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Truman's legacy
Presidents become president when they have their war

By KayArash Serri
September 21, 2001
The Iranian

Few people in the world are not aware that at 8:45 a.m. local time on 11th of September 2001, a passenger liner, which had been had been previously hijacked, crashed into one of New York City's World Trade Centre Twin Towers. Eighteen minutes later another hijacked plane crashed into the Southern Tower; subsequently both towers collapsed. The Pentagon was attacked an hour later in the same manner. Camp David just missed total destruction.

The world caught its breath and watched. American airspace was closed. The U.S. armed forces were put to high alert just short of war status. There were reports of more hijacked planes, unconfirmed reports of attacks against the State Department and the Congress were coming in. It seemed as if the mighty U.S. was unable to stop these terrorists from attacking wherever they wanted to, whenever they wanted to.

It was the perfect doomsday scenario Hollywood films were trying to portray over the years, and the world watched on, mesmerized, while casualty estimates ran well into four figures at the least, a fact that distresses every human being.

Instantly all fingers of accusation were pointed at Osama Bin Laden, the exiled Saudi millionaire who's living in Afghanistan. But interesting enough this mastermind of the 1998 attack on U.S. embassies in Africa, who always proclaimed his feats loud and wide, denied any involvement -- though he praised the attacks.

As the drama ended and the shock subsided, questions started to form in the minds of people everywhere across the world. Questions such as how, in spite of mobile phones from passengers in the planes to the outside world informing them of their plight and the fact that all four planes had changed course and all radio contact had been broken, there was no leak of the hijackings until the first one crashed into the Northern Tower? There were reservations on how, all of a sudden, at least four planes, and according to some accounts eight planes, were hijacked at one go with no hitches?

Hardly 24 hours had passed before FBI officials stated that they had caught a number of Arab suspects with many more identified and that a hired car supposedly used by the hijackers had been found with an Arabic manual for flying in it. Which itself raises the question that how was it possible that four groups of hijackers evaded the vast and efficient American security services successfully for who knows how long and then they leave behind such incriminating evidence and that their accomplices are being rounded up in such a short time.

American officials are saying nothing on how these terrorists evaded their security and intelligence forces for so long, but all of them, right up to President Bush, believe that this was not act of terror but an act of war, a war the likes of which the world has never seen. In their opinion the whole civilized and democratic world faces an adversary that hides in the dark and strikes when you are least prepared. A new kind of warfare indeed, but then the Americans are used to ingenuity in warfare methods as the Cold War bears out.

On August 17th 1945, just three days after the announcement of Japan's surrender, Harry S. Truman, the then U.S. president, declared that he would ask Congress to approve a program of universal military training for all healthy American youth. As he explained a few days later: "If we are to maintain leadership among other nations, we must continue to be strong in a military way." A statement that rang with an interventionist policy. But the American people were traditionally against interventionist policies, so much so that Congress resoundingly defeated Truman's call for universal military training. An end to U.S. internationalist policies? Not so.

Louis J. Halle was one of the new breed of thinkers in the State Department in 1945. In Halle's view, which can be taken to represent the State Department's non-ideological, "realist" approach to foreign affairs, international relations deal with "such a distribution of power among a number of centres as prevents the acquisition by any one of enough power to make itself masters of the rest.". Obviously for the American statesmen at least no one centre should be more powerful than the U.S.

"The American people," Halle writes, "shaped by their long tradition, could not accept considerations of power politics as reasons for going to war," either in 1945 or at any other time. Nor Halle nor any other American statesman, whose career has been devoted to international politics, would assume that the American people could possibly be right in having such non-interventionist perceptions. Thus, says Halle, since the American people would not accept what members of the State Department felt was a realist's explanation of the need for interventionism, the people had to be given some other explanation. And so, for example, the World War I was advocated as a "war to make the world safe for democracy".

Interestingly even Halle believes that there is "a sort of fatality about these matters. If the American people had been told the truth in 1917, if they had fed on the reality instead of on dreams, then" -- so Halle asserts -- "'they would not have fought, and the war would have been lost, and anarchy" -- open to debate -- "'would have triumphed and would have prevailed over the world. So the American people were told the opposite of the truth, and they fought for it, and the war was won."

