Reply to John McMurtry PhD, FRSC

McMurtry concludes his piece saying that I was sectarian in arguing that it isn’t useful for leftists to pursue the question "what did Bush know, when?" Oddly for someone conerned about sectarianism, however, McMurtry begins his piece by lumping me with "corporate media," the "Republican Party," and the "Washington establishment" as if the article I wrote defended the government and its policies.


McMurtry says I offer "blanket abuse of forensic questions on 9-11." He quotes not a single word of mine, however. The piece I wrote actually argues that the question "what did Bush know when" is overwhelmingly not important to leftists. Others are pursuing it. We can’t add much to the process. And mostly, we have much more important things to address such as the on-going horror in Afghanistan, the threatened massive assault of Iraq (and continued abuse of its people by embargo), the escalating conflict in Colombia, corporate globalization, ecological nightmare, wage slavery, and so on. Last time I looked the "corporate media, Republican Party, and Washington establishment" were not critical of conspiracy approaches to 9-11 on grounds that such approaches detract from these far more serious and productive agendas.


I wrote, for example,


Of course these agencies lack competence. Moreover, what good does demonstrating the incompetence of U.S. intelligence agencies do peace and justice? Should bolstering surveillance budget allotments be a new progressive program plank?




The piece I wrote appeared May 21. It seems to me that this aspects has already been borne out. McMurtry ignores it.


I also wrote:


In contrast to the difficulty of knowing Bush’s foreknowledge of terrorist tactics, it’s easy to know what Bush knew and when he knew it about bombing Afghanistan, about the Kyoto Accords, about Mideast policy, about implications of embargoes on Iraq and Cuba, about globalization, and so on. And knowing this would reveal important truths profoundly relevant to peace and justice concerns.


So why is any leftist caught up in the hypocritical democratic party and media maven hoopla? When TV news allots massive time to a story vaguely correlated to progressive concerns, must we immediately hop on board?




Did McMurtry even note the nature of my criticism? I don’t think so. Instead, McMurtry seems to think that the only reason a person could have to not take seriously the detailed pursuit of what Bush knew, when, is a desire to protect Bush and the government from criticism.


I wrote as my conclusion to this quite short essay:


Not surprisingly, therefore, democrats and media commentators ask what Bush knew regarding 9/11, rather than asking how markets, private ownership relations, and government bureaucracy compel horrible outcomes regardless of what Bush or anyone else knows.




I wasn’t calling left critics of Bush liberals, but was noting that in addition to left critics many liberals are taking the approach to try to restrain the administration but certainly not out of compassion for those being oppressed or out of a true sense of justice, rather just a different conception of how ot best advance elite interests.


I added that…


The left should not climb aboard as a barely audible echo to a crescendo of hypocrisy. The left should direct public attention back on the plight of Palestinians, on the Iraq embargo and impending invasion of Iraq, on the enlarging war in Colombia, and on the horrors of globalization, racism, sexism, and wage slavery.




Does this sound like a supporter of Bush and U.S. government policies? Come on…McMurtry. If you want to reply to a piece, at least reply to something that has been written, not to a position you concoct.


McMurtry rightly recounts the many policy gains of pursuing the so-called war on terrorism and derides me for not having done so. This too is disingenuous unless McMurtry doesn’t know my writings on the topic–which is not real credible, I think, given ZNet’s visibility. In a short piece, I didn’t address these matters at length. What does this demonstrate? McMurtry’s underlying assumption is that if some event occurs and elites benefit from it, then that is evidence that those elites caused it. This is the case, sometimes; but there are other times when it is utter nonsense, of course.


In fact, elites seek to benefit from just about everything that happens, and very often succeed. They try to benefit from policies they undertake, of course. They also try to benefit from natural disasters, the horrible acts of terrorists, the miscalculations of righteous movements, even the successful campaigns of such movements–to the extent they can. Not everything is planned by rulers though rulers try to exploit everything, of course. Yes, 9-11 was a gift to Bush and U.S. corporate interests in many respects, given how they could and did exploit it. This doesn’t demonstrate that they addressed the package to themselves.


I (and ZNet, which I work at) have been making clear the policy implications and motives of U.S. elites from 9-11 on, without respite. So, yes, I can understand that the war on terrorism is really not a war but a massacre, and is not on terrorism but is terrorist, and is not to reduce terrorism but to induce public fear and nationalism that can be exploited internationally and domestically, and, even realizing all this, nonetheless think that asking what Bush knew when is completely beside the main point and main agenda of the left, and that it will even distract, in the end, from addressing serious phenomena.


Does McMurtry think that if Bush knew nothing before 9-11 about 9-11, literally nothing, that that would change anything consequential regarding how we understand the broader "war on terrorism"? The motives for exploiting 9-11 would remain as venal and self serving…rooted in the structures of U.S. government and corporate rule, of course.


