Blowback, not “inside job”: The absurdity of 9/11 “Truth” distracts from US foreign policy’s monsters
Today, on this September 11, I am thinking about not just the nearly 3,000 US civilians who were mercilessly massacred in 2001, but also the more than 1 million Iraqis and at least 200,000 Afghans who lost their lives in criminal US wars of aggression justified by the attacks. I am also mourning for the countless, nameless others killed in a so-called “War on Terror” that has only fueled terror around the planet.
At the same moment, I am frustrated at the persistence of the so-called 9/11 “Truth” movement — which, despite its lofty name, is very light on truth and very heavy on suggestion and fabrication.
I’ll speak bluntly: No, the 9/11 attacks were not an “inside job.” Period.
Not an ounce of evidence has ever been procured to bolster this extraordinary claim. And 16 years later, with millions of classified US government documents released by WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and other whistleblowers, we still do not have a modicum of evidence suggesting otherwise.
Sure, maybe some questions remain unanswered. Yet one could look at any historical event and find an infinite array of strange coincidences. There are entire movies (bad ones and good ones alike) based on this concept; the pseudoscience of numerology is predicated on it. But one swallow does not a summer make.
9/11 “Truth” is not just false, however. It is much more pernicious, and destructive. That’s because 9/11 “Truth” is a fundamentally right-wing conspiracy that covers up the real scandal surrounding the September 11 attacks; it is a distraction from the monsters, and monstrous crimes, of US foreign policy — which paved the way for the horrific bloodshed.
Al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Center, which sent thousands of civilians to a hellish, fiery death, is an unspeakable crime. This is why it is all the more nauseating that it was US foreign policy, US imperialism, that gave birth to al-Qaeda in the first place, and has continued to fuel it since.
In short, 9/11 was blowback, not an “inside job.”
Afghanistan and the mujahideen
In the 1980s in Afghanistan, the US and its allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan poured billions of dollars into arming and training the mujahideen, extremist Salafi-jihadists who indiscriminately murdered combatants and civilians alike in their fight against Afghanistan’s secular revolutionary socialist government and the Soviet Union, which backed it.
The US supported fascists in order to fight communists. And the fascists won.
This was not just true for South Asia and the Middle East; the US did the same in Latin America and Africa, where the US armed and trained fascist death squads and propped up draconian far-right capitalist dictatorships.
Al-Qaeda and the Taliban emerged out of the mujahideen in Afghanistan. Yet the US government has incessantly defended its policy that fueled their rise, in the name of crushing the USSR.
Warmongering former US national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski in fact went to his death bed still upholding this policy. Asked in a 1998 interview, “do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?”, Brzezinski replied:
What is most important to the history of the world? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some stirred-up Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
On December 6, 1993, The Independent’s accomplished foreign correspondent Robert Fisk published an article titled “Anti-Soviet warrior puts his army on the road to peace.” It lionized al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden as an anti-communist hero, who led the “Arab mujahedin” in Afghanistan, “recruited them, trained them and then dispatched them to destroy the Soviet army.”
That is to say, al-Qaeda and the Taliban are the the Frankenstein’s monsters of US imperialism. They are the beneficiaries of the Cold War, of capitalism’s bloody war on socialism.
ISIS, Syria, and Libya
So too is ISIS, in fact. Such is a reminder that this is unfortunately not just a historical phenomenon, relinquished to the past. Still today, the US continues to feed Salafi-jihadist groups in multiple countries.
Even former British prime minister and neoliberal poster boy Tony Blair has admitted the illegal US-led invasion of Iraq, which he supported, fueled the rise of ISIS. The Chilcot Report likewise showed that British intelligence agencies knew invading Iraq would strengthen al-Qaeda and other extremist groups. The war still went on. Yet this is just scratching the surface.
Syria is Afghanistan 2.0. As they did in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the US, UK, and their allies Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey spent billions of dollars arming and training rebels, many of whom were linked to or later defected to ISIS and al-Qaeda, in hopes of toppling the government in Syria and weakening its allies Iran, Hezbollah, and Russia. The CIA and US proxies flooded Syria with billions of dollars worth of weapons, in an arms bonanza that extremist groups benefited from.
In 2011, NATO did the same, helping an opposition that a British parliamentary report later acknowledged was dominated by Salafi-jihadists overthrow Libya’s secular government. This turned the oil-rich North African nation into a failed state, where extremist Islamist groups fight for control of swaths of territory, ISIS carved out a so-called “caliphate,” Sub-Saharan African refugees are sold in open-air slave markets, women are banned from traveling on their own, and Muammar Qadhafi’s massive weapons stocks have flooded the region — and ended up in the hands of extremists.
