The cinders of the World Trade Center had barely fallen to the earth before George W. Bush had it all figured out. “America was targeted for attack,” the President explained to the nation barely 12 hours after the first plane hit the Manhattan skyscrapers, “because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” Perhaps that explanation provided some comfort—though not much enlightenment—to the mystified and terrified millions who were wondering what was happening and why; but it was an explanation upon which the President and many others soon enlarged. By September 20, Mr. Bush could offer the country an expanded account of the motives behind the bloodiest single act of mass murder in history. “Americans are asking, ‘Why do they hate us?’” he said during his address to a joint session of Congress, and again he had the answer at his fingertips:
They hate us for what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms: our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.
Among those statesmen who admired both the President’s rhetorical gifts as well as the profundity of his political philosophy was the largely forgotten football star Jack Kemp, who advised the public in his syndicated column that “I would add . . . they also hate our democracy, our liberal markets and our abundance of economic opportunity, at which the terror attacks were clearly directed.” But even this incisive analysis failed to exhaust the creative powers of the ruling class and its spokesmen in fabricating flattering, self-serving, misleading, and transparently false explanations of the motives of the terrorists who planned and carried out the September 11 attacks.
National Review, once the leading conservative magazine in America, echoed the themes sounded by the President and Mr. Kemp. “The United States is a target because we are powerful, rich, and good,” it bustled in an October 1 editorial. “We are resented for our power, envied for our wealth, and hated for our liberty.” And, like many of those offering such reasons for the attack, NR was especially concerned to smother any suspicion that it may have been the result of U.S. support for Israel. Two weeks later, Senior Editor Ramesh Ponnuru sallied forth to explain it once more:
The radical Islamists’ broader quarrel is with American power: not with the uses of that power, but with the fact of it. We are infidels. And we are liberal, capitalist, modern, powerful, and rich; therefore hated. Benjamin Netanyahu made the point well when he wrote in the aftermath of the September massacres that the Islamists do not hate the West because of Israel; they hate Israel because of the West. They call us, not Israel, “the Great Satan.”
Mr. Netanyahu’s point, as dubious as it was, is nonetheless something of an insult: Arab attacks on Israel have nothing to do with Palestinian claims to the land on which Israel now sits nor with continuing complaints of Israeli repression but are really the fault of the United States and the “West” in general (the unstated implication, of course, is that the United States and the West therefore owe Israel their continuing and unbounded support, since there would be no attacks on Israel without the West). Norman Podhoretz, after a ranting attack in a letter to the New York Post on conservative columnist Robert Novak for even mentioning the role American support for Israel may have played in the September 11 attacks, unbosomed in the Wall Street Journal sentiments largely identical to those of Mr. Netanyahu. So did George Will, who assured us that the terrorists’ targets were “symbols not just of American power but of its virtues,” explicitly quoted the former Israeli premier as telling us, “They hate ‘Zionism as an expression and representation of Western civilization,’” and added that “they hate America because it is the purest expression of modernity—individualism, pluralism, freedom, secularism.” Columnist Paul Greenberg, apparently unable to think of any further virtues for which we were attacked, contented himself by telling us that
the haters need no reason to hate us. It is enough that we are who we are—a free and powerful people. . . . They can’t bear our happiness, our prosperity, our power, and most of all the realization that others want to model themselves on us and build their own free societies.
The list could go on, but it soon became apparent that suggesting that U.S. policies in the Middle East—either U.S. support for Israel or our role in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq—had played a part in the events of September 11 was a certain road to ruin. Nevertheless, the barest acquaintance with what Osama bin Laden and his merry band of cutthroats have said and are saying about the private war they are waging shows that hatred of “democracy,” the “West,” “liberal markets,” and the “virtues” of which Mr. Will boasts have absolutely nothing to do with it.
In 1995, for example, as the Washington Post reported on September 23, authorities in the Philippines arrested a gentleman of Pakistani extraction who was discovered to be planning the bombing of 11 American commercial airliners on behalf of bin Laden’s network. The draft communiqué in the suspect’s possession was quite explicit about the motives that drove him and his accomplices:
The U.S. government gives military aircraft to the Jewish state so the Jews can continue fighting and killing. All of this is a result of the U.S. government’s financial and military support of the Jewish state. All people who support the U.S. government are our target.
If that is not clear enough, consider what bin Laden himself told Time in January 1999 about President Clinton’s bombing of Iraq the previous month:
There is no doubt that the treacherous attack has confirmed that Britain and America are acting on behalf of Israel and the Jews, paving the way for the Jews to divide the Muslim world once again, enslave it and loot the rest of its wealth.
