Political importance of the Capitol invasion may be greater than 9/11


PHOTO/Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty Images/Teen Vogue

I was always worried when I had to enter the Green Zone in Baghdad at a time when its entrances were under frequent attack by suicide bombers driving vehicles filled with explosives.

Being blown up by al-Qaeda in Iraq was not the only danger. The soldiers guarding the outer checkpoints of the zone were understandably nervous and would shoot at any vehicle they thought was coming too close to them. Once, I had to cower down behind a concrete barrier as they fired at a battered old car which had stalled just in front of their position.

I recalled the old Baghdad Green Zone this week as 25,000 National Guards established a well-defended area with the same name in the centre of Washington. The overt purpose was to protect the inauguration of Joe Biden as president and US security agencies, caught on the hop by the invasion of the Capitol on 6 January, were busy slamming the stable door long after the immediate crisis was over.

The Democrats and the largely Trump-hating media want to portray the alt-right rioters as “domestic terrorists” who had staged an abortive “insurrection” in order to stop Biden taking office. Clearly, some members of the mob would have liked to do just that, but, despite the impression given by all those blood-curdling video films, this was not a “coup” in the sense of an organised attempt to seize power. Any suggestion that the US capital faced a threat anything like that to the Green Zone in Baghdad 15 years ago is an absurd exaggeration.

What we are seeing is political theatre, which is scarcely surprising since we have seen little else during Donald Trump’s four years in the White House. It is fitting that the end of the Trump presidency was marked by two events – the Capitol invasion and the exaggerated military response to it – that hover between theatre and reality.

At one level, it is gratifying to see the Republicans, who last year came close to winning the presidential election by pretending that Black Lives Matter protests were a “terrorist” insurgency, now claiming to be the defenders of sober truth and piously expressing dismay that the Democrats should be endangering national unity. This is a classic case of biter bit and hypocrisy run rampant.

In reality, the Republican leadership is frightened by the idea that “6/1” will become the new “9/11”, permanently demonising them and splitting their party. A billboard in one Trump-voting rural county in Texas spells this out, denouncing “treasonous RINOs” – Republicans in name only – who refused to back Trump’s claim that he had lost the election through fraud.

For all Biden’s talk of “unity”, the Democrats have an opportunity to extract political blood from the Republicans and are not going to pass it up. If they play their cards right, they can exploit the shambolic invasion of the Capitol for years, just as the Republicans did 9/11. The loss of life is very different – five dead compared to 2,977 – but in terms of perception the two events have significant features in common.

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