On the tenth anniversary of the attack on the Twin Towers millions of
people will relive the horrors of that fateful day. The television
screens are filled with shocking images of death and destruction.
On the tenth anniversary of the attack
on the Twin Towers millions of people will relive the horrors of that
fateful day. The television screens are filled with shocking images of
death and destruction.
again we see the flames of blazing fuel as the planes struck the tall
buildings; the desperate people throwing themselves into empty space;
the collapsing edifices that filled the New York air with choking dust
and turned night into day, and the men and women covered in gray dust
looking like creatures from another planet.
The events of
September 11th 2001 undoubtedly represented a turning-point in history.
The tenth anniversary of the attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon
provides us with an opportunity to make a balance sheet of the past
decade, a decade that has reshaped the history of the world.
past decade was dominated by the so-called war on terror. Its imagery
has been burned on the collective psyche. Everybody remembers the
burning towers, followed by the battle on the slopes of Tora Bora, the
invasion of Iraq, the horrific pictures of hooded prisoners in Abu
Ghraib, the caged prisoners in Guantanamo Bay, the assassination of bin
However, the “war on terror” is a blatant misnomer. A war
presupposes the existence of two armies of more or less comparable
strength, and two governments that can declare the start of a war and
also end it. It also presupposes definite war aims on both sides. None
of these things are applicable in this case. Al Qaeda is not a state but
a terrorist organization. It has no standing army. Its war aims are
vague and its supporters are dispersed among the populations of
different lands. They operate in the shadows, not on the battlefield.
idea that such an enemy could be taken on by a conventional army with
tanks, guns and airplanes was always ludicrous. Terrorism is not fought
on a battlefield, but by a combination of intelligence, police methods
and politics. The use of conventional military means in this context was
the equivalent of a surgeon wielding a battle axe instead of a scalpel,
or a man using a machine gun to swat a mosquito.
Were we told the truth?
In an article that we wrote on the same day we said the following:
terrorist act has a completely insane and criminal character and must
be condemned – but not for the hypocritical reasons given by Bush and
Blair. Marxists oppose individual terrorism because it is
counterproductive and plays into the hands of the most reactionary
sections of the ruling class. This is clearly the case here: this bloody
outrage will play into the hands of US Big Business and imperialism. It
will give Bush a free hand to do anything he wants in the Middle East
and on a world scale. US public opinion will be softened up for any
reactionary policies at home and abroad.
“It will have a similar
effect on US public opinion to Pearl Harbour, which Roosevelt publicly
condemned but secretly welcomed. The American public will now be
prepared to accept the atrocities of so-called counter-insurgency and
counter-terrorist actions abroad, and also reactionary and
anti-democratic legislation at home.” (US Suicide Bombing – Terrorism Aids Reaction, written by Ted Grant and Alan Woods Tuesday, 11 September 2001)
were many unanswered questions about what happened that day. Ten years
later these questions remain unanswered. It seemed impossible that the
Intelligence Services of the USA were unable to detect this existence of
a plot of such vast dimensions. In the same article we expressed a
“How is it possible that the CIA
was so ignorant and inept as to permit such a devastating attack on the
nerve-centres of the nation? One possibility has not been mentioned –
namely that it was the result of a provocation that went badly wrong. In
the shadowy world of intrigue, provocation and counter-provocation that
characterises the activities of the secret services, it is not beyond
the bounds of possibility that a section of the US military
Establishment decided to allow the terrorists to launch an attack inside
America as a means of boosting public support for an aggressive policy
and rearmament. This would explain the surprising failure of US
intelligence, although the devastating nature of the attack would
suggest that the provocation got out of hand.”
no friend of conspiracy theories, but it is true that the “official”
reports raise more questions than they answer. Ten years later, I think
that the explanation we put forward at the time probably comes fairly
close to the truth. We may never know. But if the facts of the action
are unclear, its results are very clear indeed.
