The six key lessons of 911
By Steve Kirsch
Bush has said that 911 changed everything for him. The lesson he learned is
that we are not safe on our own soil. Since it is his sworn duty is to protect
the US, his conclusion is that we must proactively fight terrorism and countries
that support terrorists to prevent this from ever happening again. This
justifies our war on Iraq. Most Americans believe him.
Unfortunately for all of us, Bush got it wrong. In fact, he got it totally
backwards. He has completely misinterpreted "the lessons of 911." If
we want to prevent another disaster like 911, we must remember the following six
key lessons that the 911 terrorists have taught us:
Disarmament of foreign powers is not sufficient because our own weapons can
easily be used to attack us
911 proved that terrorists do not need to purchase any weapons of mass
destruction from any foreign power. They proved that they can use materials that can be readily
obtained in the US. Therefore, the US cannot prevent such attacks by disarming
Iraq, the axis of evil, or any other country. Had we disarmed every single
country in the world, it would not have prevented 911 because the terrorists
used US-made and US-supplied weapons. So disarmament of foreign powers is not a credible solution
to this new threat.
Increasing homeland security is not sufficient because there are way too many
holes and we still can't even plug one of them after years of trying
After every terrorist incident involving the use of aircraft, we increase
security. Yet the attacks still happen. We do it over and over increasing
security every time and every time we find that there are holes that can be
exploited. 911 proved increasing airport security didn't work. So we increased
it again after 911. Yet, a few weeks ago, my local TV station was easily able to pass a lead
lined bag without inspection past security at San Jose and San Francisco
airports. So if we haven't been able to solve that problem after 911, it is
doubtful we ever will. But the point of 911 is that terrorists know where the
security weaknesses are and will exploit them. So increasing security is not a
credible solution to this new threat.
Attacking governments who support terrorists is not sufficient because it is not
unfriendly governments who are the threat today; it is now the people from friendly
nations who are attacking us
911 proved that we are vulnerable to people from friendly countries want us to change our
behavior. bin Laden and 15 of the 19 hijackers are from Saudi Arabia. The others
were from Egypt. These countries have denied any links to Al Qaeda. Therefore,
attacking governments who we believe are sinister is not a credible solution to
this new threat because it is not governments of unfriendly nations that are the problem; it is
the people of friendly nations that are attacking us. Even if we had
completely obliterated every "unfriendly government," 911 would still
have happened. In fact, it would be much more likely to have happened. Let's
also not forget that the terrorists were trained by US citizens in the US to fly
the US planes that attacked us.
We are too dependent on foreign oil
911 showed it is the money we are paying for foreign oil that is funding the
terrorists who attacked us. 911 showed that we are at risk from nations who
control the supply of oil. We should be focusing on ways to reduce demand to
solve this problem.
The root cause of the attack is that people don't like us overseas because
of our hegemonic foreign policies, not because they are jealous of us
If we want to stop the attacks, we must address the root cause. Specialists on
bin Laden such as Milton Bearden, who headed the CIA's covert operations in
Afghanistan during the 1980s when bin Laden was leading Arab volunteers to fight
''jihad'' there, noted that bin Laden's original and still preeminent goal is to
rid the US military presence from Saudi Arabia. World opinion of the US has gone
down since the attacks, not because people are more jealous of us, but because of our
foreign policies. 911 is our "canary in the coal mine;" it is a warning sign
that our international reputation is bad and that we must move to correct it or
face more incidents. That means working cooperatively with other countries, not
against them. We must be seen as a friend and not
an enemy or a threat. Yet today, anti-American sentiment, along with hatred of
all things American, is increasing, not decreasing. President Bush is viewed as
no more likeable than Saddam Hussein in polls in Germany and Austria. A new poll
by the Washington-based Pew Research Center indicates that the number of
Europeans with a favorable image of the US has plummeted, even among the
coalition of the willing. In Italy, only 34% view the US positively, compared to
70% in 2002. In Spain, only 14% have a favorable image. Even in Eastern Europe,
support for the US has dropped from 80% to 50% in Poland.We are
clearly moving in the wrong direction. We are expending a lot of time, money,
and resources to make things worse, instead of better.
