August is just around the corner and I am worried. This may seem strange to many people, who feel the month should be stress-free; a time where work becomes secondary, and vacations the norm. Here in Maine, it is a month where a lot of people stay outside and make the most of the warm weather. Nothing seems urgent.
However, all of this relaxation is precisely why I am apprehensive. In the past, horrible events have been planned or carried out in August. Their consequences have changed history.
On August 5, 1914, the first battle of what was to become World War I was fought. Most people thought that the combat would not last long. That tragic conflict dragged on for more than four years and cost the lives of almost eight-and-a-half million soldiers. Although the League of Nations was created after the war, it was not a successful international peacekeeping organization. Its ineffectiveness indirectly led to the second world war. That war killed almost 17 million troops and over 34 million civilians.
On August 6, 1945, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. While it triggered the end of World War II, the bombing also unleashed the nuclear genie onto the world. On August 29, 1949, the Russians tested a nuclear weapon. In 1964, China tested their bomb. According to Greenpeace International, there are approximately 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world today. Some of these weapons are in the volatile Middle East and precarious South Asia regions. Israel is estimated to have 100 weapons, Pakistan 50 to 60 weapons and India 40 to 50 nuclear warheads.
On August 19, 1953, the government of Iran was overthrown by a military coup. At the time, the Iranian government was headed by nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh. Britain suggested the hostile takeover in order to rollback the Mossadegh-supported nationalization of the oil industry. The United States helped with the coup in order to create an anti-Soviet ally in the region. The consequences of the coup are as tragic as they are clear. Today there is a radical, anti-American government in Iran which is helping the insurgency in Iraq and is widely suspected of trying to build nuclear weapons.
On August 2, 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. This blatant act of aggression was eventually reversed by Operation Desert Storm. In early 1991, Kuwait was liberated and Saddam Hussein was forced to accept defeat. However, prominent neoconservatives thought the United States should aim for the removal, not just the containment, of Hussein. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 created an ideal opportunity to do just that.
In 2002, the Bush Administration rhetorically merged Saddam Hussein with Osama bin Laden and produced a rationale for invasion. The consequences of that action are still with us today.
On August 7, 1998, the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed. More than 200 people were killed and thousands were injured. These actions were linked to Al-Qaeda. Air strikes were ordered by President Clinton and Osama bin Laden was eventually indicted by a federal grand jury. Ultimately, these actions proved unsuccessful in stopping Osama bin Laden.
In August 2001, there were ominous signs Al-Qaeda was close to carrying out a new terrorist attack. The 9/11 Report lists numerous opportunities our government had to foil the plot. One involved Zacarias Moussaoui, often referred to as the 20th hijacker. On August 15, 2001, an intelligence investigation was begun into him by the Minneapolis field office of the FBI. Moussaoui exhibited some suspicious behavior. He wanted to learn how to “‘take off and land’ a Boeing 747” even though he didn’t plan on becoming a commercial pilot.
He also could not believably explain how he had $32,000 in a bank account. Even though he was arrested shortly later for an immigration violation, by August 23, the CIA could not definitively link him to Al-Qaeda.
While it is unclear if he was part of the plot, the 9/11 report concluded that “If Moussaoui had been connected to Al-Qaeda, questions should instantly have arisen about a possible Al-Qaeda plot that involved piloting airliners, a possibility that had never been seriously analyzed by the intelligence community.”
Perhaps one would have been enough to stop the attacks.
As of this writing, both the Iraqi parliament and Congress are planning vacations soon – typical August thinking. Even though Congress hasn’t been very productive this year, that’s not the legislative body that most concerns me. The Iraqi parliament has issues to solve now.
Will the insurgents and jihadists take August off? I doubt it.
Karl Trautman is chairperson of the social sciences department at Central Maine Community College. He received his doctorate in political science from the University of Hawaii. He can be reached at [email protected]