The events of 9/11
suited the imperialists very well. What GW Bush did when he declared
his “war on terror” had nothing to do with fighting terrorism. It was
intended to whip up a bellicose atmosphere in order to justify setting
in motion the vast military machine of the USA for the sake of foreign
The imperialists are always in need of some external
threat – real or imaginary – to justify aggressive foreign wars. In the
past they shouted: “remember the Maine!” or “remember Pearl Harbour!”
Now every sign of dissent was immediately drowned out by a deafening
chorus of; “remember 9/11!”
provided the excuse for the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
A case could at least be made for taking action against al Qaeda in
Afghanistan, where they had their main base, protected by the Taliban
regime. But why attack Iraq? Immediately after 9/11, Rumsfeld was
beating the drum for this line of action, which surprised even elements
in the White House.
Everyone now knows that Iraq had nothing
whatsoever to do with the attack on the Twin Towers, and whatever you
may think of Saddam Hussein, he was not an ally of al Qaeda but a bitter
foe. Yet the reactionary clique of Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney launched the
criminal invasion of Iraq under the banner of “the war on terror”. This
was based on the most blatant lies, which have now been exposed, in
particular, the monstrous falsehood about “weapons of mass destruction.”
Fisk, a highly intelligent and honest observer says we have avoided the
real question for ten years: the one thing which any cop looks for
after a street crime: the motive. “How many died on 9/11? Almost 3,000.
How many died in the Iraq war? Who cares?”
invasion of Iraq was not at all related to the events of 9/11. It had
been decided long before that by a right-wing Republican clique, hell
bent on extending the US sphere of influence in the Middle East after
the fall of the USSR. The problem with Saddam Hussein was not that he
was a dictator (the USA has supported many dictatorial regimes in the
Middle East: the Shah of Iran, Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, the
Sheikh of Bahrain, the Saudi monarchy, the Algerian generals etc.,
etc.). The problem was that he was not sufficiently obedient to commands
It is true that the regime of Saddam Hussein was
a brutal and bloody dictatorship, which was hated by the majority of
the Iraqi people. But the task of overthrowing that oppressive regime
was the task of the Iraqi people themselves. When America toppled Saddam
Hussein it only replaced one dictatorship with another oppressive and
corrupt dictatorship, masquerading under a false “democratic” facade.
idea that the Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney clique was remotely interested in
bringing democracy to Iraq is a joke in very bad taste. They
conveniently ignored the fact that the USA had previously backed Saddam
Hussein, and armed him in a criminal war of aggression against Iran.
They turned a blind eye to all his crimes and even provided him with
poison gas to murder the Kurds. Donald Rumsfeld personally went to
Baghdad to express his firm support for Saddam Hussein in his war of
unprovoked aggression against Iran.
The people of Iraq have been
forced to endure the humiliation of foreign occupation and the torment
of sectarian slaughter that engulfed it immediately after the American
invasion. This criminal act, far from damaging al Qaeda, enormously
boosted it. Previously, al Qaeda had no base in Iraq, now it has plenty
of them, and an army of recruits helpfully provided by GW Bush, and its
other two chief recruiting sergeants, Rumsfeld and Cheney.
al-Qaeda was able to launch 42 attacks across the country on a single
day. And when the last American troops depart at the end of this year,
what will they leave behind them? If they hoped to install a friendly
government in Baghdad, they have failed. Nuri al-Maliki stands far
closer to Teheran than to Washington. Nor is Iraq a democracy in any
Has the war on terror succeeded?
the past decade the military assault on al-Qaeda has been both
relentless and, from a narrow military point of view, successful. Leon
Panetta, a former director of the CIA and now US defence secretary, said
during a recent visit to Afghanistan that America was within reach of
inflicting a “strategic defeat” on al-Qaeda.
Is this true? A large
number of jihadis have been captured and killed and for ten years the
organization has been unable to repeat anything on the scale of 9/11.
Osama bin Laden was assassinated in May, and his new second-in-command
was killed only a month ago. The organization’s command structure has
been seriously disrupted and it has clearly lost a significant part of
its operational capabilities.
