9/11: 20 Years of Retro-Colonial Gambles and Anti-Colonial Reckoning
By Gabriel Haythornthwaite
The phone rang that day in my Victoria home at 7am. I heard my partner answer the call as I continued to half-sleep; it was my dad reporting on events…two planes had hit the WTC…and the Pentagon was on fire! That last fact shot me out of bed. Something huge was going down that made Hollywood action movies appear tame.
One tower had already collapsed and the other was smoking like a cigarette; I was already convinced it was soon to follow. Sure enough, a few minutes later, it crumbled on live-TV to my ever-widening eyes.
That morning, a flurry of media reports beamed out details amidst the numbed outrage of Empire. One report has remained in my mind to this day; that one of the hijacked flights had been shot down by military jets. In a CNN article recalling events on the first anniversary of the attack (aptly titled, “Cheney recalls taking charge from bunker”), the authorization to militarily “engage” hijacked liners was given by Vice-President Dick Cheney while Child-President GW Bush was safely removed from responsibility. The White House bunker received a report shortly after the military-destruct authorization:
Word came that Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania. Aides frantically called the White House to find out whether a military jet had shot it down. “The vice president was a little bit ahead of us,” said Eric Edelman, Cheney's national security advisor. “He said sort of softly and to nobody in particular, ‘I think an act of heroism just took place on that plane.’ ”
I am still amazed at how remarkably prescient Cheney was to have known what happened to Flight 93 before any investigation was made into the matter. The rest is eternal-victor history, starting with the story about the “let’s roll” guy modelled on a doomed Bruce Willis. An article in 2019 (“Behind the 9/11 White House Order to Shoot Down U.S. Airliners” by Garrett M. Graff) recounts a conversation between Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld about the authorization to down the captured craft:
Cheney told the defense secretary. “Pursuant to the president’s instructions I gave authorization for them to be taken out.”…Finally Rumsfeld replied, “Yes, I understand. So we’ve got a couple aircraft up there that have those instructions at this present time?” “That is correct,” Cheney said, “and it’s my understanding they’ve already take[n] a couple aircraft out.”
Spinning desperation and humiliation into heroism was entirely understandable from the vantage point of history’s greatest Empire, brought low by a most daring commando operation of 19 guys with box-cutters. Suspicions about government claims are far from confined to the real fate of Flight 93, some of which are more compelling than others.
To start, belief in the official fable was not helped by the continuing absence of evidence on the 9/11 perpetrators, originally promised by then-Secretary of State Colin Powell shortly after the attack. The lack of credible footage of the Pentagon strike does give cause to wonder what exactly did smack the world’s most murderous military headquarters that day. The report of an airplane-crash the following week into a New Jersey neighbourhood, killing people on the ground as world leaders met at the UN, disappeared as quickly as it aired.
The Inside Job Truther theories, on the other hand, have never made much sense to me. Admittedly, I have not studied the claims in depth, as I have noticed the effect that rabbit hole has made on many true-believers. But the physical evidence proffered seems to directly contradict what we saw with our own eyes, namely that large fuel-filled airliner missiles could not get the job done. In the name of patriotic Truth, we are to believe that the massive fires resulting from the giant aircraft slices through the WTC were mere diversion to elaborately coordinated demolition teams in the tower basements. Jet-fuel can’t liquify steel, Truthers insist, yet basic metallurgical knowledge tells us that intense continuing heat dramatically reduces metal tensile strength.
The Truther fable really loses the plot where it matters most: manufacturing consent for war. We are to believe that destroying the WTC was necessary to generate the outrage that would make otherwise vigilant well-informed Americans support the unusual push for war. This despite the fact that Americans have often been conned into war based on gross exaggerations and/or bald-faced lies (e.g., Saddam and nukes, Gulf War 1991; the 1999 war on Yugoslavia, justified by claiming tens of thousands were recently killed in Kosovo; Gulf of Tonkin fable in 1964 Vietnam). What is more, the media-propagated lie that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 was not convincing enough to win the case for war. Hence, the resort to one of history’s greatest Lies from nuclear-armed powers about WMDs in blockaded Iraq.
The real kicker for me on the whole Inside Job=Endless War equation is that it defies the most elementary military logic to punch a gargantuan hole through your military HQ as the prelude to war. I must have missed the chapter in Sun Tzu’s Art of War which explains that to begin a war, a general is best advised to attack his own command centre. What was attacking the Pentagon in aid of? Certainly not sympathy as noted in the fact that only the WTC on 9/11 is offered up for such by jingoistic patriots. And a smart thing, too, as the Pentagon is basically the Death Star on Earth, shattering countries asunder rather than whole planets at this point.
The 9/11 conspiracy theories—some credible, most not—have not held the primary interest to me as a democratic internationalist. Like with the JFK conspiracy, what should concern popular democrats most are the social-political powers and meanings behind and flowing from such events. Beyond the absurdities of ‘magic’ bullets, there are strong grounds to believe that JFK’s assassination was, in broad terms, about the subordination of the Presidential office to the consortium of American War interests.
