Truncating the Antecedents: Addendum on 9/11 and the Present Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

If Franklin D. Roosevelt had been as artless as George W. Bush in his oratory, he might have dispensed with his speech about the “date which will live in infamy” and so forth and simply told the country on December 8, 1941, that the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor “changed everything.” Of course, the Bush administration’s account of the “unprovoked” 9/11 attacks, allegedly carried out only because some fanatical Muslims “hate us for our freedoms,” is another classic case of truncating the antecedents, which in this instance stretch back through more than sixty years of U.S. interventions in the Middle East and include a litany of U.S. outrages, from the overthrow of an elected Iranian government in 1953, to unconditional support for repeated Israeli aggressions and land grabs, to the present military occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq—more than enough to incite some passionate Middle Easterners to seek violent retribution against Americans, in this country as well as in theirs. Yet the Bush administration would have people believe that we freedom-loving, peace-loving, ever-generous Americans were simply sitting here minding our own business when, for no comprehensible reason, we were attacked by crazed Arabs intent on martyrdom. Thus, the government again seeks to truncate the antecedents, and if we may judge by the American public’s prevailing ignorance of them, the attempt has succeeded.

Like the counterfactual claim that U.S. participation in World War II was justified by its effect in “saving the European Jews” (about 80 percent of whom perished), none of the Bush administration’s humanitarian rationales for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq can withstand critical scrutiny. The establishment of “democracy” has proved to be nothing but a solemn farce, notwithstanding the bogus, purple-finger-flaunting elections. In Afghanistan, regional warlords and powerful narco-barons effectively control the country, except for Kabul, and combat continues to break out episodically with no end in sight. In Iraq, efforts to elevate the downtrodden Shiites have given way to an endless sectarian bloodbath, accompanied by binges of ethnic cleansing in Baghdad and other cities, and the U.S. forces lately have more or less gone over to supporting the previously demonized Sunnis and paying them large sums of money to desist from killing U.S. troops (while they continue to kill their Shiite neighbors, who in turn kill one another, most notably of late in Basra). In short, the war’s rationales and excuses form an incoherent succession of proffered and then abandoned plausibilities, each of which served only a public-relations purpose for a brief spell, which may have been all that was expected of it. If the U.S. government ever had a genuine reason for going to war in Iraq, it has yet to make that reason public. Every American who has died in this war has truly died in vain. And the Iraqi dead, of course, have simply been murdered by unjustified foreign invaders or by other Iraqis whose criminality has been fostered by the lawless conditions the occupiers have created.

Robert Higgs is Retired Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute, author or editor of over fourteen Independent books, and Founding Editor of Independent’s quarterly journal The Independent Review.
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