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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.
Those who bucked the party line, like Ambassador Joseph Wilson, who insisted that the Niger uranium story was a hoax, had their lives destroyed. Wilson’s wife, CIA officer Valerie Plame, was exposed, setting off a media witch hunt that sent a New York Times reporter, Judith Miller, to jail for 12 weeks.
Even the administration’s loyal foot soldiers suffered. Secretary of State Colin Powell, who made the case for war to the United Nations Security Council in February 2003, saw his integrity questioned and a blameless record forever tainted.
As TV satirist Stephen Colbert put it so succinctly just last week:
“I miss George W. Bush. That man knew how to sell a war. [He] got an international coalition with nothing more than Colin Powell's reputation and half a test tube of crystal light.”
The Iraq war proper began in March 2003, with a campaign of “shock and awe.”
Again, America’s overwhelming might seemed to carry the day: on May 1, 2003, President Bush announced the end of combat operations in his “Mission Accomplished” speech.
Of course the worst was still to come. The conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, with the accompanying “covert” drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen, deepened feelings in the region that the United States was, despite protests to the contrary, at war with Islam.
Clumsy political maneuvering by Washington also exacerbated the crises, setting ethnic groups against each other in Afghanistan, and exploiting centuries-old Sunni-Shia Muslim tensions in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.
Perhaps worst of all, the post-9/11 “Global War on Terror” provided a rallying point for militant jihadists everywhere. Much as Afghanistan’s war against the Soviets in the 1980s provided the training ground for groups that would become the Taliban and Al Qaeda, America’s ill-considered military adventures served as a deadly playground where militants could hone their skills and refine their philosophies of hate.
They then fan out to conflict points such as Syria, where they find a ready audience for their propaganda.
According to researchers Peter Bergen and Paul Cruikshank, the Iraq war has been particularly destructive in this regard.
“Since the invasion of Iraq, attacks by [jihadist] groups have risen more than sevenfold around the world,” they write in their report “The Iraq Effect.” We will be living with the consequences of the Iraq debacle for more than a decade.
When George W. Bush took the helm from Bill Clinton in 2001, the United States was the undisputed leader of the world.
Russia was still licking its wounds from its own implosion in 1991, caused by its misadventures in Afghanistan, its miserable economy, and a population that, thanks to the Internet and social media, could no longer be isolated.
Vladimir Putin replaced a decrepit Boris Yeltsin on Jan. 1, 2000; from that moment Russia began its comeback on the world stage.
A young and charismatic Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in 2009, determined to chase away the ghosts of the previous administration and restore some of America’s lost luster.
He started a new policy of openness toward the Muslim world designed to quiet fears that the US was at war with Islam. This raised expectations abroad while infuriating many at home.
When a young Tunisian street vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire on Dec. 17, 2010, he ignited a wave of protest throughout the Middle East that became known as the Arab Spring.
Obama should have been in a perfect position to help.
Instead, he’s criticized for passivity during Iran’s 2009 “Green Revolution,” for “leading from behind” in Libya, for dithering during Egypt’s recent crises, and now for conflicting messages on Syria.
Obama was riding high on May 2, 2011, when US Navy Seals mounted the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. But his image has taken more than a few hits since that golden time.
Even his staunchest allies were a bit put off by revelations from US spy agency leaker Edward Snowden, who showed the world the extent of Washington’s snooping — and not only on its enemies.
So, when Obama appeals to the world’s conscience, asking that they support and follow him into Syria based on his heartfelt assurances that he has proof of the Assad regime’s perfidy, there are few ready takers.
Russia is on the ascendant, the world is skeptical, and the American public is obstinately opposed.
It has been a long and twisting road, but it all goes back to that bright September morning in 2001, the day that the world changed.
Journalist Jean MacKenzie worked as a reporter in Afghanistan from October 2004 to December 2011, first as the head of the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, then as a senior correspondent for GlobalPost.