With this lens a popular democrat should view 9/11 as both a great anti-colonial reckoning and the impetus event that drove a new global colonial crusade forward, premised on US military-economic power. I remember how, in the two weeks after Bush the Younger promised open-ended retribution at Ground Zero, the dogs of fascism were let off their leash to howl race-war test phrases like “Arab fundamentalism”. Ann Coulter stood out as particularly vicious while given a high-profile media platform to advocate for the invasion of Muslim countries, the summary execution of their leaders and the forcible conversion of the populace to Christianity. Bush II declared the Empire’s mission for revenge as a Crusade. About the only truth the Child-President ever spoke.
I also recall how, in the face of nervous European and liberal opinion at home, the Bushies dialed back the overtly fascist rhetoric in favour of a neocon avowal of liberal intentions for the War of Terror. Fascist frauds were partially closeted, Bush denied the self-dubbed Crusader label and now the War of Terror was combined with a new civilizing mission of human rights to carpet-bombed countries.
But the fascist Lies ramped up nonetheless, now from the seat of power itself, paving the road to hell for a series of (resource-bountiful) Muslim countries in the crosshairs of Empire. The fury of the families who lost loved ones in the WTC was harnessed for inflicting magnitudes more ‘collateral damage’ upon targeted nations most Americans could not find on a map. Afghanistan was the first country to be framed for 9/11 with the pretext of a few scattered al-Qaeda bases that were clearly not part of the commando operation (the evidence strongly suggests that the planning and preparation was done in Pakistan with Saudi financial sponsorship).
Despite the Rumsfeld objections to the apparent lack of ‘good’ bombing targets in the country, American militarists were caught by their own 9/11 Lies to prioritize destroying Afghanistan before moving onto the real prize of accessible Iraqi oil. Incidentally, this is one of the elements of the saga that fundamentally undermines, in my opinion, the Truther contention that 9/11 was cooked up to attack Iraq. Yes, clearly Iraq was the prime target from Day One of the Bush Redux regime. And Rummy and Co. really wanted to go straight into Iraq tout de suite. But Afghanistan got in the way and it delayed the Iraqi invasion for more than a year. As I noted earlier, the Lies of 9/11 were not enough to get the con job done—the security Empire had to manufacture a set of more compelling WMD Lies to clear the path of liberal objections.
If basic logic or decency had any operative force in America, the 9/11 assault should have forced a reckoning with its anti-colonial thrust, i.e., to follow through on the 1990s post-Cold War promises of a ‘peace dividend’. To start, begin the process of dismantling the thousand war bases Uncle Sam maintains around the world.
Key to preparing for War was a pre-emptive war on “roots causes”. Elected and appointed tyrants at various levels in the heights of military-political power demanded that dissidents not refer to either historical or recent genocidal actions against Indigenous peoples and countries that benefitted colonialists. Retro-colonial denial of long running mass crimes was not about stale boasts of heritage but rather a shameless carte blanche for endless hyper-violent looting of entire countries.
Neocon ideology was a ready-made guide to retro-colonial reaction on a global level. The shock of 9/11 created an irresistible context for militarists to rally regressive opinion for the ramp up of US war outlays and ambitions. Orwellian professions of ‘human rights’ goals equipped liberals with the Lies needed to gleefully get on the War-Train.
America’s War-Train kicked off a global Western retro-colonial crusade:
1) The British enthusiastically took up the role of Chief Vassal in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003);
2) The British and French initiated the destruction of Libya in 2011 (with America providing most of the firepower) under the phoney front of a responsibility to protect mission;
3) France got back into the business of reviving their own Empire in Africa with overt invasions in Côte d'Ivoire (2011) and Mali (2013); and
4) Israel seized on the cover provided by 9/11 to brutally crush the second Palestinian Intifada (imprisoning and assassinating Yasser Arafat in the process) and suppress the Hamas electoral victory in 2006 while imposing a stifling 15-year blockade and bombing campaign against Gazan ghettos.
Even Canada, the self-styled ‘post-colonial’ country (with an Indian Act), got in on the retro-colonial game. In 2007, the Harper regime, with the support of both Liberal and NDP toy oppositions, dove headfirst into the death-squad counter-insurgency turn in Afghanistan. The same opposition parties supported the Conservative lead in having Canada make a smaller contribution to the 2011 NATO destruction of Libya.
The retro-colonial logic at play naturally generated the bases for the rising fascisms we witness today. While the thorough plundering of the American working classes played a key role in bringing the arch-regressive Trump to power, the Orange Menace’s opportunistic criticisms of endless war also greased the wheels for American proto-fascism. Trumpian hysteria around immigration plus a bragging contempt of Muslims, Arabs and people from “shithole countries” undoubtedly emboldened Nazis of every stripe who were offered praise by the Big Man himself as “fine people”. Trump’s rise bolstered fascist movements already on the march in Brazil, India and all through Europe. Hatred of Muslims, the primary cultural product of 9/11, was a particularly useful common entry point for Nazi venom whose proponents are unashamed in claiming to support the liberal values of women’s and gay rights against the supposed homogenous threat of Islam.