Deception, Halle believes, is not a lamentable by-product of foreign relations, but rather an essential precondition of having any foreign relations at all; only thus will an ignorant people allow their leaders a free reign to pursue a "realistic" interventionist foreign policy.

This from the nation that claims it stands for truth and democracy.

In whatever light one considers interventionism, there is a fatality to Halle's way of thought, too: having laid the foundations of foreign policy on deceptions, it is difficult -- perhaps impossible -- to avoid becoming the captive of a policy that is untrue and unrealistic. However, Halle's basic perception of post-World War II America was nonetheless true. The President and his men in the State Department were interventionists; the rest of the country was anti-interventionist. The situation looked bleak for the statesmen indeed.

Fate intervened. On Friday afternoon, February 21st, 1947 a member of the British embassy in Washington, First Secretary H. M. Sichel arrived at the State Department with two notes for General George C. Marshall, secretary of State. What the two notes reported in essence was the final end of the Pax Britannica. Rule Britannica existed no more. The Empire had, as Hitler intended, bled to death. This was the chance all American statesmen had waited for, a chance to take over Britain's imperial role.

On February 27th, Truman met with Congressional leaders in the White House. Dean Acheson, the then undersecretary of state, was called upon to deliver a speech for taking up Britain's role, the undersecretary's oration left the congressmen stunned and silent. At last Senator Vandenberg spoke up. He had been much impressed by Acheson's speech, he said, but, if the president really wanted to sell this program to the American people, he would have to "scare hell out of the country."

The Truman Administration had long ago commenced to do just that, and their first step had been to invite Winston Churchill -- then leader of the opposition party in Great Britain -- to deliver his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri on March 5th, 1946. Stalin, unwittingly, helped advance Truman's plans even further with his desire for more power and complete domination over Eastern Europe.

With the world beginning to realize that the end of World War II would not bring peace and tranquillity, President Truman addressed a joint session of Congress on March 12th, 1947, his speech later became known as the Truman Doctrine: "I believe that it must be the policy of the United States to support free people... If we falter in our leadership, we may endanger the peace of the world -- and we surely endanger the welfare of our own nation."

The Cold War, with the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as its prologue, had started. Truman had his war at last and with the full backing of the Congress and feeble resistance of a frightened nation, he was free to pursue his interventionist policies as he deemed fit. According to Lyndon Johnson, war, whether hot or cold, is what enables a President to assume maximum amount of power. "Roosevelt," said Johnson, "was never President until the war came along." Similarly, Truman was never president until he had his war.

Four decades later, after the end of the Cold War, the U.S. faced the same predicament, but was saved by Operation Desert Storm, the conquest of Iraq, whose invasion of Kuwait was effected only after they thought they got an encouraging nod from the American Ambassador in Baghdad. With the break-up of the Soviet Union and the subduing of the Middle East, it seemed as if there were no more excuses for an internationalist policy for American statesmen.

Until September 11th, 2001, which was interestingly described by another congressman as "Pearl Harbor II", whether he also meant to "scare the hell" out of the country is purely an academic question, since the instigator of these attacks has succeeded in that aspect at the least.

This attack also managed to create the perfect public tone for the pursuance of interventionist policies. With President Bush stating that this, the first war of the third millennium, is a crusade that will continue for many years and with the fact that campaigns against terrorism are a never-ending battle as several thousand years of experience has shown, it seems that the events of September 11th are, for the American statesmen even if for no one else, a godsend.

If one takes a look at that Machiavellian principle of the end justifying the means, which has been the basis of diplomacy for all governments, specially Western ones, since conception, one must take into account that the definition of "means" is not only what we use or do, but also what we refrain from using or doing.

Even if hard fact evidence is procured showing that Bin Laden or some other extremist group was the main mastermind behind these events, the question still remains, Why were the American security and intelligence services, which are the most capable in the world and who have shown their competence in the last week to the full, so dormant in the weeks and months leading up to this atrocious episode?

Comment for The Iranian letters section
Comment to the writer KayArash Serri


Articles following the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks


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