In fact, shockingly if not surprisingly, one of the architects of the mujahideen policy in Afghanistan in the 1980s has defended the similar policy in Syria. Michael Vickers, a former top Pentagon official and CIA officer, published an op-ed in The Washington Post in July insisting the CIA program that greatly strengthened ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other extremist groups in Syria should not just be maintained, but expanded. He wrote:
President Ronald Reagan understood the potential of covert proxy wars to alter global power balances. Through stepped-up support for the Afghan mujahideen and other anti-Communist movements, and other, complementary strategic policies, he won the Cold War. It took the Carter and Reagan administrations more than five years to come up with a war-winning strategy (work that I helped to lead as a CIA officer) against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The same could be done in Syria today.
Vickers conveniently left out the fact that, as Brzezinski conceded, this policy is precisely what gave birth to al-Qaeda then, and to ISIS today.
Anti-communist US alliances with fascists
Sure, today the US is fighting al-Qaeda in some places, but it has sided with it in others — in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and beyond.
Al-Qaeda is a fascist death squad not unlike the CIA-backed Contras in Nicaragua. In their respective historical contexts, they are politically analogous.
As in the Cold War, capitalist imperialism has still today continued to strategically partner on and off with fascist forces in the quest to crush any state that does not obediently kowtow to the NATO-led neoliberal order. These are the machinations of empire.
It would of course be remiss of me were I to not mention the first 9/11, which US imperialism was also responsible for: the CIA-backed September 11, 1973 coup that violently toppled Chile’s democratically elected marxist president Salvador Allende, and replaced him with heinously oppressive far-right capitalist dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Or one might recall the far-right dictatorship the US backed in Argentina. Uki Goñi, who has documented this regime’s alliance with former Nazi war criminals, noted in The New York Times, “Argentina’s military dictatorship organized its killings in death camps, with methods reminiscent of the Nazis’ (and many Nazis had, in fact, found asylum in Argentina after World War II and still lived there then).” Not just leftists, but also Jews were targeted in the US-backed Argentine regime’s Dirty War.
But fascist death squads and regimes are notoriously unreliable and unstable. They don’t always follow orders; they may turn against you at some point. And then, as Max Blumenthal has explained, there’s the “disposability problem.” Al-Qaeda’s unofficial strategic alliance with the US eventually broke down — and nearly 3,000 civilians paid the price (not to mention the many thousands more civilians, many Shia, slaughtered by al-Qaeda in the Middle East).
9/11 is only one of such examples of blowback. In May, the young British extremist Salman Abedi massacred dozens of civilians at a concert in Manchester, England. As Blumenthal detailed, Abedi was part of an al-Qaeda-affiliated Libyan opposition group that had been backed by the CIA and MI6. He and his father had in fact fought in the 2011 NATO war in Libya. The British government had encouraged Libyan exiles to join the Salafi-jihadist-led fight. This is lamentably just one more instance among myriad.
If you play with fire, you get burned. The tragedy, and crime, is that civilians — primarily outside of US borders, but sometimes within — suffer the bloody consequences.
The inherent contradictions of 9/11 “Truth”
The utter dearth of evidence aside, the 9/11 “Truth” argument does not make sense prima facie; it isn’t even internally consistent.
The US goal was clearly regime change in Iraq, and eventually Iran; this is undeniable. General Wesley Clark himself admitted the Bush administration had drafted a list of “seven countries in five years” to overthrow — Iraq, Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan, and finally Iran.
(Note, it has taken longer than five years, but Iraq and Libya were destroyed in US wars, Syria was plunged onto the brink of oblivion, Somalia is a failed state, and Sudan was divided.)
But if the US supposedly carried out or at least planned the September 11 attacks (which it didn’t), why would it choose or blame al-Qaeda? The US knew Saddam Hussein’s Iraq had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, and had in fact repressed Salafi-jihadist groups. So why wouldn’t the US blame Saddam Hussein for the attack, instead of fabricating lies and selling them through the corporate media?
The answer is because 9/11 was not an “inside job.” The reality is more complex, but also in some ways even more insidious.
Just as absurdly, if the US supposedly carried out or at least planned the September 11 attacks (which it didn’t), why did it choose 15 Saudi pilots? Why did it recruit Saudis, Emiratis, an Egyptian, and a Lebanese, and not Iraqis, Syrians, and Iranians? The US has blamed Syrians and Libyans for past attacks on planes; it would be much easier to justify wars on their countries by pointing to them instead of al-Qaeda.
