Maybe you remember: it was a beautiful Tuesday morning, clear and sunny. I had spent a couple of early morning hours training with my martial arts teacher, and I was headed home to start in on my day’s obligations for my telecommuting job. I stopped at a health food store in Hamlin for a beverage – and it soon became clear that something was not right. The radio was tuned to NPR and the newspeople were still on the air, though it was now way past the time for the morning news programs.
And what they were saying made no sense.
“What… happened?” I asked the clerk.
She looked at me with a strange expression. “The World Trade Center… the towers are gone,” she said. “And the Pentagon’s been attacked.”
There was not much else to say. She rang me up, and I headed towards Honesdale. There was no flood of cars on the road, no indication of panic or a disaster. My very first thought, my main concern at that moment, was simple: “Is the Internet still up?”
Somewhat surprisingly, it was – and it didn’t take long to learn what had transpired while I was training. I had been spared the live sighting of the impact of the second plane, the one that made it obvious what was happening, the one that ripped apart all our preconceptions and let us know that we were now in a strange new world. The first plane to hit the towers could have been a fluke, a horrible accident, a tragic coincidence – but that second one spoke of planning, and malicious intent, and the possibility of more to come.
Thus began one of the worst periods of my life, and probably of yours.
But for some people, it was a glorious moment. I’m not just speaking of Osama bin Laden, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, and the other terrorists of al Qaida. I am speaking of the people called “neoconservatives,” for whom the 9/11 attacks were nothing short of a Godsend.
The neoconservatives were (still are, though you don’t hear the term used much anymore, not in polite company at least) a group of foreign policy experts (including, among others, Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz) who were strongly influenced by the writings of a fellow named Leo Strauss. A good introduction to those ideas can be found in a 2003 article by Danny Postel called “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neocons, and Iraq.”
The neoconservatives did not see war as something to be avoided at all costs; indeed, they regarded it as actually beneficial to society. In its absence, Strauss argued, societies become too concerned with being comfortable – and turn weak, ineffectual, and decadent. (The profits to be realized from defense outlays are just so much icing on the cake, of course.) So 9/11 provided just the kind of energizing “Pearl Harbor moment” that the neocons thought America needed. “If we just … wage a total war,” Richard Perle wrote, “our children will sing great songs about us years from now.”
This fact has to be kept in mind when you hear people calling the “War on Terror” a “failure.” Consider the possibility that the goal was in fact to create a situation of perpetual war – if so, then the neocons have succeeded beyond their wildest expectations. All the so-called “blunders” of American policy in the Middle East, during the Bush Regime and after, from Abu Ghraib to drone attacks, actually make perfect sense: they have succeeded in keeping the region unstable, creating an unending stream of resentment and hatred towards America and the West, and guaranteeing that for generations to come someone will have good reason to come attack us.
If you want perpetual war, after all, you need a permanent and reliable supply of enemies.