The fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on New York’s World Trade Center by Islamic militants has come and gone, leaving some glaring contrasts in its wake.

On the one hand we had U.S. President George W. Bush at the 9/11 site orating about the need to see the “war on terror” through to the end. On the other hand we had a U.S. Senate report saying in effect that the pretexts for the original “war on terror” — Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its purported links to al-Qaida — were completely bogus.

On the one hand we had many images showing the sorrow among the kin of those lost in the 9/11 attack. But we saw little of the sorrow among the far greater numbers of people left widowed or orphaned as a result of attacks by Western troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Visiting Britain recently, I saw in the Financial Times how the veteran Japan-watcher, Jean-Pierre Lehmann, had suggested that just as Japan should apologize to China for past misbehavior, the West should apologize to the Middle Eastern peoples for past injustices.

It was good advice. But then in the London Times I saw how a TV interviewer had discovered that Prime Minister Tony Blair did not know about the 1953 CIA-sponsored coup against the democratically elected government of Iran.

How can anyone so ignorant of Middle East history be allowed to make the decisions that do so much damage in the Middle East today?

It was the 1953 coup that helped trigger the chain of events that led to the 9/11 attack. It also put paid to hopes for the democratic revolution in the Middle East that is supposed to be the aim of the current Iraq intervention. Yet for some reason we are all expected to take Blair and Bush seriously when they emote about the causes and brutality of the 9/11 attack and the need to promote democracy in the Middle East.

There are limits to which any side can prevail when its own brutality is based so much on lies, ignorance and illogic. The “enemy” the West says it faces in the Middle East is not stupid. It is not impressed by childish talk of Islamo-fascism or attempts to label as a “terrorist” anyone with the courage to resist foreign troops. It is willing to sacrifice itself for its cause. For every innocent civilian and so-called terrorist killed there will be others, many others, determined to get revenge.

When even middle-class, British-educated Muslims are willing to sacrifice themselves to put an end to Western policies, talk about how moderate Muslims will come to the rescue of the West in the Middle East starts to sound very hollow.

Already we are getting surprise reports from the field, from Afghanistan especially, warning that the “enemy” is getting stronger rather than weaker, despite enormous casualties.

The sudden rise of an Islamist government in Somalia sends an even louder and clearer message — that when the choice is between so-called Islamic extremism or botched Western efforts to impose something called democracy, people will willingly choose the former, even when it is imposed with Taliban-like severity.

Eventually, like the Soviets in Afghanistan, the West will have to fold up its military tents and leave the Middle East. Even the United States will get tired of the mounting casualties and the expensive need to protect its worldwide interests forever from so-called terrorist attack.

The debacle may not be as bad as in Vietnam — helicopters being pushed over the sides of aircraft carriers. But it will still be fairly ugly, especially if the Pentagon hawks stick to their decision to attack Iran and the Iranians respond with rocket attacks on very vulnerable U.S. bases in Iraq. The fallout in terms of the domino effect into neighboring countries and the collapse of pro-Western regimes will be even greater than Vietnam.

Where will we go from there? No doubt there will be the same retrospectives from our foreign-policy elite as we saw after Vietnam. Where did we go wrong? Why did we go wrong?

But from the start, not only the pretexts but also the dangerous consequences of the Iraq attack should have been obvious to these people. They were obvious at the time to this columnist, who predicted that the Iraq attack would lead to the radicalization of that society and increase rather than decrease the Islamist militant threat to the U.S.

So why were they not obvious to the foreign-policy elite?

Let me be brutally frank. Western democracies have their merits. But one of their demerits is an inability to control the military/intelligence complex entrenched at the heart of their policymaking apparatus.

These people have little interest in debating the rights and wrongs of attacks on other nations. All they want is for the attacks to take place. That way they get their budgets and their power. They also get to test their new toys — cluster bombs, white phosphorous bombs, bunker-busting bombs and so on — against live targets.

To that end they will invent any pretext to justify those attacks — WMD, Tonkin Gulf, or alleged Serbian ethnic cleansing in Kosovo (even as they are training Albanian guerrillas to ethnically cleanse the Serbs).

If there are no obvious pretexts, they will threaten other nations and then use defensive efforts by those nations as pretexts. Then they will fund or favor the bureaucrats, politicians, think tanks, media, academics, writers and others willing to go along with those pretexts.

When it is all over, the foreign-policy people will be making their excuses, as after Vietnam. But the military-complex people will still be rubbing their hands. For five to 10 glorious years they and their friends have made the fortunes and gained the power needed to promote the next attack on some other hapless target around the globe.

Except that this time in the Middle East they may have bitten off a bit too much. The repercussions — the hatred of the West especially — will last a very long time, much longer than memories of 9/11.

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