Six years ago France’s Le Monde titled “Nous sommes tous AmÃ©ricains ! – We are all Americans ! ” Six days ago the German Marshall Fund published its Transatlantic Trends 2007, making it plain that 46 percent of Europeans believe U.S.-EU relations not to improve even under a new U.S. administration, and 58 percent of French interviewees even favoring the EU to address global threats in disregard of the United States. In the collective memory of the world 9/11 lives in infamy, in the United States as an unprovoked attack and national trauma, while the majority of mankind perceives it as a killer argument employed by the Bush Administration to vindicate the crusades long decided on in advance. As diverse as they are, both views are justified. 9/11 is a date which will live in infamy, and both perpetrators, those who have committed the crime, and those who have abused it must be brought to justice for the global divide to heal.
The Bush Administration’s felonies and complete failure on all fronts can only be fully comprehended when set in historic context. On December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed the declaration of war against Japan on behalf of a previously deeply divided nation, the American people entered the noblest war they ever engaged in as one, and Winston Churchill noted in his diary, “Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.” Fifty-six years later George Bush presides over a nation more torn apart then ever, the United States, and not Iran or North Korea, are perceived as the greatest threat to world peace, and Ahmed Chalabi surely must have authored a similar diary entry.
Yet after Pearl Harbor and 9/11, the premises for U.S. action were almost identical. The Japanese attack on the Pacific Fleet forced the American people to tear apart the strait jacket of isolationism and to finally adopt leadership in the epic struggle between liberalism and fascism they had tried to ignore since the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and united all major powers in a grand coalition unseen since the Napoleonic Wars. Before the attack on the Twin Towers, who would have ever dreamed of Russia giving the U.S. full access to, and unconditional support in Central Asia less than ten years after the end of the Cold War, even supporting her to indefinitely occupy Afghanistan, the Kremlin’s equivalent of Vietnam? In his essay The End of History Francis Fukuyama was still deriding religious fundamentalists as “crackpot messiahs”, after 9/11 at the latest, they and the grievances of the Muslim world at large should have had had the world’s undivided attention. After WWII, it was understood that a military defeat of fascism had to be complemented by an ideological exorcism, that winning the peace and the hearts and minds of the defeated is as conditional to complete victory as aerial supremacy. With the invasion of Iraq and the incomprehensible aberration of Guantanamo, instead, George Bush has provided Osama bin Laden with a Heaven-sent PR he keeps making full use of until this very day.
The list of misconducts, crimes, and incompetences is as infinitely continuable as it is tragic. Yet, even in these times of moral decay America is no Chile, and George Bush and his cronies must not be allowed to steal away with impunity and hide behind the Augusto Pinochet-self-proclaimed-Senator-for-life-like immunity of a former head of state. They have to be hold accountable for betraying the trust the American people had placed in them in this moment of utter grief and taunting the victims of 9/11. An impeachment, as justified as it is, would only serve as a campaign tool and is unsuitable to initiate a national healing process. Such a trial is too important to let it degenerate into a farce or nothing but partisan argy-bargy. It has to be backed by a plurality of the populace, including a majority of the Republican Party and her voters, to furnish a universally accepted narrative and viable accounting of the past six years.
Even sixty years after the collapse of Nazi-Germany the accounting of the complicity of each individual in Central Europe is not satisfyingly concluded. As the Holocaust and the sixty million casualties of WWII cannot be blamed on Adolf Hitler alone, it would be too easy to rid oneself of all blame at the entrance of the White House. To some extent we are all culpable of acting as “willing executioners”, as Daniel Goldhagen titled his ’96 reckoning of virulent anti-Semitism in German pre-WWII society. Or as Gary Kamiya today put it on Salon.com:
“Of course America was enraged and fearful after the attacks. But reacting to the attacks as we did, like an angry drunk in a bar, was not in our national interests. It was vital that we think clearly about our response, who attacked us, why they did, and what our most effective response would be. But here the American establishment ran up against its ideological blind spot — its received ideas about the Arab/Muslim world. Combined with the hysterical emotionalism, those ideas, which amount to a kind of de facto bigotry, allowed Bush to push through one of the most bizarrely gratuitous wars in history …
“Sept. 11 was a hinge in history, a fork in the road. It presented us with a choice. We could find out who attacked us, surgically defeat them, address the underlying problems in the Middle East, and make use of the outpouring of global sympathy to pull the rest of the world closer to us. Or we could lash out blindly and self-righteously, insist that the only problems in the Middle East were created by “extremists,” demonize an entire culture and make millions of new enemies.”
A complete accounting of the last six years must not ignore our role in it, of each and every one of us.
“Like a vibration that causes a bridge to collapse, the 9/11 attacks exposed grave weaknesses in our nation’s defenses, our national institutions and ultimately our national character.”
We have to accept the role we played for too long, if not as Bush’s “willing executioners”, than at least as traumatized lemmings allowing an establishment to abuse our grief und paralyzation, corporate media to engage in voluntary self-censorship, blind obedience and taking every White House press briefing at face value, of Democrats too easily abandoning their designated role as an opposition whenever Karl Rove swung the national security-bludgeon, of not having stood up to our beliefs, of rather turning to prejudices than trying to engage with a complex culture far from naturally hostile to us, of too willingly buying into catchphrases and quick workarounds when deep reflection and serious contemplation would have been required.
If an accounting of George Bush’s crimes is not accompanied by an unsparing analysis of our shortcomings, forbearance and ignorance, 9/11 will always live in infamy. Not only his, not only al-Qaeda’s, but also our own.