According to the Washington Post’s story of September 8, “The Disbelievers,” the 9/11 conspiracy theory world is currently split between LIHOP and MIHOP factions.
The Let It Happen On Purpose (LIHOP) faction believes that the Bush administration knew that Al Qaeda was about to strike at U.S. targets but allowed the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 in order to justify military intervention in the Middle East.
The Made It Happen On Purpose (MIHOP) camp sees the situation in even more sinister terms (if that is possible) and believes that the U.S. government orchestrated 9/11 in a “false flag operation,” with the most prevalent theory being that the World Trade Center buildings and Pentagon were destroyed through controlled demolition.
It would be easy to dismiss the conspiracy theorists as loony paranoids (and many of them may indeed be), but the “9/11 Truth Movement” has had an impact on the views Americans hold about 9/11, as noted by the Post:
A recent Scripps Howard/Ohio University poll of 1,010 Americans found that 36 percent suspect the U.S. government promoted the attacks or intentionally sat on its hands. Sixteen percent believe explosives brought down the towers. Twelve percent believe a cruise missile hit the Pentagon.
Distrust percolates more strongly near Ground Zero. A Zogby International poll of New York City residents two years ago found 49.3 percent believed the government “consciously failed to act.”
These numbers are disturbing (although Zogby polls must always be taken with a grain of salt) considering these attitudes persist after the 9/11 Commission report and volumnious amounts of evidence showing that the conspiracy theories are bunkum.
The MIHOP fantasy
Consider the more serious MIHOP accusations. The scenarios that MIHOP 9/11 deniers construct are so involved and complicated that they collapse immediately upon close inspection; they rely upon pseudo-science, upon drawing broad conclusions from the most minor of details, and willfully ignore any evidence to the contrary. (For example, the false assertion that many of men identified as the 9/11 hijackers were actually alive in the Middle East and elsewhere—a story reported by the BBC and later retracted when it became clear that they had found men with similar names but not the hijackers—is still repeated by many 9/11 conspiracy theorists. You can find Der Spiegel‘s debunking of this “hijackers still alive” story here and here; the Saudi government acknowledged in 2002 that 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens and had been killed in the attack).
The hard scientific evidence debunking the conspiracy claims of controlled demolition and phantom jetliners is easily accessible for those interested in the facts. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has offered a detailed scientific explanation for the collapse of the Twin Towers; the recently released video of Flight 77 hitting the Pentagon, and the numerous eyewitness accounts, prove that it was a commercial airliner that smashed into the Pentagon, not a cruise missile or military aircraft. (You can find the NIST reports here and a NIST factsheet on the collapse of the Twin Towers here; a Popular Mechanics article debunking common 9/11 myths resides here; a refutation by researcher Mark Roberts of the pseudo-documentary “Loose Change” is here; and an omnibus 9/11 site, which is quite thorough, is ww.911myths.com, backed by the independent research of Englishman Mike Williams.)
Further, Osama bin Laden is hurting the MIHOP school—the more he openly accepts authorship of the 9/11 attacks, the more video Al Qaeda releases of the 9/11 attackers meeting with bin Laden prior to embarking on their twisted mission, the harder it becomes to portray 9/11 as a “false flag operation,” (or the more Byzantine and divorced from reality the explanations have to become).
There will always be those whose hatred of George Bush is so deep, or whose paranoia is so great, or whose ideology demands they think the worst of the U.S. government, that they will never be convinced that 9/11 was what it was: stateless terrorism engineered by a small group of fanatics.
Look for the popularity of the MIHOP version of 9/11 to fade in the next year or so. Already some on the Left are beginning to realize that as the evidence mounts and the conspiracy theories are debunked (NIST will release another definitive report—this one on the collapse of WTC 7 in early 2007) it hurts “progressive causes,” such as the antiwar movement, to be linked to such irrationality. It is all too easy for conservative bloggers to tag the 9/11 deniers as “moonbats” and “tin foil hat wearers,” and some of this will stick to politicians who (like Howard Dean) flirt with the notion of Bush Administration complicity with 9/11.
The LIHOP fantasy
The LIHOP argument will then be advanced with more vigor, as it fits in neatly with the “Bush lied about WMD” meme that is, unfortunately, popular with many in the Democratic Party. After all, the reasoning may go, if Bush was capable of lying in order to go to war against Iraq, why wouldn’t he invite a terrorist attack on American soil to give him popular support for adventures in the Middle East or to suppress civil liberties at home?
