9/11: Tales of America’s Longest War
This year’s 9/11 commemoration marks the ending of America’s longest war, leaving behind a country swirling in confusion and fright. Like Vietnam, it’s a war ended by facts on the ground, not military might.
Why would a war between the strongest army and a group alienated from the world last so long and end up with such dismal outcomes?
Throughout history, superpowers lost wars to weaker adversaries not for lack of resources, but rather when diabolical individuals manipulate political discourse and overextend the military’s reach to serve hidden agendas.
America lost the peace in Afghanistan because political appointees fettered the Army’s momentum and diverted its mission halfway through the war on terror to regime change in Iraq. Not for Iraq’s culpability in 9/11, but to execute a parochial agenda concocted by Israeli-Firsters in the Pentagon.
In 2002, acting on his established convictions, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, the intellectual godfather of the Iraq invasion, enlivened dormant plans through the specially created Office of Special Plans (OSP). He tasked Douglas Feith to fish out evidence connecting Iraq to al-Qaeda and weapons of mass destruction.
OSP staff Feith, Lawrence Franklin, David Wurmser and then-chairman of the Defense Policy Board, Richard Perle, had for years advised Israeli Likud leaders on regime change in Iraq.
In 1996, they co-authored a policy paper for right-wing Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm.” They called on Israel to disengage from the Oslo Peace Accords with Palestinians and urged the Israeli prime minister to remove “Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.”
In December 1997, the Weekly Standard ran a cover piece titled “Saddam Must Go,” quoting Wolfowitz that a “liberated Iraq” would advance democracy throughout the Middle East. A year later, Wolfowitz and Perle petitioned then-President Bill Clinton for regime change.
Israeli-Firsters achieved their objectives in March 2003, taking America where Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu refused to go seven years earlier. Their actions sidetracked the U.S. Army from its core mission and overextended the theater of operations throughout the region. Emboldened OSP pundits pressed further for sweeping regime change, which ultimately transformed into a euphemism for “clash of civilizations,” and led to a significant uptick in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab-American hate crimes at home.
Besides foundering in the battle for world public opinion, OSP’s doctrine offered Taliban and al-Qaeda an opportunity to regroup, effectively extending the Afghanistan war. Meanwhile, Osama bin Laden continued to release propaganda tapes for eight more years.
Doubling down on his duplicity following the Iraq invasion, Wolfowitz misled, once again, the House Appropriations Committee on March 27, 2003. Responding to a question regarding U.S. taxpayers’ cost for rebuilding, he asserted Iraq can “really finance its own reconstruction.”
After failing to find purported weapons of mass destruction, Wolfowitz salved his initial lie, telling Vanity Fair in May 2003, “For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on ... weapons of mass destruction because ... everyone could agree on.”
Eventually in 2007, as U.S. soldiers waded through the quagmire of the improvised explosive devices in the sweltering Iraq desert, the Pentagon’s inspector general concluded that Wolfowitz’s office “disseminated alternative intelligence assessments” to justify invading Iraq.
By then, the Bush administration had promoted Wolfowitz to head the World Bank. Two years later, however, Wolfowitz became the first World Bank president to resign in a scandal.
It’s worth noting that Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Wurmser and Franklin, at one point or another during government service, were either questioned by the FBI, fired, or pleaded guilty for passing information to Israeli or AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) officials.
Alas, America’s system of justice and Congress failed to hold accountable the sordid civilians who instigated an illegal war and blundered the war on terror. The same Congress squabbled for more than 14 years to agree on a $7 billion permanent health bill for 9/11 first responders but took less than 14 hours debating wars costing U.S. taxpayers, on average, $110 billion, every year, for 20 years.
This year’s 9/11 remembrance should pay tribute to victims of OSP’s deliberate “alternative intelligence” that resulted in the needless loss of 5,000 American soldiers, and more than 650,000 innocent Iraqis.
As we commemorate 9/11 for the pain it caused so many Americans, history will equally recall the nefarious and lopsided influence of political appointees in the making of America’s longest war.
It will recall OSP lies about weapons of mass destruction; lies about the cost of war; lies that dismantled the strategy for the war on terror and catapulted America into misguided adventures fomenting decades of political upheaval; lies that dragged America into futile side conflicts in Syria, Libya and sub-Saharan Africa, and culminated — 20 years later — in two lost wars.
*Kanj is the author of “Children of Catastrophe: Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America.” His recent co-authored novel “Bride of the Sea” was published in Germany and Poland. He lives in East San Diego County. A version of this op-ed was published in the San Diego Union-Tribune