It is true that al Qaeda still has a
presence in Yemen and some other places and may still be able to stage
terrorist atrocities. Terrorist acts do not necessarily require big
forces. It took only 19 men armed with cardboard cutters to mount the
attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon ten years ago. Small
terrorist groups were able to organize large-scale atrocities in Madrid
However, after a decade of intelligence-gathering,
ferocious attacks and mass arrests and detentions in Guantanamo, al
Qaeda has been severely weakened. This was the case even before American
SEALs killed bin Laden. Yet the myth of al Qaeda, a supposedly
omnipresent and ever-present terrorist threat, is still maintained and
carefully nurtured in the media. Why?
Every year the USA spends
huge amounts on arms. There are powerful vested interests in justifying
this vast expenditure, especially at a time of economic crisis and
concerns about the colossal US deficit. After the fall of the Soviet
Union, the Military-Industrial Complex needed another external threat in
order to defend its economic interests. The right-wing clique around
Bush also represented powerful oil interests that had an eye on the vast
oil reserves of Iraq. These were the real interests behind the
so-called war on terror.
The “war on terror” was allegedly fought in defence of American democracy. But the latter has been one of the first casualties. The Economist writes:
secure the homeland, America did not just wage foreign wars. It also
created a colossal security and intelligence bureaucracy at home. The Washington Post
reported last year that more than 1,200 government organizations and
almost 2,000 companies were working on programmes related to
counter-terrorism, homeland security and intelligence.
say that America has paid a big price in the loss of freedoms great and
small. It has become normal to remove your shoes before boarding an
aircraft. America did not intern Muslim citizens after September 11th,
as it did Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbour, but the Bush
administration rode roughshod over cherished liberties. Congress, the
courts and a new president eventually pushed back, but not all the way.
Though America no longer subjects suspected terrorists to waterboarding,
Guantánamo is still open, an emblem of everything America is supposed
not to stand for. Many of its inmates could spend the rest of their
lives in captivity without ever having a proper trial.”
lines are sufficient to expose the reactionary consequences of
terrorism in general and 9/11 in particular. For a time it strengthened
the hand of imperialism and the most reactionary circles of the US
ruling class. But now all that is beginning to unravel. Ten years after
9/11 the winds of revolution are blowing everywhere.
The Arab Revolution
only way to bring about a genuinely democratic regime in Iraq and the
rest of the Arab world is by revolutionary means – as shown by the
events in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. This marks a complete repudiation of
al-Qaeda’s authoritarian and fundamentalist doctrine. The jihadists and
Islamic fundamentalists played little or no role in these revolutionary
movements, although in some countries they may still succeed in
hijacking them if the workers do not take power into their own hands.
West can claim no credit for this awakening. It was not inspired by the
invasion of Iraq, to which the Arabs were fundamentally opposed. The
Arab street understood very well that Iraq’s new government is a puppet
regime. They knew that George Bush’s “freedom agenda” meant only the
freedom of the imperialists to loot Iraq and rob it of its oil and other
resources. They do not trust the “democracy” preached by governments
that for decades have propped up the most vicious Arab regimes.
the revolutionary wave finally swept over Tunisia, Egypt and the whole
of the Arab world almost a decade later, it was not the result of
America’s display of “shock and awe” tactics but a spontaneous eruption
of rage and frustration at intolerable conditions. Its sole motor force
was the revolutionary people, especially the workers and the
revolutionary youth, for whom the USA is not a model, but rather an
enemy who backed the hated old regime till the eleventh hour and after.
Libya, too, the Gaddafi regime was overthrown by the armed people.
