Distractions from awful reality
US: the conspiracy that wasn’t
The left in the United States remains distracted by fantastic stories about conpiracies hatched by the Bush administration: in many of these, even the 9/11 attacks are believed to have been an inside job. Yet the chief, and most fearful, characteristic of the Bush administration has been its low level of practical management abroad and at home.
By Alexander Cockburn
Where was the American left in the recent campaign that ended in the recapture of both houses of Congress by the Democrats on 7 November? Was it in the streets fomenting opposition to the war in Iraq? No, the antiwar movement has been inert for months. When I was asked to give the keynote speech at a rare antiwar rally in my local town in October, three of my five fellow orators didn’t mention the war at all.
Instead they numbed the audience and sharply diminished its size with interminable dissections of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Centre towers and the Pentagon. Their aim was to argue that the attacks were an inside job organised by President George Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, or (a frequent variation on the theme) by darker powers for which Bush and Cheney are mere errand boys.
Five years after the attacks, 9/11 “conspiracism” has penetrated deep into the left in the US. It is also widespread on the libertarian and populist right, which is scarcely surprising since the United States populist right instinctively mistrusts government to a far greater degree than the left, and matches conspiracies to its demon of preference, whether the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United Nations’ black helicopters (1) or the Jews.
These days a dwindling number of leftists learn their political economy from Marx. Into the theoretical and strategic void has crept a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world that tends to locate ruling class devilry not in the crises of capital accumulation, the falling rate of profit, or inter-imperial competition, but in locale — the Bohemian Grove, Bilderberg, Ditchley, Davos (2) — or supposedly “rogue” agencies, with the CIA still at the head of the list. The 9/11 “conspiracy” is the summa of all this foolishness.
You trip over a fundamental idiocy of the 9/11 conspiracists in the first paragraph of a book by one of their high priests, David Ray Griffin: “In many respects,” Griffin writes, “the strongest evidence provided by critics of the official account involves the events of 9/11 itself . . . In light of standard procedures for dealing with hijacked airplanes . . . not one of these planes should have reached its target, let alone all three of them” (3).
A preposterous belief
The operative word here is “should”. A central characteristic of the conspiracists is that they have a devout, preposterous belief in US efficiency. Many of them start with the racist premise, frequently voiced in as many words in their writings, that “Arabs in caves” weren’t capable of the mission. They believe that military systems should work the way Pentagon press flacks and aerospace salesmen say they should work. They believe that at 8.14am, when AA flight 11 switched off its radio and transponder, an FAA flight controller should have called the National Military Command centre and Norad. To quote Griffin, they believe, citing reverently “the US Air Force’s own website”, that an F-15 could have intercepted AA flight 11 “by 8.24, and certainly no later than 8.30”.
They appear to have read no military history, which is too bad because if they had they would know that minutely planned operations, let alone by-the-book responses to an unprecedented emergency, screw up with monotonous regularity by reason of stupidity, cowardice, venality and all the other failings, including sudden changes in the weather.
According to the minutely prepared plans of the Strategic Air Command (SAC), an impending Soviet attack would have prompted missile silos in north Dakota to open, and their ICBMs to arc towards Moscow and kindred targets. However, the four test launches attempted all failed, whereupon the SAC gave up testing. Was it badly designed equipment, human incompetence, defence contractor venality or . . . conspiracy?
Did President Jimmy Carter’s April 1980 effort to rescue hostages taken in the US embassy in Tehran fail because a sandstorm disabled three of the eight helicopters or because the helicopters were poorly made or because agents of Ronald Reagan and the Republican National Committee (seven months before the US presidential elections) poured sugar into their gas tanks in a conspiracy? Does Mr Cohen in his store at the end of the block hike his prices because he wants to make a buck or because his rent went up or because the Jews want to take over the world?
Some photos of the impact of the “object” — the Boeing 757, flight 77, which hit the Pentagon — seem to show the sort of hole a missile might make. Ergo, 757 didn’t hit the Pentagon. A missile did. And in some photographs, that wasn’t smoke obscuring a larger rupture in the fortified Pentagon wall.
Chuck Spinney, now retired after years of brilliant government service exposing the Pentagon’s budgetary outrages, told me: “There are pictures taken of the plane hitting the Pentagon — they were taken by the surveillance cameras at Pentagon’s heliport, which was right next to impact point. I have seen them . . . both stills and moving pictures. I just missed seeing it personally, but the driver of the van I just got out of in South Parking saw it so closely that he could see the terrified faces of passengers in windows. I knew two people who were on the plane. One was ID’d by dental remains found in the Pentagon.”
Immune to reality checks
This won’t faze the conspiracists. They’re immune to any reality check: Spinney worked for the government, they switched the dental records, the Boeing 757 was flown to Nebraska for a rendezvous with Bush, who shot the passengers, burned the bodies on the tarmac and gave the teeth of Spinney’s friend to Dick Cheney to drop through a hole in his trousers amid the debris in the Pentagon.
Hundreds of people saw the plane, people who know the difference between a plane and a cruise missile. The wreckage of the plane was hauled from the site. Why does the obvious have to be proved? Would those who were wounded or who lost friends and colleagues that day assist in the cover up of a missile strike? Why risk using a missile, when you had a plane in the air and (to take the bizarre construct of the conspiracists) had successfully crashed by remote control into far more difficult targets, the WTC Towers?
What do we make of Osama bin Laden taking credit for the attacks? That he is still on the CIA payroll? And so it goes, on and on into the murk. But to what end? To prove that Bush and Cheney are capable of almost anything? Even though they haven’t shown the slightest degree of competence in anything? They couldn’t even manufacture “weapons of mass destruction” after US troops had invaded Iraq, when any box labelled WMD would have been happily photographed by the embedded press as conclusive testimony of the existence of WMDs.
The Democrats’ victory in the midterm US elections may help to remind the left that Bush and Cheney are not that much different from the politicians and overlords of US foreign policy who preceded them or will follow them. There was already a bipartisan consensus about Israel and Iraq. What the 9/11 conspiracists want us to believe is that the Bush/Cheney gang represent a new breed of evil, which might be the most dangerous deception of all, for it fosters the fantasy that a new administration, a Hillary Clinton or Al Gore administration, would pursue more humane policies.
The Twin Towers didn’t fall down because they were badly built as a consequence of corruption, incompetence, regulatory evasions by the Port Authority and because they had been struck by huge planes loaded with jet fuel. No, shout the conspiracists, they pancaked because scores of Cheney’s agents methodically planted demolition charges in the days preceding 9/11: a conspiracy of thousands, all of whom have held their tongues ever since, despite being party to mass murder.