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Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Goodreads | Eric_W Welch (Forreston, IL)'s review of The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11

For all the energy, lives and treasure we have devoted to Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to remember that they had nothing to do with 9/11 which became the excuse for our actions rather than the proximate rationale. We are now in a war that would appear to have literally no end, this “war of terror,” one that any sane person who recently traveled on an airplane can see the terrorists have won as we meekly surrender our civil rights to government agencies who now can tap phones, examine library records, collect data, cavity search, etc., in the name of some illusionary sense of safety, a theater of the absurd. In addition they convinced us , this tiny group of delusionary men (no women), to send thousands of troops to a hostile land and environment where they could be more easily picked off. 

Wright traces the rise of anti-semitism in the MIddle East to the influence of Naziism during WW II and especially afterwards when many Nazis fled to Egypt for sanctuary from the victorious allies. For centuries Jews had lived quite peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, but several events fueled a return to a fundamentalist, Islamicist view. The Six-Day war was used by these in a rather tortured logic to validate their position, i.e. that God had favored the Jews because Muslims had wandered away from the true Islam and the Caliphate. (This kind of perverted thinking is not unique to Islamists. It’s rampant among fundamentalist Christian groups such as the Westboro Baptists who insist that US military deaths are caused by God’s displeasure with current U.S. policies with regard to homosexuality. Other examples abound.) The war, which an overwhelming victory for Israel, humiliated Egypt, where, following Nassar’s death, Sadat needed to appeal to the fundamentalists to strengthen his government; so he released many who had been jailed from prison. Not a smart move.

The actions of the Egyptians, following the assassination of Sadat, solidified a diverse, incoherent movement. He flatly states that 9/11 was born in the torture chambers of the Egyptian government which created an appetite for revenge and turned moderates into extremists, not to mention destroyed any notion that western society actually practiced the ideals of freedom and human rights they espoused. Communism, Zionism, and Imperialism were all lumped together as the great western enemy of Islam and the only solution was to use violence to try to create an Islamic theocracy. By throwing all of the anti-government groups together in prison, many individuals and groups which had been unaware of the other’s existence were now thrown together and molded into a more coherent movement. Torture was an instrument of humiliation, revenge and punishment as well as information gathering and Ayman Zawahiri emerged as the new leader of the group.

I was astonished how intertwined the Bin Laden family, wealthy beyond measure from lucrative construction contracts, was with Saudi government and culture. That said, Osama comes across as a pathetic little man whom, for some bizarre reason, we have inflated to mythic proportions. He left a long trail of words that Wright has used effectively to build a comprehensive picture of the man that Afghans, in the fight against the Russians, thought was rather pathetic, but who was adopted by the United States and supported. Another example of how certain actions taken for a variety of reasons can have long-range negative effects. How one might ever develop the perspicuity to avoid making such mistakes remains a mystery to me.

If there are any heroes in this book, it’s the field officers of the FBI and one John O’Neill (who tragically died in the World Trade Center.) They had been concerned that the Islamic fundamentalists would try something spectacular but got little support from Washington. One Minneapolis supervisor, admonished for his reports and concerns, simply said back to the bosses in DC that he was simply “ “trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center.” This in August of 2001

Wright has done a magnificent job of melding detail and the broader picture to present a better understanding of why we are where we are today.The title, drawn from the Koran is ironic in light of Osama’s killing by American troops: ““Wherever you are, death will find you, Even in the looming tower,” a quote from one of Osama’s many videos.

After-note: Read a couple of the one-star reviews on Amazon to get a feel for psychotic thinking.

Previously written: "Therefore when you induce others to construct a formation while you yourself are formless, then you are concentrated while the opponent is divided... Therefore the consummation of forming an army is to arrive at formlessness. When you have no form, undercover espionage cannot find out anything, intelligence cannot form a strategy." Sun Tzu, 500 B.C.

For some reason, I failed to get very far into this book and was reminded of it when I read an excellent column recently at Salon ( regarding the costs of our obsessiveness with regard to airline security. I was reminded that Wright discussed Al Qaeda strategy at some length. It was quite simple. Bin Laden knew he couldn't maintain an attack on U.S. soil so he needed to get us to come to him. And he has succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. We send troops and treasure over to him to be whittled away at. His first attempt to draw us in was the U.S.S. Cole; Clinton failed to fall into the trap as did Reagan after the 200 Marines were killed in Lebanon. Bush swallowed the bait hook, line and sinker. Iraq and Afghanistan have cost more than a trillion dollars of borroweded money in the first unfunded war in our history. And we spend more hundreds of billions searching for the latest object in someone's crotch for the illusion of security. Wait till someone detonates a small bomb in a TSA security line or at a McDonald's. We will then lose all our freedoms in the name of maintaining an empire we cannot afford.

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