How Bush’s handling of 9/11 made a mess

The US failure’s roots go back 

Washington Watch

While first responders were still sifting through the rubble of the World Trade Center, the George W. Bush administration was laying the groundwork for domestic and foreign policies that put the USA on a dangerous path, with devastating impact on our country and the world.

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While President Bush made forceful statements cautioning Americans not to retaliate against Arabs and Muslims, his attorney general, John Ashcroft, was already rounding up of thousands of mainly Arab immigrants for deportation. Guilty of no crimes and never charged, they were summarily deported without due process, ruining lives and tearing families apart.

Then, two special “call-ups” of thousands more Arab immigrants and visitors were followed by a “Special Registration” programme requiring more than 180,000 immigrants to report to authorities. Poorly conceived and arbitrarily implemented, the program resulted in thousands being unfairly given deportation notices. Importantly, a review of these “counter-terror, national security” measures found that not a single person rounded up or deported posed a terrorist threat to the country. These draconian measures only resulted in creating fear in immigrant communities.

Then came the massive surveillance programs and use of informants to entrap some young Muslims into planning bogus acts of terror, followed by Justice Department press conferences at which Ashcroft would announce, “We caught another one.” Civil rights groups argued that no crimes were committed nor even would have been planned had the “perpetrators” not been entrapped. Again, these efforts served only to create fear in the Arab and Muslim communities and to fuel anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sentiment.

The US military was drained and depleted, and US prestige plummeted. Iran found a foothold in Iraq to pursue its sectarian agenda and was emboldened to expand its meddlesome reach across the region. Instead of defeating extremism, the wars contributed to its metastasizing. Rather than ushering in an era of US hegemony, the war created a multi-polar Middle East with global and regional powers competing for influence

The use of subjective profiling, mass surveillance, and lack of due process had started during the Clinton administration, but were intensified during the Bush years, and have lasted until the present day— taking a toll not only on my community, but also on the civil liberties of all persons in this country— without contributing one iota to our security, according to civil rights organizations.

Then, just weeks after the horrors of 9/11, prominent neo-conservatives, within and outside the Bush administration, began planning wars to demonstrate US resolve and power, premised on ideology and grounded in neither reality nor good intelligence. These ideologues argued that we had been attacked because we were seen as weak; therefore, a decisive blow against the terrorists and their supporters was necessary to show the strength and reach of American power.

Additionally, the crisis was an opportunity to resurrect their longstanding pet project— overthrowing the regime in Iraq— to project US power insuring our hegemony in the post-Cold War world. They argued it would usher in a friendly, democratic government in Iraq, to “serve as a beacon of light” spreading democracy across the region. This entire enterprise was based on fantasy born of ideology and its consequences endure.

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Though they succeeded in overthrowing the Taliban, for a time, and eventually killing Osama bin Laden, the job in Afghanistan was never finished, if it ever could have been, before they shifted resources and attention to Iraq.

Saddam was overthrown and an uninformed US viceroy established a model of sectarian-based governance that has had disastrous consequences. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and almost 5000 Americans, died; and trillions of dollars were lost.

The US military was drained and depleted, and US prestige plummeted. Iran found a foothold in Iraq to pursue its sectarian agenda and was emboldened to expand its meddlesome reach across the region. Instead of defeating extremism, the wars contributed to its metastasizing. Rather than ushering in an era of US hegemony, the war created a multi-polar Middle East with global and regional powers competing for influence.

A year after 9/11, James Fallows wrote Bush’s Lost Year in which he lamented the administration’s decision to act unilaterally with hubris in response to the attacks. Instead of building on the world’s support, Bush arrogantly squandered it. The results of these fateful choices still haunt us today 20 years later.

Dr James J Zogby
The writer is President, Arab American Institute.

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