He uttered similar sentiments in an interview with PBS:
Once again, I have to stress the necessity of focusing on the Americans and the Jews for they represent the spearhead with which the members of our religion have been slaughtered. Any effort directed against America and the Jews yields positive and direct results—Allah willing.
Bin Laden is upset mainly because he thinks U.S. forces have defiled Muslim holy sites in his native Saudi Arabia by military occupation, but retribution for the deaths and damage we have inflicted on Iraq since 1991, as well as our support for Israel against the Palestinians, are major termites under his turban.
That the U.S.-Israeli alliance plays an important role in instigating terrorist attacks against us—a bit more of a role than radical Muslims’ distaste for martinis, the stock market, Nicole Kidman, and other achievements of “modernity”—ought to be obvious. Acknowledging that role has nothing to do with whether we should support Israel or pursue our current policies toward Iraq. Like every other policy, these should be judged by the standard of what they contribute to our national interest, not whether a handful of fanatics (Muslim or Jewish) approve or disapprove them. Moreover, it is dangerous to deny and disguise the truth about the role the U.S.-Israeli relationship played in motivating the terrorist attack, as so many public leaders and opinionmakers have. “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer,” Don Corleone advised, and one purpose of staying close to enemies like Osama bin Laden is to understand why they do what they do.
Sensitivity about the Israeli connection clearly lay behind the cant and a good many of the denials that the ruling class threw up around the September 11 attacks, but there was perhaps another purpose as well. The general thrust of virtually all of the false explanations of the attack and of the motivations of the attackers was to praise not only the United States but the kind of social order that the ruling class wants to build and govern—the very sort of transnational global “society” that is animated by Mr. Will’s much-treasured “modern virtues” of “individualism, pluralism, freedom, secularism”—and the larger purpose of the rhetorical and analytical fog that was spread around the attacks was precisely to assist in the legitimization and consolidation of ruling-class hegemony and the global regime it is constructing.
Indeed, the genius of the American and, more generally, the Atlantic ruling class is that it is able to manipulate the meaning of words, symbols, and cultural icons into almost the opposite of what they really mean. It was grimly amusing to watch multinational corporations suddenly sport American flags in the wake of the attacks. A couple of years ago, when Ralph Nader’s activists asked several Fortune 500 companies to recite the Pledge of Allegiance at their public board meetings, almost all simply refused. Patriotism and nationalism—or, at least, manipulation of their symbols—can sometimes be useful, and in the weeks after the September 11 attack, the ruling class lost no opportunity to massage the public mind as it pleased, mainly for the benefit of its own regime.
The sudden sprouting of Old Glory at corporate headquarters and in glossy magazine advertisements, for example, did not really signify a return to national loyalties and patriotic sentiments, nor did the constant and cloying invocation of patriotism by political leaders. On the contrary, the purpose of such exhibitions was to invest old and accepted symbols like the flag, patriotic songs, and patriotic images with the new universalist and globalist meanings that help legitimize the New World hegemons. That is why we were told constantly that not only did Americans die in the World Trade Center towers, but lots of people from other countries, too; that is why President Bush and other leaders kept banging the drum about how wonderful most Muslims and Arabs are and how the terrorists did not represent real Islam, which is part of the New World Order and the New World America. That is why there was such a studied avoidance of any serious consideration of the immigration issue—not just trivial visa security policies but actually reducing or halting the number of foreigners who are allowed to enter, roam around at will, and stay as long as they please. That is also why the constant subtheme of the post-attack discourse was the danger of “hate” (especially from “white hate groups”) and “hate crimes.” The multinational dimension of the alliance—with Great Britain, ostensibly with NATO, and with various Arab or Muslim states like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan—reemphasized the globalist scope and substance of American power. Almost every assertion of nationality, patriotism, and national security was im-
mediately diluted or modified by counter-assertions that insisted that such affirmations should not be taken as abandonments of, or distractions from, America’s global mission and universal character or the transnational utopia of “modernity” that the ruling class is building.
What stands out in the response of the American ruling class to the September 11 attacks is not so much the skills of real leadership as an amazing capacity to turn the whole attack and its aftermath into an opportunity for cementing the ruling class’s dominance in the United States and its larger, long-term agenda for the planet. Osama bin Laden and his friends ought to learn something from the experience: The richest irony of the most lethal attack on the United States in its history is that, so far from seriously wounding or destabilizing the American megastate, the attack actually helped to increase its power and promote the interests of its elites.