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9/11, War, & A Torn Flag

Trump barrels headlong into war with Russia, as America's unwinding proceeds

So, here we go:


Mueller’s closing in, so we’re going to confront Russia in Syria. The world-class flatterer Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman was just in Washington, and lo, a gas attack against innocent civilians takes place, and now we’re going to confront Russia in Syria. We know that Assad is capable of just about any evil, but why would he have done this, given that he and his Russian and Iranian allies have just about won the civil war? It is in the Saudi interest to draw the US into this conflict, to thwart their enemies, the Iranians.

I’m not saying that this is a false flag operation by Saudi intelligence; who could possibly know that at this point? I am saying that the US is being dragged (willingly) into a war that benefits the Saudis. And on what grounds? Humanitarian? Look at what Our Friends The Saudis™ are doing to the defenseless civilians of Yemen. Does our president, the scourge of Gas Killing Animals, say boo about that? No, he doesn’t. Something else is going on here.

Maybe Russia shouldn’t be allied with Assad, per Trump, but does the president understand that Russia has a naval base in Syria? What do we have? What possible strategic interest does the US have that would justify risking armed conflict with a rival nuclear superpower?

What would our endgame in Syria be? Who are our proxies there? We thought we had them, until we figured out that there are no such things as moderate rebels — this, after the Obama administration wasted $500 million training these so-called moderates. If we end up toppling Assad, somehow, what then? Are we really going to occupy another Middle East country and try to install a democracy there? Do we really think that Russia, owner of that naval base, is going to be okay with that?

Complete idiocy. Yet there is our president, John Bolton at his side, tweeting like a maniac. The thing is, we can have complete confidence that if Hillary Clinton were in the White House, we would probably be in the very same position today. Everybody in official Washington loves a war.

This is going to be extremely dangerous, for the obvious reasons and one that isn’t obvious. Donald Trump is the commander in chief, but he is very unpopular and polarizing. If we are going to a real war, not just lobbing missiles at people we don’t like, he is going to have to unify the country behind his leadership. You really think that’s going to happen?

Larison is a must-read in this crisis. Here’s what he had to say about Trump’s boast this morning:

Trump’s childish boasting is what we have come to expect from him, but in this case it is especially alarming as it makes a clash with Russia over Syria even more likely. The stupidity of taunting a major power is nothing compared with the stupidity of the impending illegal attack that Trump is going to order in the days ahead. Russia will take Trump’s taunt as a challenge to stand by its client in spite of the attack, and the attack itself risks killing Russian personnel that would create a new crisis with a nuclear-armed state. It bears repeating that there is nothing in Syria worth courting great power conflict over, and there certainly aren’t vital U.S. interests there to be defended. Attacking Syria has the potential to start a larger war, and the U.S. has no need to launch this attack. If Trump follows through on his foolish threats, he will be starting one of the most reckless wars of choice in our history.

The unraveling of America proceeds. Let me tell you a story. I hadn’t thought of this in years, but it occurs to me this morning. Make of it what you will. This really happened.

On the morning of September 11, 2002, I walked over to Ground Zero for the solemn observation of the anniversary. I stood on the north side of the hole, at the perimeter, waiting for the service to start. The crowd was behind a fence; none of us had access to the site itself, which was reserved for families and dignitaries. It was important, though, to be there.

Suddenly, at the time when the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a powerful wind descended from the same direction of that plane. It was from Hurricane Gustav, which had come ashore in the Carolinas, and was rolling up the East Coast. Still, I was there, and the timing was very, very weird. It blew a fairly steady 60 mph all morning. A friend who had been watching the services live on TV said that one of the commenters called the wind “Biblical.” If you were down there in that wind, as I was, it seemed apt.

The wind was still blowing later that morning when I went into Trinity Church Wall Street for a memorial service celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury. At some point during the church service, we could hear a signal from adjacent Ground Zero, indicating that all the names of the dead had been read, and that the ceremony there was ending. Shortly after, the church liturgy ended, and I emerged outside to calm. The winds had stopped. I don’t know when the ceased to blow, but I can tell you it was in the relatively short time between the start and end of the church service.

If I had to bet money, I’d say that the winds stopped blowing when the last names were read at Ground Zero. It was that kind of morning.

Later in the day, I received a call from a friend I had run into at Ground Zero that morning. She was fairly freaked out, and asked me to come over at once. I made my way to her apartment. She led me into her tiny home office, and showed me a small American flag, so old and threadbare that you could see through it, framed and under glass, hanging on her wall. A tear ran through it, almost from top to bottom.

It wasn’t obvious to me what the issue was. Then she told me: she’s had that flag on the wall for years, and it was fine. It was position right across from her desk. She looked at it every day. But that morning — September 11, 2002 — while she was out in the crowd at Ground Zero, something happened to it. It had torn down the middle, even though it was sealed under glass, and nobody had come into her home.

This really did happen. I have lost contact with that friend, but I wonder what she thinks of it today. Both of us are believing Christians, and we could not help seeing it in light of the Biblical account of the tearing of the veil in the Temple when Jesus died on the Cross. That event has multiple meanings in Christian belief, and among them is a prophecy of the ultimate destruction of the Temple itself, which took place at the hands of the Romans in 70 AD. I left my friend’s apartment wondering if the tearing of the flag — assuming that there was symbolic meaning behind it — meant that there was a withdrawal of God’s favor on the US, and that 9/11 was the beginning of our end.

Granted, I have an apocalyptic mindset, and even if I didn’t, it was very easy to think in apocalyptic terms in those days, living so close to Ground Zero. On the other hand, I was also primed to think that 9/11 was going to summon up the strength of our great nation, and goad us to assert ourselves on the world stage. The United States was at that moment the sole hyperpower on the planet. We were at the peak of our strength. We would soon be going to war in the Middle East, that was clear by then. Now, finally, we would set the world to right. I was not eager to believe in portents that cast doubt on that project. I was in those days filled with patriotic righteousness — which is why the tearing of the flag was so eerie, and unwelcome to me.

That’s what I saw on 9/11/2002. Maybe it was just a fluke. Maybe that flag had come apart earlier, and my friend only noticed it on that morning. But: in light of everything that has happened since then — and that continues to happen — that torn flag seems to me like the omen I feared it was at the time.