Opinion

The Great Debate

9/11 in history: chapter or footnote?

By Dominic Streatfeild
The opinions expressed are his own. 

Historians like to break up human progress into bite-sized pieces. It’s a useful technique: segregated and labelled, historical eras offer prisms through which to view the past, making it easier to comprehend. Typically, they’re bookmarked by inventions: the wheel, the steam engine, the atom bomb. Intellectual movements fit nicely, too: the Reformation, the Enlightenment, Modernism. Each innovation provides a paradigm shift, ushering in a way of thinking previously inconceivable but, after its emergence, unignorable.

Occasionally, waypoints are provided by momentous events. A happening of sufficient magnitude (the argument goes) jars the historical process decisively, severing the connection between past and future, sweeping away the old and paving the way for the new. The Flood in Genesis, the birth of Christ, the attack on Pearl Harbor – all “watershed” moments. Bookmarking such events not only provides useful academic waypoints, it also offers another important service: reassurance. With the sweeping away of the old comes trepidation. The birth of a “new era” provides a link to the past: there have been epochal events before. Things have changed rapidly, and not always for the better. We have survived them. We will again.

The impact of American Airlines Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 8.46 a.m. on 11 September 2001 was immediately labelled a watershed event. Seventy-six minutes later, after both the South Tower and the Pentagon had been hit, United Airlines Flight 93’s calamitous descent into a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania,marked the end of the attacks – and the start of a still-ongoing attempt to define what, exactly, they meant.

Certainly, the strikes were unprecedented. For George W. Bush, they marked a change of political eras ‘as sharp and clear as Pearl Harbor’. Secretary of State Colin Powell agreed. ‘Not only is the Cold War over,’ he explained, ‘the post-Cold War period is also over.’

Around the world the media reiterated the global significance of the event, most famously Le Monde. “Today,” stated the French newspaper, “we are all Americans.” Perhaps Richard Armitage, Colin Powell’s deputy at the State Department, put it most pithily: “History starts today.” Intuitively, all of these statements made perfect sense. The magnitude – and audacity – of the 9/11 attacks were staggering. All, however, was not as it seemed.

The 9/11 generation

By David Rohde
The opinions expressed are his own.

In a speech last week at the American Legion convention in Minneapolis, President Obama rightly hailed what he called “the 9/11 generation,” the five million Americans who served in the military over the last decade.

“They’re a generation of innovators,” he declared. “And they’ve changed the way America fights and wins at wars.”

The following day, at a ceremony marking his retirement from the military, Gen. David Petraeus affirmed Tom Brokaw’s similar praise as the two men toured Iraq in 2003.

The surge Iraq really needs: U.S. business

By Matthew Meyer
The opinions expressed are his own.

Today’s Iraq is divided in dozens of ways: Arab and Kurd; Sunni, Shia and Christian; pro-Saddam and anti-Saddam; rich and poor. Yet so many Iraqis I have met are united around one thing: a nearly universal desire to see U.S. business grow in Iraq. They want American stores on their streets, American products in their homes and American technology in their factories. They dream that General Electric will provide their power, General Motors produce their cars and Google drive their business online. They want American business to treat Iraq as a real market, to build Iraq with Iraqis. Our policy towards Iraq should be shaped by that sentiment, as a surge of American business would provide unprecedented benefit to U.S. policy in the region and potentially compelling returns to the U.S. private sector.

American business can win the Iraqi street to a degree that neither military nor diplomatic engagements have. There have been protests throughout the Arab world; Iraq is one setting where the U.S. can substantively address the root of discontent through business engagement and job creation.

Further, business engagement limits Iranian influence in ways that a military presence cannot. An economic future that holds opportunity for all of Iraq’s communities is good for American interests. Take, for example, gypsum, a soft mineral used to produce building materials. Iraqi Sunni regions do not have the oil resources of the Kurdish north or Arab Shia south. Yet they do have an abundance of gypsum deposits, a mineral wealth that is among the highest quality in the world. Many of these deposits sit underdeveloped because Iraqis have neither the capital resources nor the equipment to revive the gypsum trade. Meanwhile, to build their homes, offices, hospitals and schools, Iraqis import gypsum from Iran, the world’s second largest gypsum producer. Clearly there is a strategic and economic opportunity here for the finest gypsum mining and production firms in the world, which are in the United States.