(Note, the Trump administration’s Muslim ban likewise affects people from countries targeted for US regime change and destabilization, not people from US allies whose nationals carried out the 9/11 attacks and whose governments support Salafi-jihadist groups.)
The answer is because, again, 9/11 was not an “inside job.” If the US had truly carried out or planned the attacks in order to justify invading Iraq, Syria, and Iran, it would have chosen Iraqi, Syrian, and Iranian pilots and blamed it on Saddam Hussein, the newly installed Bashar al-Assad, Muammar Qadhafi, Hezbollah, and/or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard — all of which had nothing to do with 9/11.
This brings us to the factor of Saudi Arabia. There is a growing body of evidence showing Saudi Arabia, a close US ally, was indeed involved in the 9/11 attacks.
A convicted plotter confessed in sworn testimony to the US government that members of the Saudi royal family funded al-Qaeda before 9/11.
A lawsuit filed on behalf of 1,400 family members of 9/11 victims even accuses the Saudi regime of paying two nationals to test a “dry run” of the September 11 attacks.
The formerly redacted “28 pages” (actually 29 pages) of the 2002 joint Congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks state clearly, “While in the United States, some of the September 11 hijackers were in contact with, and received support or assistance from, individuals who may be connected to the Saudi Government.” Declassified in July 2016, this document cites FBI and CIA reports that, while some of the 9/11 hijackers were in the US, they had likely been in contact with Saudi intelligence officers.
Saudi Arabia, by far the world’s largest oil exporter and home to the second-largest known petroleum reserves on the planet, has long been known as the leading sponsor of al-Qaeda and other Salafi-jihadist groups. Its fundamentalist state ideology of Wahhabism, also exported at the sum of some $100 billion, has fueled these extremist movements for decades, all under the watchful eye of its American imperial patron.
This is precisely the point: Saudi Arabia remains a staunch US ally, who buys hundreds of billions of dollars worth of US weapons, and in turn pledges hundreds of billions of dollars of investments in US industries and infrastructure.
At the end of the day, for the stability of the global capitalist system to continue, for profits to stay high, a state might have to turn a blind eye to, even downplay and deny, the crimes of its allies. When the victims of those crimes are that state’s citizens, it certainly makes it harder. But Ben Linder‘s family knows intimately that this is a harsh reality.
The real scandal is not that the US carried out or planned 9/11 (which, again, it didn’t), but rather that its policies led to 9/11. And the horrific thing is that, after September 11, 2001, the US has only doubled down on those very same policies that led to the attacks in the first place.
The 9/11 “Truth” movement misses the forest for the trees. The actual controversy behind the tragic and criminal attacks is not the fictional “inside job,” but the blowback US imperialist policies have fomented.
In lieu of facile, evidence-less conspiracies, we need a much more nuanced dialectical understanding of this history, a materialist analysis of the actual politics of the situation. Legendary radical journalist Alexander Cockburn wrote in his 2006 essay “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left“:
These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, or the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale (the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos) or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy”, or “inside job”, is the Summa of all this foolishness.
Fascism in the 21st century
One final point: The unspeakable crimes the US empire has carried out since, in the name of 9/11, are only grave insults to the memories of the civilians who died. They do nothing to justify or rationalize the slaughter.
There is nothing “anti-imperialist” or “revolutionary” about al-Qaeda. Intentional slaughter of thousands of civilians is not an act of “resistance”; it is a fascist crime. Revolutionaries do not terrorize civilians; this is what the running dogs of capitalist imperialism do.
Marxist theorist J. Sakai penned one of the most important, and brilliant, pieces of writing on fascism in the 21st century. Published in the 2002 volume Confronting Fascism, Sakai opens his remarkably prescient essay “The Shock of Recognition” writing, “We weren’t thinking about fascism while we watched two 757s full of people fly into the ex-World trade Center. And maybe we still weren’t thinking of fascism when we heard about the first-ever successful attack on the Pentagon. But fascism was thinking about us.”
