Lessons Forgotten

Remember when we went to Iraq after 9-11?

I am watching the news this morning as people discuss preparations of the many 9-11 memorials set to take place to commemorate the 20th anniversary since the attack that killed over three-thousand people in New York, Washington and Shanksville, Pennsylvania where one of the hijacked planes, Flight 93 crashed.

Many of the people who were there express grief, remorse, anger and so many emotions about that day, one of the worst, if not the worst day in American history, if only because the world was able to watch in unison as the Twin Towers burned and came crashing down in New York City, then seeing a destroyed section of the Pentagon – The Pentagon – the headquarters of the U.S. Military, also from a hijacked plane.

Even as I write from memory the memory is fresh and vivid as I sit here twenty years later banging away at the keys of my computer.

Having just concluded our twenty-year military presence in Afghanistan just 11 days ago, prompted by our attempts to take out those who had launched the 9-11 attacks, one is reminded of a fact that rarely gets discussed. Why, if we knew the Taliban and Al Qaeda were in Afghanistan, did we go to war in Iraq first?

It rarely gets a mention, but at the time it seemed strange that we, at the behest of Donald Rumsfeld, who gave a daily press briefing on our plans to launch a counter attack and bring those to justice, decided to go after and defeat Saddam Hussein, who we now know had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9-11 attacks

Nobody likes Monday-morning quarterbacking, but even back then, as I was a producer for a national talk show, there were serious questions as to whether the Bush administration was using the 9-11 attacks as an excuse to take Saddam out, even attempting to tie the ruthless dictator to being in cahoots or giving support to Osama bin Laden, which later turned out to be false. If any thing, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia were more complicit than Iraq in supporting Al-Qaeda; but in the style of his predecessor Robert McNamara, Rumsfeld and company needed an excuse to go back in and topple Hussein, and they used 9-11 to do it. Looking back now we know that while Hussein was bad, he was also our guard against Iran, and by eliminating one enemy, we created another, ISIS, while we also lost the opportunity to destroy Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.

Eventually we did get to Afghanistan, months later. We thought OBL was hiding in caves. Periodic video tapes would emerge showing the 9-11 financier walking around what looked like caves somewhere in Afghanistan, barking threats of revenge against the great Satan USA. 

Turns out bin Laden was in Pakistan.

The lesson here is that Iraq is a forgotten event, a distraction, and proof that White House leaders often make bad moves they hope we will forget.

Even today, in my hours of watching soldiers reflect on their efforts in Afghanistan since 9-11-01, little is said about a war that did nothing but upset the balance of power in the region that is still rife with terrorism and tyranny, wasting a lot of American blood and treasure in the process.

Today the leaders are the same. Some wear military uniforms lined with ribbons and medals for their service, others with fancy suits and teleprompters, but they are as feckless today as they were twenty-years ago. Proof of this is when our current White House spokesperson, the Director of National Intelligence and our current Secretary of State describe the Taliban in Afghanistan as “businesslike and helpful.”

These are sworn enemies of the U.S. and not only do we thank them for their kindness, but we also gift them with tens of millions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer-military hardware that was produced in order to defeat them and the terrorist group they supported. 

Fate it seems, is not without a sense of irony, a line from The Matrix when Morpheus describes how man ends up serving the very thing he created to serve him. Similarly, the very villains we sought to destroy now have the weapons we created to destroy them, being careful to not offend the Taliban while they tangle a few more lives before us to keep American politicians in check.

Forgetting Iraq allows us to forget our mistakes when we go to war. If you don’t know who the enemy is, how you can ever defeat them? 

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