the first year in the new millennium draws to a close, it might help
us sort out what's happened in the past three months – and thus how
to respond – by compiling a summary list of What We Know.
WHAT WE KNOW
As was the case with various other major mass-murder bombings (East
African embassies, USS Cole in Yemen, U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia,
etc.) we know that Osama bin Laden's Al Qaeda was behind the Twin
know that the Bush Administration, like the administrations before
it, was exceedingly lax when it came to security matters, including
the amassing and analysis of intelligence about terror groups. (But
the CIA and FBI, rather than being investigated and perhaps punished,
got their budgets increased instead.)
know that the Bush Administration and its corporate friends had its
eyes on Afghanistan as a possible war zone – and possible location
for a Central Asian oil pipeline – before September 11.
We know that the Bush Administration was wise enough to see in 9/11
the homeland beginnings of the new type of war – low-tech means
to carry out high-tech-like results – and began to organize a war
on terrorism that is worldwide in scope and ambition.
know that the Bush Administration made secret bilateral deals with
various countries in order to bring them into this anti-terrorist
coalition, specifically with Russia, the "stans," perhaps
China and Indonesia also.
know that the Bush policy of massive bombing from the air, combined
with support for the local anti-Taliban forces on the ground (and
then introducing select US units on the ground), was able to do
much more psychological and logistical damage than was originally
thought could be possible in such a limited time-frame.
know that the Taliban and Al Qaeda made strategic withdrawals and
"surrenders" in order not to engage the overwhelming force
against them, and disappeared into Pakistan, the mountains, the
villages, conserving their strength for other battles later. In
short, we're in a deceptively quiet period at the moment.
know that even with a US policy of limiting "collateral damage"
to civilians, perhaps as many as several thousand innocent Afghans
were killed and injured, and several million became internal refugees.
We know that bin Laden and his network have chemical, biological
and nuclear ambitions, and may well have created crude weapons of
know that even with the arrests and detentions of Al Qaeda agents
and supporters, "sleeper" agents are still living in the
60 nations where bin Laden has operatives. US intelligence agencies
estimate that about 70% of Al Qaeda's sleepers are still in place
around the world.
know that even if Bush had no exact foreknowledge of 9/11 events,
he has used those terrorist attacks – and the popular response of
the citizenry to his handling of the crisis – as a "cover"
to try to force his right-wing social and economic agenda through
the Congress, and has been fairly successful in so doing.
know that Bush feels emboldened enough by his high popularity ratings
to even attempt an end-run around the Constitution's Bill of Rights
in terms of shrinking civil-liberties protections for those suspected
of terrorist connections – all this rationalized by "protecting
the homeland" and "national security." And, by and
large, a frightened citizenry has gone along, preferring security
seemingly at any price – and not paying much attention to how quickly
citizens can be treated like non-citizens.
know that the Democrats in Congress have felt constrained to support
Bush's anti-terrorist policies – even when many of them knew the damage
those policies could cause to representative democracy and the Constitution
– because of fear of being seen as insufficiently "patriotic."
And so, frustrated as hell by their war constraints, they are (thank
goodness!) being much less friendly to the Bush agenda on other domestic
know that so successful and swift has the U.S.-led coalition been
in the early weeks, with Muslim opposition fairly muted and containable,
that the Bush Administration feels it can begin attacks in other countries
suspected of harboring terrorists.
know that there is no clearly understood definition of the word "terrorist."
One man's or country's "terrorist" is another man's or country's
"freedom fighter." So far, this fuzziness of definition
has not caused major problems – but it surely will.
know that there has been no declaration of a State of War by the Congress,
only a resolution authorizing the President to do what must be done
in combating the terrorists responsible for the 9/11 attack on the
know that, especially in the heartland captured by Bush in 2000 but
way beyond as well, a new kind of McCarthyism is rearing its head,
taking its lead from Bush's "you're-either-with us-or-you're-with-the-terrorists"
kind of demagoguery and Ashcroft's equation of criticism with aiding
terrorists. Already, those deemed insufficiently patriotic are being
blacklisted in academia and journalism, with the result being self-censorship.
know that because of Bush's popularity and the way anti-terror war
news dominates the headlines and energies, so many aspects of Bush's
right-wing policies are going insufficiently examined, especially
with regard to environmental and judicial matters. And the Enron scandal,
which involves Bush on the periphery, is barely visible, whereas Whitewater
was front page scandal for months.
know that because the Muslim reaction in the Middle East has been
relatively muted, the US decided it didn't need to do anything major
to keep the Palestinians happy. It said the right words about the
need for a "Palestinian state," but it essentially left
the Palestinians to the tender mercies of Ariel Sharon's military
know that if Arafat is eliminated as the Palestinians' viable leader,
the Israelis will have to face Hamas and Hizbollah, which the US has
declared are terrorist organizations.
know that Israeli intelligence officials have acknowledged that peace
and security will not, and cannot, be obtained through military means,
and that only a political settlement will work.
know that peace and security will come in the Middle East when, and
only when, Israel withdraws from the Occupied Territories – including
withdrawing all Israelis from the settlements (thus turning them over
to returning Palestinian refugees) – and the Palestinians formally
acknowledge Israel's right to exist and agree to international status
for Jerusalem. But knowing that – and knowing that the Israelis and
Palestinians also know that – means nothing in the current violence
unless somebody else steps in to help arrange the peace. The US must
be at the heart of that peacemaking process.
know that helping bring peace to the Palestine area will also, in
the long run, reduce the impetus for terrorism among fundamentalist
Arabs. Along the same lines, we know that altering other policies
in the Mideast likewise will help alter the soil in which terrorism
grows – such as more economic justice and jobs, such as removing U.S.
troops from Saudi Arabia, such as encouraging more democratic reforms
in the area, etc. We know that Bush, thinking that armed intervention
and threats can do the job, does not want to alter US policy along
know that we could significantly reduce our dependence on Mideast
oil (perhaps as much as 20%) – with the concomitant political ramifications
– simply by legislatively ordering that our automobiles be made more
energy-efficient, say, by five miles more per gallon. We know that
Bush does not want to do this.
know that the progressive left is in disarray, not certain how to
respond to Bush's expanded-war policies and civil liberties outrages.
But we also know that we have to devise a strategy – one that includes
reasonable policies to go after the fanatic terrorist cells and networks
– before full-fledged fascism is the "wartime" norm in this
Previous articles by Bernard Weiner on Antiwar.com
What Bush Should Have Said
A Conflicted Activist Speaks
has taught government and international politics at Western Washington
University and San Diego State University; he was with the San
Francisco Chronicle for nearly two decades.