Israeli fascism, centred in the armed and proudly genocidal settler movement, got a particular boost from Trump who saw fit to declare Zionist claims of control over all Palestine as the basis for ‘peace’. Similar to the case of Ukraine, where a pro-Nazi party has control over the army, police and schools, Israeli (proto-)fascists have held cabinet posts in the government for more than a decade without so much as the batting of an eyelash in the liberal West. Now one them, Naftali Bennett, is Prime Minister after his Yamina (Rightwards) party won a whopping 6% of the national vote earlier this year.
Even as the retro-colonial crusade burned its way across the globe, there were signs of anti-colonial reckoning all during the 20 years since 9/11. The first was the Bolivarian reformation led by Hugo Chavez (aka the ‘Pink Tide’) which in 2002 defeated a gringo coup in Venezuela and went on to provide a model of socially-minded energy nationalization adapted in Bolivia by Indigenous President Evo Morales. Bolivia itself faced down a fascist overthrow of Morales in 2019, when an Indigenous protest movement forced an early election in 2020 which was won overwhelmingly by the ousted MAS (Movimiento al Socialismo (Movement for Socialism)), followed by a round-up of fascist junta leaders.
Israel’s success in carving up the West Bank with an Apartheid Wall and expanded settlements has not been matched in their other areas of aggression. Israel utterly failed in all its stated objectives in its war against Hezbollah and Lebanon in 2006 and has yet to force the besieged Hamas-led Gazan ghettos to surrender despite four invasion attempts.
In the wake of Trump’s departure and his laughable ‘peace-deals’ for Israel with Arab autocracies, the imperial world universally assumed that the Palestinian national struggle was dead. Dead wrong, as it turned out, as the Palestinians united in self-defence in an unprecedented way this past May against colonial expropriations in East Jerusalem (Sheikh Jarrah), fascist pogroms within Israel, IDF repression of West Bank protests and the mass-bombardment of blockaded Gaza.
Yemen has also witnessed the successful rise of a heroic national freedom struggle against a six-year invasion and blockade led by Saudi Arabia with the help of American and British allies. The Saudis have succeeded in provoking one of the world’s greatest ongoing humanitarian catastrophes but have failed miserably both militarily and politically to subjugate Yemen.
Given that it was the first country to fall prey to America’s post-9/11 retro-colonial frenzy, it is fitting that in the weeks leading up to this 20th year anniversary, Afghanistan would provide such a stark anti-colonial reckoning as witnessed by the incredible surrender of Uncle Sam’s puppet regime on August 15th.
Less surprising than the humiliating collapse of American-sponsored narco-dictatorship is that the end of retro-colonialism in Afghanistan has been accompanied by a wave of nauseating ‘west man’s burden’ blather from NATO invaders. Like the lightbulb that burns most brightly at the end, civilizing mission stories dominated the airwaves of corporate media last month, most notably: wailing about women’s rights (never convincingly advanced by the US puppet regime); and anger at the abandonment of NATO collaborators who worked for NGO service providers or as resources for drone assassinations, retribution raids and death squads. Even many of those with an anti-war point of view were inclined to deny the Taliban’s Indigenous success in driving out the colonial intruders.
Anti-colonialists in the West should not ignore the regressive characteristics that Indigenous freedom movements may possess but the central starting point of our analysis must be that any defeat for colonial aggressors is an inherent victory for humanity. The struggle for human freedoms will continue in Afghanistan to the extent that the Taliban makes itself an enemy of such freedoms, however, the struggle for that freedom is for the Afghanis to wage and not for outsiders to determine.
With the well-deserved defeat of America and its vassals in Afghanistan, it does appear that the neocon crusade that exploited the deaths of 9/11 for 20 years has lost its momentum and credibility. Yet, the zombie ideas of neocon war continue to moan across Western fields of geopolitical debate and policy. The new Cold War against Russia and China is evidence of the continuing hold that neocons have over Western governments. Fascism, despite setbacks in the COVID era, continues to metastasize and develop new grounds of advance (e.g., the dramatic surge of support for the People’s Party of Canada in the current election).
The failure to build a durable anti-colonial Left in the West, including with political parties to champion that basic democratic position (e.g., the ongoing McCarthyite purge of Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters from the British body politic) is the mirror danger to the twin retro-colonial menaces of US-led Cold War and fascism. 20 years after the great anti-colonial reckoning of 9/11, many countries outside the West have shown an ability to take up the fight for national freedom with vigour. What can we do to step up our contributions to democratic anti-colonial struggles?
Gabriel Haythornthwaite is a PhD Candidate at Western University's Faculty of Education and a long-time political trouble-maker.