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Analysis: America’s crisis over Syria has its roots in the deceptions and missteps stemming from the World Trade Center attacks.
BUZZARDS BAY, Mass. — On yet another dark anniversary of the day that changed the world, the United States finds itself once again in crisis.
The events in Syria have shocked and sickened all who have seen the horrific videos of children gasping for life, of men and women foaming at the mouth, of stacks of white-shrouded bodies awaiting burial.
It’s clear that something must be done. What’s much murkier is what kind of action can help alleviate the suffering and try to ensure that it never happens again.
Even before the chemical attacks near Damascus, Syria’s tragedy troubled the world’s conscience. More than 100,000 people have died in less than three years of brutal civil war, with 6 million more displaced.
It’s increasingly apparent that some elements of this tragedy have their roots in America’s response to those September attacks.
The 12-year “Global War on Terror” exacerbated sectarian tensions across the region, stoked fears of Western aggression in the Muslim world, and gave already militant jihadists a focus for their anger and belligerence. Many of these fighters found their way to Syria, where they helped organize resistance to the Baathist regime of Bashar al-Assad.
But as the US endeavors to reassert its position as the world’s moral compass, memories of the past decade stand firmly in the way. Its citizens are no longer so eager to rush into conflict in a distant country that’s not a direct threat to the homeland. Nor is the rest of the world as willing as it once may have been to accept Washington as an honest broker.
The reasons for the shift in perceptions, both at home and abroad, can be traced to the series of deceptions and missteps that have plagued US foreign policy since 9/11.
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When the second plane crashed into the South tower at 9:03 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, something fundamentally shifted in the American psyche. The first plane could have been a horrible accident; two in such quick succession meant, unbelievably, America was under attack.
Everyone remembers the flood of patriotism and grit that followed those September days. Overpasses were festooned with flags; small schoolchildren took oaths to find and kill Osama bin Laden.
But behind the scenes, the maneuvering had already begun. Records show that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was planning to link Iraq’s ruler, Saddam Hussein, to 9/11 within hours of the attacks — facts be damned.
Within three days President George W. Bush had Congress’ authorization to use "all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons."
This was a very large blank check that the administration lost no time in cashing.
Bush ordered the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden or face the consequences. When the Taliban asked for proof of bin Laden’s involvement, Bush declared: "There's no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty.”
The Taliban did not agree.
The war in Afghanistan began on Oct. 7, less than four weeks after the first plane hit New York. Within a little more than a month, it was “over”: At Tora Bora, the last Taliban, along with Osama bin Laden, scampered over the border into Pakistan, and America’s ally, the Afghan Northern Alliance, took Kabul. As far as the United States was concerned, the war was won.
But it wasn’t that simple: Afghanistan defied Washington’s prescriptions for a bright, democratic future, and within four years a full-blown insurgency was in place, launching a round of hostilities that continues to this day.
While Afghanistan ticked along with minimal resources and scant attention from Iraq-focused Washington, the Bush administration was drumming up support for its planned attack on Saddam Hussein, citing the “weapons of mass destruction” with which the dictator was allegedly holding the world hostage.