The U.S. war in Iraq is over. Who won?

The end of America’s combat mission, after seven and a half costly years, has raised questions that will provide fodder for argument for a long time to come: Was it worth it? And who, if anyone, won?

It’s too early to answer the first question, according to U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, a man of sober judgment. “It really requires a historian’s perspective in terms of what happens here in the long run … How it all weighs in the balance over time remains to be seen.”

For a sizeable group of Middle East experts, the second question is easier to answer than the first. “So, who won the war in Iraq? Iran,” says the headline over an analysis by scholar Mohammed Bazzi for the Council on Foreign relations, a New York-based think-tank. His argument: “The U.S. ousted Tehran’s sworn enemy, Saddam Hussein, from power. Then Washington helped install a Shi’ite government for the first time in Iraq’s modern history.

Iraq, America and hired guns

Here is a summary of America’s future role in Iraq, in the words of President Barack Obama: “Our commitment is changing — from a military effort led by our soldiers to a diplomatic effort led by our diplomats.”

And here is a note of caution about that promised change: “Current planning for transitioning vital functions in Iraq from the Department of Defense to the Department of State is not adequate for effective coordination of billions of dollars in new contracting, and risks both financial waste and undermining U.S. policy objectives.”

Obama’s statement came in an Aug. 2 speech in which he confirmed that by the end of this month, America’s combat role would end. The 50,000 American soldiers remaining in Iraq (down from a peak of almost 170,000) would advise, train and support Iraqi security forces. By the end of next year, the last U.S. soldier would come home.

from The Great Debate UK:

How much damage will the BP oil spill cause?

-Kees Willemse is professor of offshore engineering at Delft University. The opinions expressed are his own.-

Last month’s explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig continues to result in the leakage of an estimated 200,000 gallons (910,000 litres) of oil into the Gulf of Mexico each day.

According to U.S. President Barack Obama, “we are dealing with a massive and potentially unprecedented environmental disaster”.

Burning borrowed money in America’s wars

— Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. —

The Pentagon has an evocative term for the level of spending on a war: burn rate. In Afghanistan, it has been running at around $5 million every hour for much of the year. The burn rate will begin going up next week when the first of an additional 30,000 U.S. troops arrive.

Once they are all in place, the burn rate is estimated to exceed $10 million an hour, or more than $8 billion a month. Much of that is literally burned — in the engines of American jeeps, trucks, tanks, aircraft and power generators. On average, each of the 183,000 soldiers currently deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq requires 22 gallons of fuel a day, according to a study by the international accounting firm Deloitte.

How to finance the war in Afghanistan?

obama-china

global_post_logo– This opinion piece was written by C.M. Sennot for GlobalPost. The views expressed are his own. It was originally published here on GlobalPost. –

The last time America had to borrow money to finance a war was during the Revolution and a cash-strapped Continental Congress took loans from France to fund a surge against the British.

That worked out pretty well.

But it’s hard to feel the spirit of 1776 in President Obama’s journey to China. He went as a representative of a borrowing nation to its primary lender amid a call for yet another costly military surge in the Long War that is escalating in Afghanistan even if it is hopefully winding down in Iraq.

from The Great Debate UK:

Past and present: a correspondent in Iraq

Tim Cocks-Tim Cocks is a Reuters correspondent in Iraq.-

This month we reported that the number of civilians dying violent deaths in Iraq had hit a fresh low since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion -- about 125 for September.

Sounds like a lot, but for a country that only two years ago was seeing dozens of bodies pile up in the streets each day from tit-for-tat sectarian killing, it was definitely progress.

And as I prepare to end my assignment in Iraq this week, I need no argument from numbers to convince me that things are better here than when I arrived in Feb. 2008.

Profile of courage

kennedy2By John Aloysius Farrell — the views expressed are his own. This article first appeared on GlobalPost.

The death of Sen. Edward Kennedy will cost the United States not just a passionate voice for economic and racial justice, but also its irreplaceable champion of a liberal, less belligerent, humanistic foreign policy.

Step back to Friday, October 11, 2002, when only 23 U.S. senators voted against the resolution authorizing President George W. Bush to go to war in Iraq.

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