With every year that passes, September 11, 2001 recedes further into history. But this year marks the fifth anniversary of another dark time for our country. The first time we memorialized the victims of 9/11, our (fraudulently) elected leaders were hard at work exploiting this national tragedy by conning us into an unnecessary war of choice in Iraq.
The day after the first 9/11 anniversary, on September 12, 2002, George W. Bush addressed the United Nations and served up one fiction after another about why Iraq, not al Qaeda, was Americaâ€™s most important enemy. â€œAl Qaeda terrorists escaped from Afghanistan and are known to be in Iraq,â€ said Bush.
He assured the world that Iraq has â€œfailed to account for more than three metric tons of material that could be used to produce biological weaponsâ€ and â€œretains physical infrastructure needed to build a nuclear weapon.â€
On September 11, 2002, citizens in communities across the nation, including Carrboro and Chapel Hill, were speaking out against the rush to war. Sensible voices cautioned not to let the urge to avenge 9/11 blind us to the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11.
We were warned that an unprovoked war would enrich defense contractors like Halliburton, could help multinational oil companies get their hooks into the worldâ€™s second largest proven oil reserves and might boost Bushâ€™s re-election chances in 2004. But it wouldnâ€™t help America in the long run.
Unfortunately, the Bush administrationâ€™s crusade to take the country into war in Iraq was on a fast track.
Secretary of State Colin Powell would go on TV a few days later, September 15, to help make Bushâ€™s case against Iraq. Appearing on NBCâ€™s Meet The Press, he asserted that â€œIraq does present a danger,â€ referred to Iraqâ€™s â€œweapons of mass destruction activitiesâ€ and said the threat the U.S. faced was that Saddam Hussein would continue â€œenhancing his ability to acquire and use weapons of mass destruction.â€
Five years later, the war drags on with no end in sight. Weâ€™ve seen more than 3,700 U.S. soldiers needlessly killed and nearly 28,000 wounded, according to the Pentagonâ€™s official figures. America has poured almost half a trillion dollars down the drain, only to end up less safe today than we were before the war started.
North Carolinaâ€™s communities have borne their share of Iraqâ€™s casualties. Last Thursday, Chapel Hill native Army sergeant Lee C. Wilson became the latest N.C. service member to die in Iraq, killed when a bomb exploded near his vehicle during combat in Mosul. Wilson, 30, had enlisted in 2001, was on a mind-boggling fourth deployment and was due to return home in December. When contacted by reporters, his father said, â€œWe always talked about what we were going to do when he got out. He didnâ€™t want to be there.â€
Bush has destroyed Iraq while supposedly trying to liberate it and thrown the Middle East into turmoil in the process. The bungled U.S. occupation has turned out to be the greatest recruiting tool al Qaeda could have hoped for. Iraq has become a shooting gallery, where a new generation of terrorists are honing their skills using our troops as sitting-duck targets.
And the Sept. 11 mastermind, Osama Bin Laden? Last week he released another propaganda video, implicitly taunting the United States for having failed to capture him, referring to events so recent it erased any doubt he was still alive.
Another 9/11 anniversary wouldnâ€™t be complete without another well-timed push to rally the nation around the flag in support of the Iraq fiasco. This time, itâ€™s Gen. David Petraeus whoâ€™s shilling for Bush, having delivered his Sept. 10 report to Congress on how this yearâ€™s â€œsurgeâ€ in troops is coming along.
Despite his history of exaggerating progress in Iraq, most notably in a Washington Post op-ed published six weeks before the 2004 elections, Petraeus is Bushâ€™s last hope as a salesman for staying the course.
Unless the Republican Party wants to suffer more congressional losses in â€˜08, and probably help elect a Democratic president, itâ€™s far past time for Bush to declare victory in Iraq and leave. But considering his stated desire to hand Iraq over to his successor, any cutbacks in U.S. forces are likely to turn out to be a shell game, taking troop numbers down only to pre-surge levels.
As long as heâ€™s in the White House, the Decider will determine whether and how fast we extricate ourselves from Iraq. Forget about what the citizens want, forget about what military officials more candid than Petraeus advise and forget about whatâ€™s in the best interest of the United States. Bush will continue playing with our soldiersâ€™ lives until his term runs out. But heâ€™s wrong to think one more Sept. 11 snow job will salvage his tattered political legacy.
Erik Ose is a veteran of Democratic campaigns in North Carolina. His columns have appeared in the News & Observer and elsewhere, including Salon.com and The Hill. He authors The Latest Outrage, a Chapel Hill-based political blog.