NATO, hiding behind the fig-leaf of the so-called United Nations,
intervened when it became clear that Gaddafi was in difficulties. Their
bombing campaign was intended to tip the balance in favour of the
rebels, and thus to safeguard the interests of the Americans and
Europeans after his overthrow. But the imperialists were not prepared to
arm the rebels, who they distrusted, and still distrust.
people of Libya are not so stupid that they cannot see through the
intrigues and lies of the imperialists who supported Gaddafi and his
regime up to the last moment, when they conveniently switched sides. It
is public knowledge that both the Europeans and the USA had close links
with the Gaddafi regime, that they sent arms to Gaddafi and that their
secret services collaborated actively with the old regime.
victory of the rebels has meant the opening of the archives of Gaddafi’s
secret police and military intelligence. This proves beyond any doubt
that the CIA and British Intelligence (MI5 and MI6) provided
intelligence to the Gaddafi regime to combat the Libyan opposition, and
handed over oppositionists to the torture chambers, including the
present leader of the Libyan armed forces. All this was done in the name
of “the war on terror”. These facts show the repulsive hypocrisy of the
imperialists and their false attachment to “democracy”.
Afghanistan and Pakistan
Afghanistan, America succeeded in chasing out al-Qaeda and its Taliban
protectors. But al-Qaeda and the Taliban, with the aid of the Pakistan
Military Intelligence (IS), merely shifted their operations to new bases
over the border in Pakistan, from whence they proceeded to launch
attacks on the US forces.
In retaliation, the CIA sent unmanned
drones to bomb them inside Pakistan. But since most of the victims of
these drone attacks are civilian Pushtoons, this bombing campaign has
stoked the fires of hatred towards America and provided the Taliban
insurgency with a new influx of recruits eager to continue the bloody
war of attrition in Afghanistan.
Years of savage war have reduced
large areas of Afghanistan to rubble. Nobody knows how many people have
been killed. And there is no end in sight. Despite all the brave talk of
Obama, the Americans are preparing to pull out of Afghanistan in what
will be a humiliating and ignominious retreat. It remains an open
question how long the corrupt Karzai regime that the West is propping up
in Kabul will survive after NATO’s planned departure in 2014.
talk about victory, about inflicting a military defeat on al-Qaeda,
“taking out bin Laden” etc. But these are hollow boasts. The price of
this alleged “victory” has been to create new dangers everywhere. By
carrying the war into Pakistan, America has further destabilized what
was already a very fragile and unstable country. With a population of
190million Muslims, and a nuclear arsenal, Pakistan represents
potentially a far bigger threat to America than either Iraq or
along Pakistan has been playing its own game in Afghanistan. For
decades the Pakistan military and especially the ISI have been
manoeuvring for control in Kabul. The Taliban were – and remain – their
allies. The government in Islamabad has been kept afloat by American
money, but key sections of the Pakistan state are secretly supporting
the Taliban and their jihadist allies. The ISI obviously knew where bin
Laden was hiding, which is why the Americans decided not to inform
Islamabad of their raid on bin Laden’s house.
Since the murder of bin Laden, relations between Pakistan and America have become even more envenomed. The Economist
(3 September) concludes: “America’s homeland may be safer than it was
ten years ago, but its strategic posture has deteriorated in a swathe of
the Middle East and South Asia, and will worsen further if Iraq falls
under the spell of the mullahs’ Iran, or Pakistan implodes.”
is the hypocrisy and double-dealing of the imperialists clearer than on
the Palestinian question. In an attempt to woo Arab public opinion,
Washington held out the prospect of an American-brokered peace in
Palestine, but GW Bush was far more interested in friendly relations
with Israel than peace and, for all his fine words, Obama has done no
better. Netanyahu continues his encroachment on Palestinian lands and
terrorizing of the Palestinians with total impunity.
this strengthened or weakened America’s position in the world? Let us
consider the human and economic costs. Some 6,000 US soldiers, and many
of its allies’ soldiers, have lost their lives in these bloody wars of
attrition. As for Iraqi and Afghan losses, nobody knows for sure. But
according to one very conservative estimate about 137,000 civilians have
been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan.