For further reading, I would highly recommend the entire essay. But I will conclude with an excerpt from Sakai, which encapsulates what I would argue is the correct understanding of al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks:
There is one thing we have to confront before we go any further — the political nature of what is known as religious fundamentalism. The stunning attacks of 911 are being assigned to religious fanaticism, an “islamic fundamentalism” that represents all that is backward to the West. Ironically, both sides, both the u.s. empire and the insurgent pan-islamic rightists, prefer to call their movement a religious one. To the contrary, nothing about capitalism’s “first World War of the 21st century” can be understood that way. Think it over. A supranational political underground of educated men, organized into cells with sophisticated illegal documents and funding, who are multilingual and travel across the world to learn how to fly passenger jet airliners and then use them as guided missiles, is nothing but political. And modern. Pan-islamic fascism pressing home their war on a global battlefield.
The small but growing white fascist bands here in the u.s. picked up on this immediately. They had political brethren in the Muslim world. Politics is thicker than blood. “Anyone who’s willing to drive a plane into a building to kill Jews is alright by me”, said Billy Roper of the National Alliance, the largest white fascist group here. David Michael of the neo-fascist British National Party (which received several hundred thousand votes in the last local elections), was jubilant: “Today was a glorious day. May there be many others like it.” As one New Afrikan revolutionary always reminds people: “Like is drawn to like.” Not race and not religion but class politics.
Why do we insist that some religious fundamentalist movements can only be understood as fascists? It isn’t that the Taliban or Egyptian Jihad aren’t religious groups. They clearly are, in the sense that their ideology and program are couched in an islamic framework. And they are part of broader islamic rightist currents that contain people of differing political programs. Just as the German Nazi Party was part of broader nationalistic currents in Germany in the 1920–30s that shared many of the same racialist views. People have tried to shallowly explain away the Nazis by saying that they were only extreme racists. They were that (which they shared with many other Germans) but they also had far-reaching fascist politics beyond that. In the same way, the hindu far right in India, for example — which contains perhaps the largest fascist movement in the world right now — is not only a religious movement in form but one which has far-reaching fascist politics in essence. There is no natural law saying that men’s religions have to be benign or humane or non-political. And they seldom are.
But what the West calls “islamic fundamentalism” is not that at all. First off, like its brother “christian fundamentalism” there’s some kind of relationship to religion but there’s nothing fundamental about it. There’s no similar vibe between white racist abortion clinic bombers today and some outcast Jewish carpenter with illegal anti-ruling class ideas in the Middle East 2000 years ago. And the Prophet Mohammad’s youngest wife wasn’t wearing a burka and hiding indoors, she was riding the desert alongside male warriors and disputing doctrine with male preachers as the head of her own religious school.
The modern islamic rightists, who began in 1927–28 with the founding of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, took religious ideological form but were started as a political movement against British neo-colonial domination. They were backed not by workers or peasants but by the middle-class bazaar merchants and traders. The core of the islamic rightists from the beginning were not theologians but young men who had middle-class educations as scientists and technicians (like today’s Mohammad Atta who supposedly led the 911 attacks), and who used assassinations and trade boycotts. One trend within this broader islamist political movement developed fascist politics and a definite fascist class agenda. The fact that everything is explained in religious ideological terms doesn’t change the fact that their program and class strategy fit fascism perfectly. Perhaps that’s the real “fundamentalism” that they have.
Throughout the Muslim world, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt to Turkey to Pakistan, Western imperialism has helped maintain militarized neo-colonial regimes that have looted and deadended society. They have destroyed local subsistance economies of self-production for use in favor of globalized export-import economies. The number of the declassed, those without any regular relationship to economic production and distribution, keeps growing. The lower-middle classes keep losing their small plots of land, their small market businesses, their toehold in the educated professions. These are men who are threatened with the loss of everything that defined them, including the ability of patriarchs to own households of women and children.
This is the class basis of today’s pan-islamic fascism, which demands a complete reversal of fortune. Revolutions where today’s Muslim elites shall be in the prisons or the gutter and the warriors of fascism shall be the new class ruling over the palaces, mosques and markets. They are more than national in scope just as all revolutionary movements have been. Because they are in a fluid war of undergrounds and exile, striking from abroad, of retreating from savage military repression in one nation to concentrate on breakthroughs in another nation. And to them, the world citadel of globalization in New York was not an innocent civilian target but a fortress of an amoral enemy.
The key thing about them isn’t that they’re following some old book. It’s that they’re fighting for State power just like everyone else in the capitalist sinkhole. They upfront want to rule, to not work but get affluent and powerful as special classes alongside the bourgeoisie, to hold everyone else underfoot by raw police power. Whether it’s christianity or islam or whatever they claim to be following, these are definitely political movements.
Originally published at bennorton.com on September 11, 2017.