The fifth anniversary of 9/11 offers a brilliant study of the progressive neurosis, commemorating an event while denying its origins, nature and cause. It has been akin to an exhausting and endless documentary on Pearl Harbor that scarcely mentions Japan, the sort of product where a professional editor would demand a rewrite.
The anniversary has become an extravaganza in Bush bashing, a reminder that President George W. Bush is the most compelling and easiest media target for a generation. His blunders in Iraq are a fundamental part of the post-9/11 story. But Australian Prime Minister John Howard nailed the problem on the Four Corners television program when he said: "It's a very strange thing to start the dialogue with Iraq rather than start the dialogue with the attack on the 11th of September."
In fact, it's not strange at all. This is the progressive mind in action. For the progressive mind the source of the problem is Bush. The real story is the Iraq war. The dynamic driving the terrorists is Bush's aggressive tactics. So where else would you start and end but Iraq?
The Western progressive mind is profoundly uncomfortable with the nature of the 9/11 attack. This is an event that invokes God, moral absolutes and cultural divides, a trinity of ideas totally anathema to Western progressives who know that God is dead, moral absolutes don't exist and multicultural diversity is utopia.
The progressive mind, supreme in our media, treats 9/11 as a human interest tragedy that inspires homilies on the meaning of life. This conceals the reality: 9/11 is an epoch-changing event not because nearly 3000 died (more people have died in many other events) but because it was a transforming political, cultural and strategic event.
This is what the progressive mind cannot accept.
It begins with the enemy. Yes, there was an enemy, though, of course, it offends polite company to admit this. The truth was summarised in the US 9/11 commission report (often at odds with Bush) when it said: "The enemy is not just terrorism, some generic evil. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism, especially the al-Qaeda networks, its affiliates and its ideology."
The 9/11 commission argues the challenge is more than a war on terrorism. The enemy (of which al-Qaeda is a manifestation) is a global ideological movement. The threat is millennial: "Bin Laden and Islamist terrorists mean exactly what they say: to them America is the font of all evil, the 'head of the snake', and it must be converted or destroyed."
For the progressive mind, this is hysterical or an exaggeration or both. The progressives (witness the civil liberty lobby in Australia) cling ferociously to the claim that terrorism has been around for years and nothing much different is happening now. Their entire position depends on such a fiction. The more the origins of 9/11 are documented, the more this is exposed. So, better stick with Iraq.
Consider the causes. The more the causes of 9/11 are revealed in a global ideological movement operating in the mosques and the schools and feeding off deep-seated resentment across the Muslim world towards the US, all implanted well before Bush's Iraqi venture and even before Bush entered the White House, the more difficult it is to sheet home responsibility to Bush. So, better stick with Iraq.
Consider the consequences. The more the strategic implications of 9/11 are ventilated – the fact al-Qaeda wants to acquire a nuclear capacity; that Osama bin Laden met Pakistani nuclear officials to plan further attacks; that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and bin Laden considered but decided against striking US nuclear facilities "for now"; that Harvard University's Graham Allison, after his forensic analysis, concludes that a "dirty bomb attack is overdue"; and that Bush, above all, in everything he has done, has been driven by his fear of an attack by weapons of mass destruction – the more apparent is the unprecedented danger and the more understandable is the strength of Bush's reaction. So, better stick with Iraq.
Consider the moral dimension. The more the Islamist attack against the West is depicted as a plan to kill as many innocent men, women and children as possible in a self-declared war against US power and ideology, the more the US seems wronged rather than guilty. So, better stick with Iraq.
Consider the cultural dimension. For bin Laden, the ideological fixation is against the US as a cultural and religious entity ("the worst civilisation witnessed by the history of mankind"), while for Bush the war is not against Islam but against the Islamist terror groups. This distinction, central to the meaning of 9/11, is blurred by Bush's misconceived Iraq war. So, better stick with Iraq.
In my view, the criticism mounted by US former counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke about the disastrous consequences of the Iraq war is convincing. The evidence from Iraq and Afghanistan is that the jihadists are re-energised.
But neither the Iraq conflict nor Bush's mistakes define or explain the larger war between the West and Islamist terrorism that is symbolised by the 9/11 attacks and will continue after a resolution in Iraq.
The West remains confused and divided about the nature of this conflict and how to respond. It is polarised between the radical conservative reaction typified by Bush and Tony Blair and the mind-set of denial typified by their progressive opponents. The West has succeeded in the mechanics of tighter security, intelligence and policing. But it has failed in the battle of ideas, the proof being the ongoing recruitment to jihadist ranks in its own societies.
Bin Laden has won a dividend he never expected. This is the divide between Bush-Blair-Howard executive governments and their progressive critics, whose final denial is their refusal to admit they are part of the problem.
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