Biden Warns Israelis Not To Repeat The Mistakes The U.S. Made After 9/11

“While you feel that rage, don't be consumed by it,” the U.S. president said.

In a speech in Israel, President Joe Biden urged Israelis not to repeat the mistakes the United States made following the 9/11 attacks in Israel’s own response to the Hamas attacks that have reportedly left at least 1,400 Israelis dead since Oct. 7.

“I caution this, that while you feel that rage, don’t be consumed by it,” Biden said in public remarks in Tel Aviv. “After 9/11, we were enraged in the United States. While we sought justice and got justice, we also made mistakes.”

This warning comes after weeks of analogies comparing the deadliest single-day attacks on both the United States and Israel, with Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog, calling the Hamas attack “our 9/11.”

The implication of this analogy is that the U.S. was both just and right in its response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and was thus granted wide latitude and international support in its response — and, therefore, that Israel deserves the same for its unprecedented bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, which has a population of over 2 million.

So far, Israel’s military operations have reportedly killed more than 3,000 people in Gaza. Israel also cut off electricity and water to Gaza, although the Israeli government later claimed to have restored water access to southern areas of Gaza. Routes for humanitarian assistance from Egypt had been blocked and bombed by Israel. And on Oct. 13, Israel ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million Palestinians from northern Gaza ahead of a possible ground invasion.

Biden’s warning about overreaching in response to a traumatic event may be his most explicit call for Israeli restraint in its war on Gaza. It comes, however, as his administration has squashed public communications that mention “de-escalation,” “ceasefire,” “end to violence/bloodshed” and “restoring calm,” according to a HuffPost report. The president has also struck an unflinching pro-Israel stance, moving a carrier strike group off the coast of Israel and promising billions in military aid.

President Joe Biden warned Israel not to repeat the mistakes the U.S. made following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks during a solidarity visit to Israel on Oct. 18, 2023.
President Joe Biden warned Israel not to repeat the mistakes the U.S. made following the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks during a solidarity visit to Israel on Oct. 18, 2023.

His remarks, made during a trip to Israel in which he met with Israeli leaders as well as first responders and community members, also follow a strike on a hospital in Gaza on Tuesday that left hundreds dead. Israel and the U.S. claim that the strike was the result of an errant rocket fired by the militant group Islamic Jihad that failed on launch and crashed into the hospital. In his speech on Wednesday, Biden said that U.S. intelligence shows the strike was “done by the other team.” Palestinians claim that the strike was the result of an attack by Israel.

Biden did not go into detail about what “mistakes” the U.S. made following the 9/11 attacks, but they are legion. The U.S. invasion of Afghanistan to root out al Qaeda turned into a failed attempt at nation-building after Osama Bin Laden was allowed to escape into Pakistan at Tora Bora.

The Bush administration’s failure to prevent 9/11, despite being well-warned of an imminent threat, led to the implementation of a “1% doctrine” whereby any tactics were permissible in order to prevent another attack. The U.S. subsequently built a global network of secret prisons, engaged in and greenlit the illegal torture of detainees, created an extra-constitutional prison site at Guantanamo Bay and constructed a global panopticon to spy on all internet communications.

The U.S. response to 9/11 also produced a wave of violence and bigotry directed at Muslims and anyone who might be mistaken as such, like the Sikh American Balbir Singh Sodhi, who was murdered in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

And, of course, the U.S. abused the goodwill it mustered on 9/11 to invade Iraq, with no plans for the war’s aftermath, as both a project of imperial might aimed at remaking the world in an American image and as a target for retributive violence that the Afghan invasion could not fulfill.

These large-scale mistakes led to terrible consequences, individually, regionally and globally. Innocent people scooped up in Afghanistan were tortured and killed at the hands of U.S. soldiers and interrogators, like the peanut farmer-turned-taxi driver Dilawar, who was left to die at Bagram Air Base. U.S. military operations killed scores of innocent civilians, including dozens at two different weddings in Afghanistan. The war in Iraq and its botched aftermath destabilized the entire region, opening a vacuum that eventually produced the Islamic State, which went on a murderous rampage that caused a refugee crisis in Europe and empowered far-right populist parties.

The authorization for military force enacted in the wake of 9/11 is still in effect and has been used to justify U.S. military actions in over 20 countries.

Biden’s warning — however contradicted by his open-ended support for Israel at the moment — is that waging war in the wake of a traumatic event requires one to think with one’s head, not with one’s heart.

“I made wartime decisions,” Biden said in Israel, speaking generally about decisions he made in his 50-year political career. “I know the decisions are never clear or easy for the leadership. There’s always cost, but it requires being deliberate. It requires asking very hard questions. It requires clarity about the objectives and an honest assessment about whether the path you’re on will achieve those objectives.”

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