These wars have
created more than 7.8million refugees. The wars’ ultimate cost,
including interest payments and veterans’ care, to the United States
will amount to up to $4 trillion. To put this in its economic context,
this figure is approximately equivalent to the USA’s cumulative budget
deficits for the six years from 2005 to 2010.
This represents a
colossal drain on America’s resources. And what have they got to show
for all this sacrifice apart from the disruption of al-Qaeda – something
that could have been better achieved by police methods and counter
terrorist units? But there have been wider and potentially even more
dangerous consequences. A recent poll for the Arab American Institute
reported that America’s standing across the Arab world is now lower than
it was at the end of the Bush presidency. The hatred of America has
become deep and embittered.
These constant wars and upheavals have
unsettled the minds of Muslim youth in the West. The fumes of jihadism
have spread like poisonous a cloud to western countries, as when British
Muslims set off bombs on the London Underground in 2005. Similar
tendencies can be observed in the USA. In 2009 an American Muslim gunned
down his fellow soldiers at Fort Hood in Texas and last year a new
immigrant from Pakistan tried to set off a car bomb in New York’s Times
It may be doubted whether these and other plots were
directly organized by al-Qaeda. More likely they were merely inspired by
the vague feeling of a need to lash out, copying the methods of the
jihadis. But the question that must be asked is what feeds the feelings
of frustration and rage that is the main motor force for such desperate
actions. It is far more convenient to avoid this awkward question by
sweeping references to al Qaeda – as if the latter really represented an
all-powerful and ever-present force, instead of a small and beleaguered
Unemployment, poverty, racism and a growing intolerance
in the host societies have combined to create an alienated layer among
the youth that is not confined to the Muslim population. Unfortunately
for the bourgeois it is impossible to declare war on unemployment or to
solve the problem of poverty by sending a drone to drop bombs. And in
the absence of a strong Marxist party, sections of disaffected youth
begin to sympathize with the jihadis.
This is a blind alley that
only provides ammunition to the right wing and the racists, while
presenting no real threat to the state. While constantly harping on the
threat of Islamic fundamentalism, the media ignores the threat posed by
right-wing and fascist terrorism, which was revealed by Anders Behring
Breivik’s murder of 77 Young Socialists in Norway in July. The racist
poison is being echoed by the “respectable” bourgeois politicians. Newt
Gingrich, a possible Republican candidate for the US presidency, joined a
campaign with clear racist undertones to stop the construction of an
Islamic centre and mosque in lower Manhattan.
The tactics of al
Qaeda, which seem to be “anti-imperialist” in fact serve the interests
of imperialism. The two feed off each other and are necessary to each
other, like Siamese twins tied together by a fatal umbilical cord.
Splits in the West
“war on terror” has also produced severe strains in the Western
Alliance. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the USA became the
sole world super-power. Along with supreme power came supreme arrogance.
Now the Europeans are tired of being dragged into America’s wars. On
the other hand, America is exasperated by Europe’s unwillingness to pull
its weight. At every turn the stresses and strains come to the surface.
collective defence, NATO joined the war in Afghanistan, although that
country is very far from the North Atlantic. Britain, which had long ago
lost its leading role in the world, has become reduced to the
humiliating role of a satellite of Washington. Tony Blair, anxious to
please Big Brother across the Atlantic was prepared to prostrate himself
on all fours, fawning like a pet poodle to the Man in the White House,
while all the time maintaining the ridiculous pretence of a “Special
Relationship” between London and Washington.
The only thing
special about it was its especially nauseating character of Blair’s
subservience. It goes without saying that the Americans soon got tired
of this ridiculous charade, which lasted only as long as they needed it
to create the illusion of a “Coalition of the Willing”. The problem was
that not many were willing. Only a few others who aspired to the
position of “Special Friends” of Washington, such as Poland and Ukraine,
rushed to volunteer for duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
really important counties in Europe, Germany, and especially France,
kept a safe distance. And for most public opinion in Europe, including
Britain, the war in Iraq was deeply unpopular. And after a decade of
body bags the appetite of the American people for foreign wars has been
sharply reduced. The economic crisis that began in 2008 and is still
continuing means that ten years after 9/11, the attention of the people
is focused elsewhere.