The Bush administration seems to have never learned the lesson of
"Playground Psychology." Most children learn pretty quickly that if
you constantly bully others and try to use force to influence their behavior
towards you, eventually those others will retaliate - in many cases this leads
to an escalating cycle of violent behavior. Children who go on to be successful
very quickly learn that the way forward is to work hard and build trusting,
mutually beneficial relationships with others. Children who don't learn this
usually don't get far in life. The comparison here is obvious.
The 911 attacks were a predictable result of US/Western foreign policy over
the past 50 years. Money and might has been used to support regimes which
suppress freedom in parts of the world where stability is a requirement in order
to ensure continuity of western energy (i.e., oil) supply, and what happened is
probably mainly a result of this.
The biggest threat to our world may be in our own reactions, and not the
The attack of 911 was a tragedy. But the devastation caused by the attack
itself pales in comparison to the potential loss of human life and the financial
cost that can result from an inappropriate response to 911. Millions of lives
are potentially at stake. Hundreds of billions of dollars could be spent fighting a single
war we shouldn't be fighting. This is money that could have been better
spent on domestic issues like the economy and education. That war could lead to other wars. Those wars
could likely lead to further terrorist attacks. All of which can escalate
without end. So if we make bad
decisions, we can kick off a death spiral of devastation in which the more we
fight it, the worse it gets. We could literally become our own worst enemy.
Putting the lessons into action
We should be asking ourselves two key questions:
- What could we have done that would have reduced the chance that the 911
- What should we be doing now to reduce the chance of this happening again?
The answer is obvious. We should put our efforts into addressing the root
causes of this terrorism, not the symptom. We need to make it less likely that
people will want to fund and/or participate in such activities.
Here are a few ideas:
- We should have a Department of Peace and International Cooperation and
Assistance, not a Department of Homeland Security.
- We should be supporting international treaties, not backing out of
- We should be a leader in seeking peaceful solutions to conflicts, not a
leader in the pre-emptive strike.
- We should be respectful of foreign leaders, not insulting them by calling
- We should respect foreign governments, not label them "evil."
- We should be having talks with our adversaries, not refusing to talk (as
we are with North Korea).
In short, we should be doing exactly the opposite of what we are doing now.
The Bush response to 911
We are ignoring the real lessons of 911 as the table below points
out. We are doing the opposite of what 911 teaches us we should be doing. We are
making things worse, not better. Virtually all of the actions we are taking
today would not have prevented 911; we are solving the wrong problem.
|The lesson from 911
||The Bush response
|Disarming foreign powers won't work because
now terrorists are using our own "weapons" against us
||Disarm foreign powers, starting with Iraq
|Increasing homeland security won't work because there are
way too many holes and we can't make our airports safe even today
||Increase homeland security
|The new threat is from the people of friendly
nations, not the governments of unfriendly nations
||Attack governments of unfriendly nations. Focus efforts on perceived threats, rather than actual
threats. Attack any government that we think might be a threat to us.
Create false sense of urgency. Prioritize to attack the country that is
least threatening to the US first (Iraq) and save the biggest, clearly
real threats (North Korea) for last. Completely ignore the countries
where the terrorists were from.
|We are too dependent on foreign oil. The only way out is to
reduce our demand.
||Do just the opposite; don't do anything about reducing demand
and instead try to increase both supply and demand. Attempt to increase
supply, e.g., drilling in ANWR. Also, take actions that will increase our net dependence on
foreign oil such as providing additional tax breaks for businesses that purchase
large SUVs, i.e., incentivize inefficiency. Do not provide any incentives
whatsoever to car manufacturers who voluntarily increase their average
fuel economy. Vigorously
oppose increasing the fuel economy of new cars (CAFE standards), thus
ensuring that our dependence will continue to grow every year. Seek
expensive new sources of oil within the US(ANWR) that will provide only a little
new oil in 10 to 20 years from now, and nowhere near enough to compensate
for the increased consumption. Don't ask Americans to sacrifice. Don't ask
Americans to buy fuel efficient cars. Do absolutely nothing to incentivize
hybrids, proven technology that can dramatically increase gas mileage
and lower emissions without any significant disadvantages compared to a
conventional gas vehicle.
