The ‘suckers ploy’
The US was suckered, former intelligence and defence policy analyst Dr Paul Buchanan says.
“There is this old guerilla tactic known as the ‘suckers ploy’. And basically, you know, a bunch of guerillas are in a village … a military convoy goes by and they fire upon it and they all run into the jungle.
“The convoy turns around and they annihilate the village. What you remember is the annihilation of the village, not the initial fire on the convoy.
“And what [Osama] bin Laden did was a sucker ploy on grand scale.
“The attacks were spectacular … But they were not going to shake the foundations of the United States, the socioeconomic and political pillars, unless the United States over-reacted and responded disproportionately to what was a very nasty threat, but was not an existential threat.
“What did the US do it? It got suckered. It responded by overreacting. It declared a global War on Terror.”
The scale of 9/11 may have been new, but University of Otago professor of international relations Robert Patman says it didn’t come out of nowhere.
“There seemed to be a diagnosis by the administration this attack came out of the clear blue sky and that it was not anything to do with America’s responsibility and that the United States would have to declare a new War on Terror or terrorism.
“The diagnosis, in my view was incorrect. Al Qaeda had been attacking the United States since ‘93 and had already been involved in a series of terrorist attacks in the United States, so it didn’t come out of the clear blue sky. But the most important thing is perhaps if the Americans did not, if the Bush administration did not, accurately diagnose the origins of 9/11, or the causes of it, then that means there was fair chance that its prescription – its response to 9/11 – did not hit the mark.
“A bit like going to the doctor and you’ve got a tummy pain and the doctor gives you something for heart failure.”
Buchanan says the attack itself was a natural evolution that began when terror groups began hijacking planes in the 1970s.
“That’s the thing that was remarkable about it – bin Laden said he wanted to target the symbols of American economic, political and military might, and so the targets were the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and the third plane was headed towards Congress – and the ability to use an aircraft to make this global – beyond some regional argument – that’s the big difference.”
Both Buchanan and Patman say the US response appeared to get off to a good start.
“The American response to 9/11 was primarily militarily centred and the Americans, I think, got off to a reasonably promising start – they went through the UN Security Council, they got authorisation to conduct an operation in Afghanistan,” Patman says.
“But by 2003, I think the [then President George] Bush administration really made a fateful error, and that is invade Iraq which was a unilateral action which did not have the support of some of the key allies of United States.
“I think from that point onwards the international support for America’s so-called War on Terror began to seriously decline. By the time Bush left office, America’s standing in the world was probably lower than any time since the Second World War.”
Buchanan says the US was justified to go into Afghanistan to eliminate the al Qaeda training bases and remove the Taliban for giving them a safe haven.
But that was all done by April 2002.
“The US then did two big things: Begin a nation-building programme in Afghanistan and decided to invade Iraq.
“They try to say that Saddam Hussein was involved in 9/11. He was not. They tried to say that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He did not.
“And they go in. They occupy not one but two countries simultaneously, drawing resources from the fight in Afghanistan over into Iraq.
“And they get bogged down in both, and there’s never ending – basically guerrilla – wars and they wind up retreating from both.
“In their wake, ISIS was created in the Sunni Triangle in Iraq … that then moved into Syria and then engaged in lone-wolf and small-cell attacks around the world.
“So it’s a US invention – talk about unintended consequences.”
In the meantime, the US was breaking apart domestically, Buchanan says.
“Not exclusively due to the foreign wars, but over increasingly hyper-partisan arguments about the US role in the world.”
The response to 9/11 polarised the US because it involved wars of opportunity, Buchanan says.
“The threat … was not existential.”
Americans weren’t fighting for survival, they were fighting for ideology.
Eventually, the consensus underpinning American security policy and 30 years of working under an “umbrella of a foreign policy approach known as liberal internationalism” began to unravel, Buchanan says.