The splits in the Western alliance have
coincided with the growing economic difficulties on both sides of the
Atlantic. There is less money for foreign adventures, and therefore
increased tension as to who should pay for them. This was exposed by the
Libyan affair. America, having burned its fingers in Iraq and
Afghanistan, was not keen to get involved in a war in Libya. The Germans
decided to stay out of it altogether. The British and French
governments were in the first ranks of those baying for military action.
suited the Americans to present the Libyan campaign as a NATO
operation. But it only served to expose the weaknesses of NATO. Its
European members keep some 2million men in uniform but they only managed
to send between 25,000 and 40,000 to Afghanistan. And after only 11
weeks of the Libyan campaign, they had run short of munitions and needed
American help. Even such a limited campaign exposed serious weaknesses
in both the French and British armed forces.
After 9/11 the “Bush
doctrine” was meant to show the world the power of imperialism, which
was supposed to sweep all before it. Ten years later what is being
exposed are the limits of the power of imperialism. It is compelled to
intervene everywhere, but this constant pressure is undermining its very
On 11th of September 2001 we wrote the following:
the greatest super power the world has ever seen turns out to be a
colossus with feet of clay. The most powerful military state the world
has ever seen has shown its powerlessness in the face of terrorism.
Before the Second World War, Trotsky predicted that America would emerge
as the victor and establish world hegemony, but he added that it would
have dynamite built into its foundations. These prophetic words have now
turned out to be literally true. Ten years ago, after the fall of the
Soviet Union, President Bush’s father promised a New World Order. Now
the reality has struck home with a vengeance.
“The rape of the
planet by Big Business has created a world fraught with misery, war and
chaos, which has now impacted on the heart of world imperialism. This is
the real cause of the present atrocity. The terrorism of world-wide
hunger, disease, misery, exploitation and oppression which torments
millions of men, women and children each and every day of their lives,
is the root cause of the turmoil and instability which is sweeping the
planet in the dawn of the 21st century.”
events have confirmed this prognosis. One war follows another. One shock
after another has shaken the foundations of society and in the process
has also shaken up the consciousness of millions of people.
most ordinary Americans today the events of 9/11 must already seem like
ancient history. Sure the shocking images of the collapse of the Twin
Towers still arouse powerful feelings. But there is no longer any
appetite for flag waving chauvinism. As time passes the intoxicating
fumes of chauvinism wear off, leaving people with a bad headache and no
desire to repeat the experience.
Even some Republicans have been
forced to recognize the new mood. In Iowa last month, Ron Paul, a
Republican presidential candidate, was cheered to the rafters when he
called for the troops to come home. The 2012 election will focus not on
“the global war on terror” but on unemployment and falling living
standards. The people of America want to hear less about foreign
adventures and more about the problems they face in America itself.
of talking about nation-building abroad, most Americans want to hear
more about nation-building at home. This new mood can easily revert to
old-style isolationism. The problem is that this option is no longer
available. The USA is now inextricably bound up in world affairs and
cannot avoid getting involved. The whole world is now one single,
indissoluble whole. There is no escaping the fact of globalization. But
globalization now manifests itself as a global crisis of capitalism.
USA has accepted the role of world policeman that in the past was held
by Britain. But whereas Britain derived vast profits from its imperial
role, for the USA it has become a colossal drain. The difference is that
British power was at its height in a period of capitalist upswing,
whereas the USA’s world role coincides with a period of capitalist
The crisis of capitalism affects all countries, big and
small. But America is affected most of all. The crisis of American
capitalism is graphically expressed in its colossal deficit, which the
ruling class is attempting to solve by placing the burden on the
shoulders of the working class and the middle class. Sooner or later
this will have revolutionary consequences, as we have already seen in
Wisconsin. The 21st century was born in the shadow of war. But the decisive war of the 21st century will be the class war.