Understanding 9-11 and its aftermath

There is a gap in perception between America and Europe, where many Americans tend to regard Bush as being too diplomatic and where many Europeans consider him too violent. This gap is likely to grow over time, and when this gap is not closed, then policy making may end in disarray. To resolve that gap, we need to better understand 9-11 and its aftermath. It then appears crucial that we realise that President Bush is a weak President. This may be a difficult concept to swallow, given all his rhetoric and show of arms, but this is also a viewpoint that deserves consideration. When we review what a strong President would have done, the difference with President Bush becomes obvious. Another way to see the point is to note that Bush, who had claimed to be a compassionate conservative, now actually exports the un-compassionate conservative side of the internal American division to the rest of the world. When we note that Bush is a weak leader, and when we realise that a weak leader can lead us into a morass rather than onto the high ground, then the gap in perception and the disarray can be resolved, and we can regain a policy based upon moral strength. 

A strong President would have accepted part of the blame of 9-11 since American policy has been wrong indeed. A strong President would have reacted with an international economic recovery programme rather than bombs - since violence tends to breed violence. A strong President would have adopted only the position of victim and attorney, and would have rejected the combined position of persecution, jury, judge and executioner at the same time - and he or she would have helped to set up a juridical process that kept those functions separated. Where 9-11 concerns a world problem, the whole world would have been involved in that process. Recently, President Bush was applauded to in the UN General Assembly, but applause for a rhetoric speech is something else than involvement and commitment to a common cause. A strong President would have started a dialogue, and earned that commitment.

America is partly to blame, since its policy has been wrong. America has helped to create the networks of fundamentalists in Afghanistan and Pakistan to fight against the Russians, and has done little to encourage democracy and economic recovery. American foreign policy causes resentment the world over, and somehow America never stops to think why. An un-compassionate conservative apparently has little understanding of the causes of poverty and how it helps breed violence and terrorism. America is internally divided on the issue of poverty, as we can see in the internal American issues of income distribution and welfare and likely also in the narrow vote margin between Bush and Gore. Externally, however, America adopts mainly un-compassionate conservatism and tends to favour big business and dictatorial regimes and to care less about international democracy and living standards. Foreign policy is targetted on national security and economic security in the sense of the unhindered flow of oil, raw materials and cheap labour. Indeed, liberal economic policy supports trade as a source of world economic growth, but when that policy is executed by un-compassionate conservatives then the social conditions, that would cause a more equal distribution of the proceeds of that growth, are neglected. A striking example is perhaps that President Bush has adopted, influenced by the First Lady, education as a main issue for internal American policy - but on Afghanistan the reaction still is a bombardment. Another striking example is perhaps that in November 1989, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, some economists already warned about the disarray of the economies in Eastern Europe and Russia, with dangerous risks on the stockpile of nuclear arms over there. American policy has been somewhat aware of those risks, but not sufficiently so, given the now alarmist President Bush who still disregards the economy.

The attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon, as well as the anthrax attacks, are shocking, but objectively only minor compared to the horrors in the Third World where 800 million people suffer from famine. American policy bears part of the responsibility. Generally it are local dictatorships that bear most responsibility for exploiting or neglect of their fellow nationals, but American policy tends to work with those dictatorships instead of countermanding them. Bin Laden likely targets for some local dictatorship for himself, but in another view he quite bravely opposes American collaboration with local dictators. Had Saudi Arabia been a democracy such that Bin Laden could have started a party for a better allocation of the oil dollars, he might have been less inclined to violently attack America. A strong American President would see that and acknowledge that element of bravery, and accept part of the blame of 9-11.

From the beginning, President Bush spoke the word justice in the tone as if he actually meant revenge, and he spoke of war and crusade instead of defence let alone reconciliation. He combined all roles in the judicial process, instead of showing an understanding why these are normally separated. There is now a moment to enhance the powers of the UN world community. This is important for the future, when a less powerful nation or subsection of a population would suffer a terrorist attack - or oppression as the continuation of terror. America has the power now to attain some revenge for itself - if the replacement of the Taliban regime is counted as revenge. But consider the problems of the Uygurs or the Tibetans in China, who consider themselves oppressed by the official Chinese government, and who in all likelihood are oppressed indeed. Solution of these problems require a legal framework, and not a temporary coalition that suits the needs of the currently most powerful nation of the world.

Sometimes wars are necessary. The Second World War had to be fought, and Europeans to this day are immensely grateful to America. America and Europe have deep historical ties. But a friendship also means that one has to warn a friend when his or her vision is troubled. Europe’s friend is the American people in general, and not the American President in particular. Political views run through countries and don’t stop at borders. Consider a World Parliament voted on by the people directly, and not just the UN General Assembly via national governments with either only majority governments or dictatorships. In a setting of world democracy, criticism of the American President is required if he or she is morally weak, and such criticism does not mean disrespect for America itself. That criticism now is: The Bush Administration’s reaction to 9-11 is not one of a Christian who loves his neighbour, but it is the more primitive reaction of the crusader married to his sword. We also run the danger of a weak President who uses the sword since he thinks that his people want him to do so and who is tempted to a gain in popularity. In the current situation, the war ships in the Arabian Sea and the bombardments on Afghanistan are rather ridiculous and counterproductive. They are no show of moral strength, but a show of bad thinking and a weak Presidency. This war is not necessary.

There will come a moment when the Allies - and notably the European Social Democrats - will stop to accept Bush’s weakness and the self-serving attitude that comes with un-compassionate conservatism that is exported to the rest of the world. Americans should not misunderstand this rejection, and should not take it for a rejection of America itself. Instead, the nations united in the UN should work together to make the best out of this difficult combination of global conflict and a weak American leader. In the past, our ancestors have found ways to settle disputes without violent conflict. The only thing to do is to create these ways on a world scale. A logical consequence of globalisation is also to adopt more forms of global government.

Thomas Cool, November 11 2001