Subdued ceremonies mark 9/11 anniversary


THE US marked the 11th anniversary of al-Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon yesterday in a subdued, solemn manner, more low-key than the ceremonies of one year ago.

Under new rules drawn up by the National September 11th Memorial and Museum, politicians are no longer allowed to make speeches at the site in lower Manhattan, or participate in the annual reading of the names of the 2,983 victims. Nineteen hijackers also died.

About 1,000 relatives of those who perished gathered around the pools where the Twin Towers stood for the alphabetically ordered reading, which took more than three hours.

At the White House, Barack and Michelle Obama stood for a moment of silence on the south lawn, bowing their heads as a bugler played Taps.

The Obamas then rode to the Pentagon, where the President placed a wreath over a stone engraved “September 11, 2001, 9.37 am” – the moment United flight 77 struck the building, killing 184 people.

Obama said more than five million young people – the “9/11 generation” – had joined the US military since the attacks. “We’ve dealt a crippling blow to the organisation that brought evil to our shores . . . Our country is safer and our people are resilient.”

But Bruce Riedel, a former CIA agent and senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, wrote in a report this week that al-Qaeda is “thriving in the Arab world” and “remains intent on striking inside America and Europe”.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden’s successor, “is still orchestrating a global terror network and communicating with its followers”, Riedel warned.

The Taliban and Lashkar-e-Taiba, allies of al-Qaeda, continue to enjoy the protection of Pakistani intelligence, Riedel wrote. Al-Qaeda is active in Yemen, Iraq, Egypt and especially Syria, where it carried out at least 66 attacks in June.

In remarks before the National Guard Association, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney was closer in spirit to Riedel than Obama. “I wish I could say the world is less dangerous now – that it is less chaotic,” he said. “We live in a time of turbulence and disruption.”

Obama receives high poll numbers for his handling of foreign and national security policy. Romney said last April that “even Jimmy Carter” would have ordered the raid that killed bin Laden. But in a conciliatory interview with NBC on September 9th, Romney twice commended Obama for taking the decision.

Neil Newhouse, a pollster working for Romney, sent a memo to supporters and journalists saying they should “not get too worked up about the latest polling” which shows Obama benefiting from a far more substantial “bump” after the Democratic convention than Romney had enjoyed after Tampa.

A CNN poll published on Monday showed Obama at 52 per cent to 46 per cent for Romney. The Gallup tracking poll moved from a virtual tie to 49 per cent for Obama and 44 per cent for Romney, putting Obama’s lead beyond the statistical margin of error.

“While some voters will feel a bit of a sugar high from the conventions, the basic structure of the race has not changed significantly,” Newhouse wrote. “The reality of the Obama economy will reassert itself as the ultimate downfall of the Obama presidency.”

Obama also received a boost with news that his campaign raised $114 million (€88.65 million) in August, compared to $111.6 million raised by the campaign for Romney, who was ahead in the previous three months. However, the Obama campaign has been spending at a faster rate than Romney’s, which has greater cash reserves.

Romney’s ode to God at a recent rally was interpreted by some as a sign of post-convention desperation. After reciting the pledge of allegiance and noting that it says “under God”, Romney promised: “I will not take ‘God’ out of the name of our platform. I will not take ‘God’ off our coins. And I will not take God out of my heart. We’re a nation bestowed by God.” Obama never suggested getting rid of God, however.

Romney also sent mixed signals on “Obamacare”, telling NBC, “I’m not getting rid of all of health care reform.” He said he would “make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage”.

The Romney campaign later said the statement applied only to those who had been “continuously insured”. Close to two-thirds of adults working at lower salaries have had gaps in their healthcare coverage, making them ineligible for Romney’s plan.

The candidates have in recent days reproached one another for omissions in their respective convention speeches.

Obama said Romney should have talked about the war in Afghanistan, while Romney says Obama failed to mention the nation’s 8.1 per cent unemployment rate.

Although the President is now the clear favourite to win on November 6th, his campaign is keeping an anxious eye on the teachers’ strike that started in Obama’s home town of Chicago on Monday. Chicago has the country’s third largest school district, with 350,000 pupils.

The dispute between teachers and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s former chief of staff and a fundraiser for him, could reflect badly on the President. Emanuel had attempted to lengthen the school day and had promised a pay rise which he later withdrew.

Chicago teachers are paid $76,000 on average. The city has agreed to a 16 per cent increase, but disagreement persists on the method of evaluation and whether vacant posts should be reserved for laid-off teachers.

“Teachers’ unions have too often made plain that their interests conflict with those of our children,” Romney said. “President Obama has chosen his side in this fight.”