Rethinking 9/11

By CATHERINE TUMBER  |  September 11, 2006

While I still believe we need to have a serious war on terrorism and to marshal the forces of the United States to engage effectively in that effort, I have been surprised and deeply disappointed in the way that this presidentially declared “war on terrorism” has been directed. Whatever the justification for invading Iraq — and there were many strong arguments in favor of invading Iraq to search for the possible existence of weapons of mass destruction and to remove Saddam Hussein (himself a weapon of mass destruction) — the way in which that operation was carried out will go down in the manual of military follies, reflecting arrogance and an inability to learn from errors on the ground by those in charge.

A strong case could be made for our having invaded Iraq, removed Saddam Hussein, assured ourselves of the non-existence of the weapons of mass destruction and promptly exited, leaving the Iraqis the responsibility of governing their own country and sorting out their affairs. In the United States, we had our own civil war, and if the only way the Shiites could assert their right to share in the governance of Iraq was through a civil war, so be it. It is not our job to settle that fight.

In Iraq we repeated mistakes we had made in the Vietnam War. We permitted sanctuary for terrorists and insurgents in both Syria and Iran. It might have been difficult to stop Iran from supporting insurgents, but it would have been quite easy to put a stop to that activity in Syria. It would have also been possible to remove the Syrians from Lebanon, restoring Lebanon as an independent, autonomous state. That move probably would have prevented Hezbollah from being able to use Lebanon as a launching site for their assaults on Israel, which has led to further entanglements.

It is also profoundly naive and inexcusably ignorant to believe that we could have imported democracy in Iraq the way democracy was introduced in Germany, which had substantial experience of democratic government, or in Japan, where the shift to a democratic government was enforced by Emperor Hirohito and his top shogun, General Douglas MacArthur.

Much of the Bush doctrine is the legacy of President Woodrow Wilson. For some reason, Wilson saw fit to repudiate Lincoln’s decision to fight a war to deny the Confederacy the right of self-determination. If every ethnic, political or ideological group has the right to declare itself independent of all others, states will quickly disintegrate into small units incapable of economic sustainability. Taken to its logical limit, the right of self-determination ends in solipsistic individualism. This is not a position on which I have changed since 9/11. I have thought this since the late 1960s, when we became engaged in Vietnam. The sooner this country drops the notion that we will encourage self-determination among all nations and among all peoples of the world, the better.

Alan Dershowitz, professor of law, Harvard University

Yes, I’ve changed my mind about one very important thing after 9/11, and that is the need to focus the criminal law more on prevention and less on deterrence. Prior to 9/11, when we were dealing primarily with deterrable harm-doers — people who can be deterred, people who can be frightened, threatened into obeying the law — I believed that the criminal law should be almost exclusively deterrent in its orientation. But 9/11 really put into consciousness the idea that there are people who want to die. And if they want to die, they can’t be deterred. Since they welcome extreme punishment — death — you can’t really threaten them with imprisonment or even with the death penalty. They welcome that. So since deterrence won’t work on suicide terrorists, the law has to become somewhat more pre-emptive and proactive.

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