One sign draped over a demonstrator last Saturday, March 22, at Seattle's Federal Building unwittingly played right into President Bush's hands. "I feel as sick today as I did on Sept. 11, 2001. Shock and Awe Kills," the sign said. Note to dumb protester: Drawing a direct connection between September 11 and the U.S. military's massive bombing campaign over Baghdad is exactly what President Bush wants you to do.

Have you noticed? KING 5's footage of buildings crashing down in Baghdad looks eerily like some other footage of toppling buildings--unforgettable images that Americans can call up in an instant--the destruction of the Twin Towers. The shock and awe over Baghdad is intended more for American eyes than it is for Iraqis because Bush is counting on Americans to support this war in the context of bin Laden's horrific assault on lower Manhattan.

However, Bush, as the facts point out, is playing Mad Libs history on this score. The U.S. has not been able to connect the dots between bin Laden and Saddam Hussein because the pair ain't allies. An excellent March 23 New York Times Magazine piece about the intellectual grandfather of al Qaeda, Sayyid Qutb, spelled out the real history: Bin Laden is the heir to Qutb's paranoid right-wing religious fascism just as Hussein is the heir to Qutb's arch rival, Gamal Nasser--the secular socialist Egyptian leader who threw Qutb in prison and sentenced him to death in 1966. No wonder Bush can't convincingly swap Hussein for bin Laden. The pair represent dissonant strains in Arab political history. The connection, as Michael Moore pointed out in his loud Oscars speech, is fiction.

Like anyone who sees his argument slipping away, however, Bush has simply turned the fiction up to 11. By blowing up tall buildings in Baghdad and calling it "Shock and Awe," Bush is attempting--if I may be so crude--to pull off a 9/11 on the Arab world. After all, can you think of any emotions that better describe what you were feeling when you saw the Twin Towers fall on September 11 than "Shock and Awe"? Bush is attempting to draw a psychological link between America's war on Iraq and al Qaeda's hit on America.

The term "Shock and Awe" is military parlance conjured up in 1996 by a former U.S. Navy commander named Harlan K. Ullman who--during the post-Cold War era of Clinton defense cuts--came up with a new military strategy that was less expensive: scaring the shit out of the enemy in one great show, i.e., terrorizing them.

By sending the misleading message to Americans that the "Shock and Awe" campaign is direct payback for September 11, President Bush has failed in the same way he failed to link Hussein and bin Laden. In other words, the louder you try to spell out inaccurate connections, the more it becomes obvious that there are no connections to begin with. Not only is the war in Iraq tactically unrelated to the hunt for bin Laden, it's also psychologically unsatisfying for Americans who rightfully want justice done for 9/11. The fact that it isn't psychologically satisfying should be a red flag for hawks.

Here's a silly but dead-on metaphor: The "Shock and Awe" campaign over Baghdad is to 9/11 what the Monkees were to the Beatles. The Monkees had the haircuts (the look) down, but you always knew they weren't the real deal--which, of course, made the fraud even more apparent.

For those of you who want revenge for 9/11, you have to admit, while you're being told that the bombs over Baghdad are "Shocking!" and "Awing!"--they just don't measure up to the shock and awe of September 11. That ought to be the first clue for those who think they support this war that something is amiss. It's not satisfying because it's not the real deal, i.e., it's not the right target.

I'm certainly not saying we should spring a surprise attack on 3,000 Iraqi civilians. I'm saying we should fight the war we need to fight--a war against al Qaeda. I'd trade all the prefab "Shock and Awe" in Bush's arsenal for some badass CIA and military action on bin Laden any day. That would be satisfying. Not to mention shocking and awesome.

Support The Stranger