Published at 10:34 on 11 September 2021
There have already been a number of observations from Establishment sources comparing the lack of unity today to the unity of twenty years ago, and bemoaning this fact.
Inasmuch as the current state of affairs is undesirable because it prevents responding to a national crisis, they have a point. Just look around at the current mess being caused by the inability to unite around the clear facts of COVID-19 as proof.
It is not nearly so simple as that, however.
The unity of a generation ago was badly contaminated by an imperialist mindset that the ruling elite had spent decades cultivating, for purposes of mustering public support for the Cold War. That period of history had clearly ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, resulting in a politics that was largely drifting and looking for a purpose.
Cold Warriors found the prospect of a demilitarized USA alarming and were busy strategizing how to prevent it, even so far as concluding that their project would likely be a difficult struggle “absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.”
Well, twenty years ago today, they got their catastrophic and catalyzing event, and they exploited it to the max. They were quite successful in ginning up public support for a robust military and a muscular foreign policy, to the point of launching two wars.
The first war had an insufficient casus belli: It was not necessary to invade and occupy Afghanistan in order to apprehend Osama bin Laden, who at any rate was not even in Afghanistan when he was dealt with. He was in Pakistan, and he was dealt with via measures that fell short of subjecting Pakistan to a wholesale war and occupation.
The second war was launched on a total pack of lies, and served to help distract attention and resources from the first (as it was always obvious it would).
So much for the Establishment’s right wing. The Establishment’s left wing might not have much liked what the right wing was doing, but they didn’t really do much to oppose it, either. It was the standard Democratic Party playbook of bringing knives (butter knives at that, we wouldn’t want to hurt anyone) to gun fights.
So, as is typically the case, the right wing was allowed a needlessly easy victory, and its view of what to do in response to 9/11 prevailed, despite what a poor response it was.
There is a funny thing about inconvenient facts: they don’t magically go away if you ignore them and try pretend they don’t exist. The wars were doomed to go badly from the get-go, and the one in Afghanistan went particularly badly.
That which was intended to secure the place of the American Empire in the 21st century has ended up weakening it, quite possibly fatally. Perhaps more pertinently for the present moment, none of the above process made the Establishment look very good.
In a pre-Internet world, that might have provoked a very beneficial moment of political reckoning. But this is a world of information bubbles, and such bubbles have proven to be beneficial to the rise of fascistic, right-wing populism.
Add the media-bubble problem to a right-wing base upset at its own Establishment, and here we are. The current lack of unity that George W. Bush bemoaned today at Shanksville is thus not completely his fault, but he is far from blameless in it all.