and that is it. Because the perpetrators are also dead, and I don't believe there is an "organisation" behind them to gloat, take control or in any other way deal with the consequences, the idea that it is a war or even a crime, is irrelevant.
I am saddened and bemused by all this talk about nuclear and biological or chemical attacks being the next possibles on the list; in fact I'm fascinated that there are even suggestions that "this group" even have a follow-up plan. The idea that there would be an organisation that might go from the WTC attack to distributing toxins via crop dusters is not just laughable, it is a sign of a mind set that is not adequate to dealing with the problem. It is the kind of thing that members of the FBI might think to do, that Tom Clancy might think up, but they are western. post industrial technology oriented thoughts and what we are dealing with is, for want of a better term, a desert mentality.
I don't mean by that in any way a primitive mentality; there is no question that the attacks in NY an Washington were exceptionally intelligent uses of the available technologies, from box cutters to aircraft to timing to civil engineering.
But the point is that they were available technologies. The attackers did not own anything beyond the box cutters, they leased or appropriated all the rest. This is the approach adopted by desert dwellers of all kinds. Travel light, use what you find. Its most sophisticated weapon was not exploding aircraft, it was the knowledge that the media would do most of the work; generating the appalling images and repeating them until there was no avoiding the terror which is the objective of the strategy. And the target was, and remains the human mind. The front line in this battle is between the ears as the panic being induced by the anthrax scare is demonstrating.
The perpetrators of September 11 do not think in terms of trying to smuggle in a nuclear weapon, however small, let alone setting up and trying to manage the technological resources needed to fill the air with anthrax or sarin gas. This is western tech thinking and presupposes structures and processes which were not part of the original attack scenario. Perhaps obtaining hazardous goods licenses and detonating half a dozen loads of assorted poisons in the Chicago CBD might make sense, but there are so many things militating against that as a successful strategy to achieve the main objective which is high impact and very high visibility.
Mailing anthrax is the coward’s choice and creates too fuzzy an image to burn into the enemy’s mind. As is now becoming apparent, the anthrax attack is probably coming from exactly the technological mind, probably a cousin of Timothy McVeigh. If that is so, then the “follow-up” of September 11 has been silence while the US sinks steeply into depression and paranoia.
Osama Bin Ladin, for all his cleverness and willingness to kill, has failed so far in his desire to provoke a final conflict between good and evil. He has now played his biggest trump. If the west had managed to unite the world in condemnation and contempt for him, while not adding to the damage and destruction of innocent lives, it would have demonstrated, in the best way possible, that his medieval mindset is bankrupt and to be consigned to the scrap heap of history. If we fail our own tests of acceptable behaviour and indulge in the same quality of action, leading perhaps to the endless conflict that Bin Ladin wants, then he will have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.
As the world tries in vain to track down a credible trail of evidence that would justify even the smallest retaliation, we will see that once again we have failed in thinking outside our own paradigm. We assume that "Bin Ladin", whoever he might actually be, "wants" something and has an "organisation" to achieve that. But let us assume that he doesn't "want" anything beyond doing God's work. If you act in accord with what you believe to be God's law and will, then you don't want anything at all, just to do his will. And what if the actors in this catastrophe hatched for themselves the plan? They then went to bin Ladin and asked for the money to do the job and he gave it and they left and did it.
That would make him guilty of funding an appalling crime, but that is different from being responsible for it in the way the mad scientist who wants to rule the world of James Bond fame might be. More to the point, it focuses the issue on his criminality and there would be no more fitting outcome for him than to be lumped in with common thieves and rapists and murderers, hauled before a court and thrown into prison for the rest of his life. But that would require a mindset based on international jurisprudence and there is zero evidence for that in the US or most of its coalition partners so far.
It could all be a cunning plot, but it may be much looser and more opportunist than we have so far imagined. That would have us barking up a thousand wrong trees and be entirely consistent with what has happened so far.
Some of us have come to the realisation that Afghans need help more than condemnation, lets hope we can see our way clear to providing it before millions die out of fear that we will bomb them. It took Hitler 10 years to kill 6 million Jews, it would be a dreadful indictment of the west that it took less than a year to kill 6 million Afghans. But that could happen. Then where will we look for peace, and peace of mind?
We will have ensured that we have good reason to fear another generation of people who hate and who have nothing to lose and who can, above all, wait.
One thing I would ask you to do; take down the year zero title. This is not year zero; and if we make it that, then we have allowed the fanatics to define something they are not entitled to. This is year infinite, in the endless stream of years that stretches forever back and forth from where we are. We will, if we are lucky and courageous and humane, absorb and learn from these events and use them as a tool to make the world a better place to live in. A place in which everyone has a stake. In the end, victory is not permitting acts of hatred to define anything. But that is not to say we can't learn from them, learn that it is time to find better ways of doing many things we take for granted.