Archive for September, 2001

America is under attack!  At 8:45 AM on September 11, 2001, when the first of two planes slammed into the World Trade Center in New York City, life in America changed, perhaps forever.

Although Americans are now entering a period of appropriate mourning which will be fueled by extraordinarily graphic press reports, the first reaction of many Americans will be outrage against the perpetrators of this horrendous act and a desire for retribution.  Yes, we are outstanding retributionists and our resolve will be fueled by the Pentagon attack and ensuing evacuations of just about every other symbol of American democracy and power.

We will almost certainly spend our talent and treasure identifying and then destroying the perpetrators of this multiple attack.  If, as seems likely, it turns out to have been Usama bin Laden, we will hunt him and his people wherever they may be and we will kill them all.  That is who we are.

A number of things probably will get lost in the physical and emotional debris of these attacks.  The first is that life will now change for us in this country.  Transportation will become a nightmare.  Controls in airports will become so repressive that air travel will proceed at a crawl.  If you have plenty of time, fly.

Any structure that could be attacked will be protected.  You will no longer be able simply to drive over the George Washington or any other major bridge or through any important tunnel.  Protective measures will be instituted.  Tunnels are particularly vulnerable.

A level of paranoia will creep into our psyches.  Once we know what kind of people did this, we will become actively distrustful of anyone who looks like them.  Remember what we did to Japanese Americans after Pearl Harbor.

You may rest assured that our government will be able to get whatever it wants in terms of surveillance rights.  That means that your rights will be diminished out of deference to the fight against terrorism.  The sad thing is that you will acquiesce in the loss of your civil rights because of your concerns about your own personal safety.  Will you ever get them back.  Will you lose more?

Think about it.  How would you like to have an office in the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower or any other attractively tall and important building?  How will you feel crossing the Golden Gate Bridge or entering any tunnel on any major automobile corridor?  Will it be safe to travel in Subways?

If they can do this, what else can they do?  Can they poison our food or our air or our drinking water?  Just what will be safe to do and what will be too dangerous?

The other lesson we have to learn is perhaps even more painful.  It is that “as ye sow, so shall ye reap”.  For those of us who have been involved in Middle East politics over the years, this sort of attack was almost inevitable.  This is Arab retribution for what they perceive to be over fifty years of America’s one sided support of Israel over the minimal basic rights and interests of the Palestinians.

Most Arabs and many Americans believe that without the constant intervention of the United States on behalf of Israel, Israel never has been and never will be a viable state.  But what has most infuriated the Arabs has been America’s decision to stand by and do nothing as Israel created its provocative and universally condemned network of settlements on Palestine land, fomenting violence and complicating if not precluding any eventual peace settlement in the area.  America has not been an honorable broker.  As warped as these attacks appear to us to be, from an Arab point of view, they are appropriate.

Many observers have pleaded repeatedly for changes in American policy toward the Middle East, not in a way to jeopardize Israel’s existence, but to simply inject an element of fairness.  That has not happened and after 50 years of an American policy seen as objectively unfair, we are paying the price.

All of this could have been avoided if we had evolved and implemented a fair policy in the Middle East.  We did not.  One has to wonder if we will get a second chance.

Haviland Smith is a retired CIA Station Chief who served five years in the Middle East and was Chief of the CIA’s Counterrorism Staff.

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