The line from 9/11 to Syria needs to be broken

By Simon Barrow
September 11, 2013

I vividly recall the first television pictures of the terrible and criminal attacks on the Twin Towers in New York on what has become known as 9/11. I was at the University of Birmingham on 11 September 2001, attending a churches' conference on China. It was hard to take in what was going on, but we were all vaguely aware as we viewed these unfathomable images that the reaction to these events would shape the course of history for years to come; and so it has proved.

It has truthfully been said that 9/11 did not change the world, it changed the perspective of the West on it -- though not always in positive ways, given the equally awful tragedies that have unfolded in Afghanistan, Iraq and beyond.

In his annual reflection on 9/11, Mark Dunlea of OpEdNews, who represents "another America" from the one embodied in both Democrat and Republican establishments, points out: "The official report on 9/11 found that 15 of the 19 hijackers were from Saudi Arabia. The Commission couldn't figure out who financed the attack, but said ultimately that it was not important, since the Saudi ruling family provided tens of millions of dollars annually to al Qaeda and could have done so out of petty cash. ...

"Despite the Commission findings, the Bush administration and Congress didn't declare war on Saudi Arabia. First, they authorised the invasion of Afghanistan, a country that President Carter and then Reagan had earlier helped destabilise by financing armed militias to ensnare the Soviet Union in a civil war on its southern border. Our second step shortly thereafter – before the first war was completed or the terrorists apprehended – was to invade the land of a former partner, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretence that our security was threatened by weapons of mass destruction that we were sure were there.

"The neoconservatives (Cheney, Rumsfeld) who controlled our defence establishment had publicly written through the Project for the New American Century about the need for a new Pearl Harbour ... to provide the political cover for an invasion of Iraq in order to seize control of the oil fields. It might have been helpful if Congress or the media had publicly questioned them about this."

He adds, in relation to Syria: "Once again the issue of fossil fuels is part of [the] political equation. The oil sheiks, for instance, want to pipe the natural gas reserves of Qatar through Syria rather than Iran, and, toward that end, Qatar has reportedly provided several billion dollars to the forces fighting Assad."

(I do not buy the idea that US policies in the Middle East are all about oil. But it is undoubtedly a factor, alongside shifting strategic considerations and the almost constant need to unravel unintended consequences from previous actions.)

There is another, tangential connection between 9/11 and Syria. As Reuters reports this morning, before construction began on the World Trade Center in the 1960s, a vibrant Arab-American community, including many from that country, lived and worked in the shadow of what would become the Twin Towers. A number died in the attacks too, which claimed victims of many nations and religions or beliefs. Local historians have since been asking the September 11 Memorial Museum, so far unsuccessfully, to include a reference to the neighbourhood, known poignantly for more than 50 years as 'Little Syria', in its permanent exhibit.

"There's a whole section of the museum dedicated to the construction of the towers and the history of the area around the site," said Todd Fine, the historical director of Save Washington Street, a group struggling to get several Little Syria buildings landmarked. "But there's no mention of the different ethnicities that used to live in the area, including Greek, Lebanese and Syrian."

Mr Fine understandably believes that recognising the Arab neighbourhood around the former Twin Towers would lend vital context to the narrative of Ground Zero, the World Trade Center, the 9/11 attacks and the experience of Arab and Muslim Americans. Also, one may add, it might foreground the need to reframe relations with the Arab world in US foreign policy more generally, especially right now.

Given the dominant rhetoric in Washington, that still seems a distant hope, though some of the necessary negative lessons are clearly resonating with people as they consider the 12th anniversary of events that shook the nation. On 10 September 2013, military site asked its readers: "Does the 9/11 anniversary influence your view of the president’s call for a military strike against Syria?" Over 83 per cent said no. That 'no' could be interpreted in a number of ways, but the accompanying comments suggest that it was the ill-considered rush to war that people had in mind when responding.

Dunlea's comment piece, much of which I agree with and some of which is open to question (, continues: "Once we [the US] bomb Syria, we won't be able to extract ourselves from that complex mix of revolution, civil war, and proxy war until it runs its many-year course, as in the case of the war in Lebanon, from 1975 to 1990. We would in reality also be attacking Syria's allies – particularly Russia and Iran. ...

"Has the US government learned nothing from 9/11? Isn't it evident that we shouldn't take military action based on unconfirmed reports? Or that terrorist attacks are best handled as the criminal acts they are? Or that our response should begin with a robust investigation of the crime... Or that those found responsible should be held criminally liable? Or that we should seek to bring all the parties to the table to negotiate a resolution?

"The administration argues that we tried to work within the UN to stop Assad, but that Russia and China used their veto power to block us. Granted, it isn't easy to end aggression by peaceful means, but neither is the resort to war. Russia and China feel burned by the West, following their acquiescence in permitting military action against Libya. They did not authorize the US and its allies to utilise an anti-Gaddafi air force or to change the regime, but that's what happened.

"When asked recently by Congress what the US will do once the bombing is completed in Syria, Secretary of State Kerry said that the other parties to the conflict, including Russia, are willing to sit down and talk. So why not skip the bombing and move directly to negotiations?

"While Russia and China will block a UN-authorised military intervention at this time, they are willing to pass a Security Council resolution saying the UN should investigate to find those responsible for the chemical attacks and prosecute them through the International Criminal Court in accordance with the treaty banning chemical warfare."

Though President Obama is still banging a war drum, he is doing so with what appears to be less and less enthusiasm. Other avenues for action (not inaction, as the hawks claim) are opening up. Of course, they could close just as quickly, or exhaust themselves over time through the wrangling and self-interest of the big players. But they are there -- and civil society actors seeking justice, peace and stability in the face of enveloping MENA chaos need to act on them to call governments to account.

As Congress continues its deliberations on Syria, with a delayed vote, let us hope that the hard lessons of previous miscalculations in the light of 9/11 come to mind – rather than the kind of knee-jerk military responses which have mostly worsened problems they were supposed to solve, and strengthened enemies they were intended to undermine.

Other recent Syria-related articles by the same author:

* Consistency and determination is needed on chemical weapons -

* Calculating the odds: will Obama lose the Syria vote? -

* Game-changing: Syria, tough reality and alternatives to military adventurism -

* US and UK dossiers leave confusion over Syrian chemical weapons -

* Commons Syria vote: a significant moment, but what next? -

* Spinning us along the path to military intervention -

* Syria: what lies behind the clamour for military strikes? -


(c) Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia. Follow him on Twitter: @simonbarrow More on Syria from Ekklesia here:

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