This would not be the first time an American president has been accused of turning a blind eye to the potential of a sneak attack on Americans. While most mainstream historians reject the idea, a vocal group argues that Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the Japanese were about to attack Pearl Harbor and prevented the military from countering the attack in order to pull the U.S. into World War II.
The problem that the LIHOP believers face is that there is no credible evidence supporting their theory, and it isn’t particularly logical. To accept the argument, you have to buy into a string of very shaky assumptions.
First, you have to accept the premise that George Bush and his other alleged conspirators (usually the “neo-conservatives”) desperately needed 9/11 in order to advance their interventionist foreign policy. Then you have to believe that Bush and co-conspirators would risk being exposed at some point in the future as having betrayed their country and been complicit in mass murder. Further, most variations of the LIHOP scenario has an all-knowing and all-powerful U.S. government pulling strings to enable the 9/11 terrorists to attack their targets.
It should be noted that Bush Administration did not argue for the invasion of Iraq by citing 9/11, but rather for a number of reasons, including the now-disputed presence of Weapons of Mass Destruction. This echoed the position of the Clinton Administration, and we should not forget that the U.S. had fought the first Gulf War in response to Saddam Hussein’s aggression towards Kuwait. Military action, if not a war, against Saddam could have proceeded without the events of September 11, 2001.
The hardest assumption to swallow is that Bush and his colleagues would have traded the deaths of thousands of Americans to advance their designs—knowing that if such a conspiracy was ever exposed that they would enter the annals of history as the most evil and treacherous figures in American history (to say nothing of possible impeachment, prosecution, and imprisonment for the perpetrators). Why take such a risk? Even if you believe in the theory that the Bush Administration was looking for a pretext for intervention, wouldn’t it be easier, and safer, to stage a foreign provocation by Iraq (a Gulf of Tonkin scenario) where you can better control the variables?
As to the masterminding of such a plot, counterterrorism expert Roger Cressey has it right when he says that such ideas give the government too much credit for competence. The official bungling at all levels of government unearthed by the 9/11 Commission and other investigations debunks this LIHOP fantasy. We know now that serial mistakes by the FBI, CIA, NORAD, and the Defense Department reflected a government bureaucracy consumed by turf protection, career advancement and incompetence—hardly the stuff of a vast conspiracy.
The reason that the Al Qaeda cell succeeded was that our safeguards against domestic terrorism were inadequate. Few in Congress or the Clinton or Bush Administration had any desire to disrupt the lives of Americans with tightened airline security in the name of anti-terrorism. The reality is that the threat was underestimated—as comes through clearly in counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke’s account of events in 2000 and 2001.
In short, prior to 9/11 bin Laden was not seen as the major threat he is now, and U.S. efforts against Al Qaeda were scattered and ineffectual. We were unprepared for terrorist attacks. Some LIHOP advocates will cite this lack of preparedness as proof that George Bush wanted an attack on American soil; all of the testimony and evidence I have seen suggests that the government’s negligence—if that is what it was—stemmed from either embracing foreign policy priorities that didn’t include counterterrorism at the top of the list, or from outright incompetence.
One appeal of the conspiracy theory in general is that it provides order to the world
That life is messy, that “stuff happens,” that chance, chaos and luck play a large part in how things happen is very threatening to some; conspiracies offer the comfort of an explanation and, usually, someone “evil” to blame.
And, as Richard Hofstadter pointed out in his essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” those with extreme political views—true believers—often embrace conspiracy theories as a way to explain why others have failed to support their extremism.
The danger for those on the Left who are tempted to support 9/11 conspiracy theories out of their deep anger towards President Bush is that, in the end, they are not based in reality.
Some, like David Corn of the Nation and Alexander Cockburn of CounterPunch have noted this and warned that “progressives” shouldn’t be distracted by the 9/11 “Truth Movement,” and should acknowledge that there is no truth to be found in these fantasies.
In the real world, the threat of terrorism by Al Qaeda remains; it is time to move beyond fantasy when considering how the U.S. (and the West) can best respond.
Copyright © 2006 Jefferson Flanders
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