On September 11, 2001, two commercial airliners slammed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan and another struck the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Approximately 3,000 people were killed. In succeeding days, Americans heard two names: al Qaeda, an organization, and its leader, Osama bin Laden, a devotee of a radical form of Islam. Americans further learned that bin Laden was no stranger to the American political and military establishment. This Saudi-born Arab had been a recipient of American support when he was helping to repel the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began in 1979. When the Soviets were finally driven out a decade later, bin Laden and his dedicated followers turned to the other secular foreign presence in the Middle East and southwest Asia: the United States.
Bin Ladens grievances against the United States mounted through the 1980s and 1990s, especially regarding the U.S.-led intervention against Iraq. But in recruitment tapes, he repeatedly indicted the United States for defiling the holy places in Saudi Arabia with the U.S. military presence there, for imposing immense suffering on the Iraqi people through the embargo, and for supporting the Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. These three grievances were also expressed by the mastermind of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center when he was sentenced for his crime three years later.
Understandably, these facts were of minor interest after 9/11, when justice and vengeance were the order of the day. Unfortunately, U.S. policymakers had objectives in mind that surpassed the mere execution of justice against the perpetrators. Abroad, the George W. Bush administration took the opportunity to step up its presence in southwest Asia with its invasion of Afghanistan (and installation of a client as president) and its closer relationship with Pakistan and several former Soviet republics. The U.S. interest in new oil sources in this area did not escape some observers. Moreover, the American political leadership exploited the terrorism crisis to escalate its campaign against Saddam Hussein of Iraq, although he could not be tied to the 9/11 attack, al Qaeda, or the mysterious anthrax mailings that occurred in October 2001. Some advocates of U.S. power went further, urging that a military attack on Iraq be merely the prelude to direct U.S. control of the Mideast oil fields and the subjugation of Iran, Syria, Libya, and other countries.
Domestically, the U.S. government danced an old dance: it imposed limits on civil liberties in the name of protecting the American people from terrorism. The executive branch claimed the authority to detain indefinitely even American citizens branded enemy combatants without charge or judicial review--an assault on habeas corpus. It announced that it would try terrorist suspects before military tribunals, where the traditional protections for criminal defendants would not apply. It pressured Congress to rush into law the USA PATRIOT Act, which, among other things, makes it easier for federal law-enforcement to eavesdrop electronically on American citizens and conduct secret searches of their homes. The FBI dropped old guidelines forbidding agents from snooping at lawful gatherings. Unsurprisingly, many of these proposals had long been sought, but were shelved for lack of support. The events of 9/11 changed that.
The legislative frenzy following the terrorist attacks also boosted government spending, turning projected budget surpluses into deficits. Much of the spending either was feel good legislation or lacked even the remotest connection to defensewith massive new corporate welfare, pork, and protectionist measures. The military-industrial complex received the largest infusion of new funding in a generation.
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