David Halberstam and 9/11

Almost immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Halberstam warned of the dangers of overreaction, unnecessary wars, and fueling terrorism by inflaming anti-Americanism.


Glenn Greenwald
April 24, 2007 3:58PM (UTC)

As much as any other prominent American figure, David Halberstam -- in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 -- immediately recognized, and repeatedly emphasized, the severe dangers of overreaction, of engaging in wars unnconnected to the terrorist attacks which would fuel anti-American resentment in the Muslim world and thereby increase the terrorist threat:

Online interview with The Washington Post, September 14, 2001

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We are in some ways a much easier target for them, despite our wealth, than they are for us. And that's a very hard thing for a rich, developed superpower to understand -- that our very strength makes us vulnerable. Our strength makes us a target, and it's hard to respond. There's a danger that if we use our power carelessly, if we just bomb away, then we're doing their recruiting and passing the burden on to our children.

One of the things that was much more done in the French-Indochina War: a French patrol would go through a village where many of the people were on the fence in the struggle. A Viet Minh solder would kill one French soldier. The French would then open up on the entire village, killing all kinds of people. The French would then leave the village that night, at 6 o'clock, and at 7 o'clock the Viet Minh would arrive to recruit the children of those who had been killed. That's something we need to be very aware of: to apply power not just with strength, but with wisdom. And we need to be very careful about that.

Online interview with The Washington Post, September 29, 2001

I think the idea of combat projects the wrong chapter that is beginning. The phrase I would come to is the John Kennedy phrase, "a long twilight struggle." And in terms of combat, the kind of image that we pull up -- World War II, Korea, Vietnam -- I think is the wrong one. This is a very complicated struggle, an elusive enemy -- an enemy from a ghost nation against whom our traditional military power is not easily applicable.

So what we should be thinking of is an application of all our strengths, in terms of intelligence, financial strengths, isolating the perpetrators from their surroundings -- the phrase being used now is "dry up the swamp." And being patient; not doing the things the enemy wants us to do. Bin Laden the terrorist wanted us to respond to that by lashing out, by exercising an immediate need for gratification, and thereby doing their recruiting for them. And alienating other people in the Islamic world.

The Boston Globe, October 15, 2006:

HOW LUCKY we are to have the governor of the state instructing the junior senator on the issue of Iraq, and making the case for the Al Qaeda-Baghdad connection, the very case the president and all his men tried to make so disingenuously a few years ago. How generous of him to shed his own credibility for party and president.

The Iraq war, of course, was a vast miscalculation from the start, as much of the senior uniformed military cautioned at the time. We punched our fist, quite predictably, into the largest hornet's nest in the world; are still operating at a complete deficit in intelligence on the ground; are watching a civil war spiral out of control; and are doing Al Qaeda's recruiting for it throughout the Arab world.

We have in sheer geopolitical terms done Iran -- a much more dangerous country -- a great favor, removing the one regional counterbalance to it, and making Iran almost surely the long-range beneficiary of our miscalculations. What an extraordinary adventure it has been.


Glenn Greenwald

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