NYTBR, 11 September 2011
10 years ago today, 19 people–fifteen Saudis–using funding from the House of Saud and led by a distinguished member of that House–attacked the U.S.
Fortunately, there was quick action from President Bush. He arrested all of Osama bin Laden’s relatives in the United States and had them interrogated. He executed surgical strikes within Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden was hiding and Special Forces troops captured him in the caves near Tora Bora, in parties due to intelligence gained from his relatives.
There were rumours there would be war with Saudi Arabia. But high-level discussions (and, allegedly, some still-classified data) were quickly followed by regime change in Saudi Arabia, whose new leaders provided compensation for costs and victims, as well as intelligence on previously unknown Pakistani participation.
On the domestic front, Rudolph Guiliani–who had moved the NYC Emergency Response headquarters from the safety of the basement of One Police Plaza to the 25th floor of a building that had been attacked eight years before, and who declared spending money on upgrading communications equipment for firefighters a waste–was barely saved from a Lynch mob of New Yorkers. He is rumoured to have moved to Arizona, having been shunned by the President and the news media.
So now, 10 years later, Americans are writing alternative histories about that time. One of the most absurd is Philip Roth’s latest novel, in which the Bush Administration assists the Bin Laden family in flying out of the United States a day before commercial flights resume, becomes even closer to the Saudi leadership (there is a scene of Bush holding hands with the Saudi King), and declares war on Iraq.
Even more problematic, Roth imagines Guiliani being touted as a hero, while the Bush Administration tortures prisoners.
Roth has had a long and noble career, and his recent forays into alternative history–most notably his portrayal of leading isolationist Charles Lindbergh–have been based in a deep knowledge of the way those personnages acted publicly and privately. That he would undermine that with an absurdist piece in which the President of the United States squanders opportunities and weakens his own country by starting multiple wars is unfortunate at best. We can only hope Mr. Roth’s next work recovers the historical veracity for which he is known, rather than this deranged flight of fancy.
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