|People don't like us overseas because
of our hegemonic foreign policies
||Don't let foreign opinion influence our decision, but try to
get foreign support. If we can't get support based on the merits of our
case, try forcing them to make a black-and-white "if you are not with
us, then you are against us" decision. If that doesn't work, offer
billions of dollars to convince them of the merits of our argument. If that
doesn't work, then just ignore them and do what we think is best, even if it
means increasing the level of animosity towards the US and even if 90% of
the people of the world are against us. Adopt a new outlook on getting
along with others: "if we think you might be a supplier to
terrorists, even if we have no hard evidence that anyone believes, we're
going to invade your country and kill your people."
|The biggest threat isn't the attack itself, it's now our
response to the attack
||Launch an attack on a country that has never threatened the
US, has never attacked the US, and was not in any way responsible for 911. Risk
millions of human lives and hundreds of billions of dollars. The cost in
human life and financial cost may both easily dwarf the cost of the 911
attack. In short, use the American government to amplify the human and
financial cost of the original attack.
|The best way to reduce the amount of terrorism, is to reduce
the number of
terrorists. You do that by 1) understanding why tens of thousand of
people are pissed at you, and 2) modifying the policies that fuel that rage. The fewer terrorists there are, the less likely we are to be
||Spend hundreds of billions to provide a fertile breeding
ground for terrorists. Invade Iraq, dismantle the order and control. Then
continue occupy the country so that terrorists have the perfect target and a
reason to become a terrorist . This provides a breeding ground for
terrorists and helps recruit new terrorists to battle a real, demonstrated
enemy. This has proven to be very successful as there are more terrorist
attacks in Iraq in a few weeks than there ever have in the entire history of
Had we wanted to reduce the number of terrorists and thus reduce our
risk, we'd withdraw from Iraq.
There are over 10,000 terrorists in Iraq today. So this isn't just an
isolated "one person is crazy" type of terrorism that you cannot address.
They are pissed because we are in their country, not because they "hate us."
Their numbers are not declining so what we are doing today is OBVIOUSLY not
working. Isn't it time for a change? If Iraqi's invaded the US and said we
should have a government like their government, there would be terrorism
until they left us alone. Why should we expect that when we invade Iraq it
would be any different?
Eliminating weapons of mass destruction is a good thing. Increasing homeland
security (at a sensible level) is a good thing. But let's not get confused. That
is not what 911 teaches us. These are not the lessons of 911.
The real lessons of 911 are:
- There is a new type of terrorism that has emerged that now threatens our security
both at home and abroad
- Conventional thinking and approaches (such as WMD elimination, increasing
security, pre-emtive strikes, etc) are ineffective against this
"new terrorism." In fact, they can, in some cases, make things
- To effectively fight the new terrorism, we must attack the cause, not the
symptoms. If we continue to focus on and apply conventional thinking and approaches,
we'll lose. We must think and act differently than we have in the past. We
should be adopting approaches that foster international goodwill, not doing the opposite.
It is likely that terrorism in the US will increase as a result of our
pre-emptive strike on Iraq. That's what our Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge
tells us. It's also likely we'll spend at least 10 times more money fighting
wars that we instigate than 911 cost us.
Ironic isn't it? In the same way, they used our airplanes to kill our people
and devastate our economy, now they are using our own government to risk the
lives of over 300,000 Americans in a battle we don't need to fight and devastate our economy
with an expense 10 times larger than the original
attack. In addition, they are also using our own government to increase the chance of
future terrorist attacks on America. Our government has also been instrumental
in enhancing the respect for Saddam in the Arab world as a hero. All with the majority support of the
The core value of America is freedom. But the terrorist have also leveraged
our own government into taking away our freedoms at home, via the Patriot Act
and Patriot II.
The terrorists have won. They have successfully convinced America to attack