McMurtry says:


Although the gains of 9-11 are greater for the axes of U.S. corporate and executive power than was won by the Reichstag Fire for the Nazis, Albert and others astonishingly decouple the issue of foreknowledge of 9-11 from the interests it served and the terrible violations of innocent peoples’ lives it has justified. Instead, he inverts these very consequences into the reason to stop the questions! The effects of bombing Afghanistan, Bush’s "globalization policies", and his "repressive civil legislation" are disconnected from their enabling antecedent of 9-11, and then turned against investigating those who alone benefited from its occurrence.


Here the hallmark of any rule by ignorance and fear – the delinkage of effects from causes – is internalized by "the left" itself. Its public voices too demand, as Albert, Solomon and others do, that "the left" ignore the decision sequence preceding the linchpin event itself!




History will tell us whether the U.S. is on a road toward full-tilt fascism or merely traveling on the same old business as usual path of international dominance and violence. That aside — I don’t decouple the events that have occurred from their causes. I root them precisely in their true causes. On the one hand, the singular event on 9-11 was a proximate cause, or perhaps better termed, the proximate excuse. On the other hand, far more importantly, the on-going dictates of the defining institutions of our society, provided the contextual and long-term causes, of course, and should be the main focus for our attention. The U.S. wished to delegitimate international law, maintain credibility as an international thug, and pursue a global war on terrorism for purposes of justifying all manner of domestic and international policy making–just as Bush senior and Reagan sought to do, years before.


The issue is only in part which individuals benefit from some policy. Conspiracy theorists are benefiting hugely from current U.S. policies, and similarly from the murder of JFK, for example, but only a lunatic would claim that their gain is evidence that conspiracy theorists themselves conspired to kill JFK ages ago, or to get Bush to make the choices that have propelled their industry, now. In addition to who benefits from any events or phenomena, that is, we have to also ask what linkages exist between lasting structures and institutional relations, and the policies we are addressing. For McMurtry to cast the debate as if I am somehow an abettor of Bush’s policies is beneath McMurtry, it seems to me, and obviously factually ridiculous. One of the things that seems true of thinking in a conspiracist mode, very regrettably, is that it leads to this kind of dismissal of other views as themselves also parts of cover-ups, no matter how contrary to fact such claims may be. As critical as I am of conspiracy approaches, I would not have expected that from McMurtry.


McMurtry writes:


"In Albert’s case, the reasoning is especially bizarre. He implies we should not ask hard questions about the self-serving negligence of the Bush executive for the 9-11 attack because liberals are "hypocrites" and liberals are asking these questions. The argument is as stunningly sectarian as it is illogical, but endemic to the post-9-11 American culture."




Now I am part of post-9-11 American culture? Well, I wish the topics and substance I have been writing about post-9-11 were a good deal more prevalent in our culture. Actually, I think asking "what Bush knew when?" is at best a waste of leftists’ time, diverting us from far more important pursuits, and at worst devolves into a conspiracy approach to society and history that has far more harmful effects. The relevance of the fact that mainstream media and liberals are pursuing the matter of what Bush knew when isn’t guilt by association if we ask similar questions, but that we have little to nothing useful to add to their efforts to determine the detailed behavior of individuals, though we have plenty to add about the institutional context, broad motives, etc. — and, regrettably, that the upshot of the investigations of what Bush knew when are going to be a push for more powerful vehicles of repression and oversight, not for a reversal in repressive legislation and imperial logic such as we should be pursuing.


Finally, the piece McMurtry was moved to reply to was quite short. For a longer essay that addresses 9-11 theories per se, and that goes into more detail regarding the characteristics of conspiracy approaches in general, as well, readers might wish to check out the essay done jointly by myself and Stephen Shalom, at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/viewArticle/18504


If readers are interested in material about the entire 9-11 events, including history, aftermath, context, etc. try the ZNet International Relations  pages at http://www.zcomm.org/znet/topics/Intl.+Relations. There you will find about 350 essays. They are from a very wide range of writers and activists, including, for example, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Edward Said, Stephen Shalom, Edward Herman, Robert Fisk, George Monbiot, John Pilger, Vandana Shiva, Tariq Ali, Cynthia Peters, Norman Solomon, Robert Jensen, Rahul Mahajan, Eduardo Galeano, Justin Podur, Tim Wise, Viay Prashad, Laura Flanders, Alexander Cockburn, RAWA, Paul Street, Joe Gerson, Naomi Klein, Anthony Arnove, Walden Bello, Bill Blum, Manning Marable, Danny Schechter, Barbara Garson, Phyllis Bennis, myself, and many many more. Not a single essay there, to my knowledge, and I think not one piece anywhere by any of these people, takes a remotely conspiracist orientation. McMurtry, are all these folks parroting or otherwise like the mainstream media, Republican Party, and Washington establishment? Deluded or malevolent? Or might it be better to consider that there is a point of real substance separating their approach from yours, supposing you want to actually debate the matter?

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