9/11: Who Won?

A decade
after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 there have been no subsequent successful
operations in the US,
al-Qaida in Afghanistan-Pakistan has been decimated and the evil Grecian
Formula mastermind has been eliminated.
It would appear that we have won.
I wonder.

While
spectacular and horrific, in the cold and callous great scheme of things the
destruction wrought ten years ago was hardly a material blow to our country and
certainly did not threaten national security.
Terrorism is, literally, a bloody nuisance, and even a terrorist with a
nuclear weapon is a far less serious threat to America
than running trillion dollar deficits or tolerating an unregulated financial
sector.  The real damage of 9/11 was to
the American psyche, an unexpected blow to our self-confidence that produced a
level of national fear and anger not seen since Pearl Harbor.  And unlike the Norwegians, we allowed that
emotion, especially the fear, to undermine our principles, and in the end we
defeated ourselves.

The
immediate retaliation against Afghanistan
was certainly justified, but the decision to somehow guarantee our security by creating
a united and democratic Afghanistan,
a plainly impossible task, has been a catastrophe, contributing immensely to
our current fiscal woes.  Popular fear
and Congressional cowardice in the face of that fear then allowed the Executive
branch to launch an utterly unjustified and costly invasion of Iraq
that has brought us absolutely no benefit and has enhanced the position of Iran.  A fearful citizenry is always more inclined
to unquestioning acceptance of policy, and it is a rare government that does
not take advantage of this fact.

The result
of this emotional rush to judgment and absence of reasoned deliberation was two
very expensive wars (6000 American lives and $3 trillion – so far)  and the complete and rapid evaporation of the global
goodwill that followed upon that September day.
Our apparent carelessness with Arab lives and property, the frequent and
readily obvious employment of torture and humiliation and that still festering
wound to American principles, Guantanamo,
all conspired to tarnish our image around the world and eliminate what little
credibility we had in the Middle East after 30 years of
unqualified and self-destructive support of Israel.  Hellfire missiles and our hesitant
involvement in the Arab Spring certainly make our trumpeting of freedom and
democracy ring a bit hollow.

What we have
done to ourselves is the most serious outcome of 9/11.  When frightened, humans are easily convinced
to surrender freedoms in exchange for security or even the appearance of
security.  So cowed were we that a
Presidential press secretary could publicly state that “Americans need to
watch what they say,” and nary an eyebrow was raised (I think he was
talking about me).  And with all the independence
and resolve of a flock of sheep Congress passed the Patriot Act, the greatest
assault on our civil liberties since the McCarthy era.  They then erected perhaps the most towering
edifice of bureaucratic silliness ever, the Department of Homeland Security,
whose very name evokes images of authoritarian societies.

9/11 was of
course the mother lode for the military, whose budget nearly doubled in the
ensuing decade, though it is a bit unclear against whom we will be using those
attack submarines and advanced aircraft.
Our inclination to solve international problems with violence rather
than diplomacy, already robust, received a shot of steroids, and now even the
CIA, nominally an intelligence agency, has access to and the freedom to use
sophisticated military hardware like drones and missiles.  We now find ourselves in a strange world
where a missile that kills twenty Pakistani civilians is labeled a
“precision weapon,” while a home-made car bomb in Times Square is a
“weapon of mass destruction,” as if the identity of the shooter
determined the nature of the munition.

Though we
did much to shape it and as High Signatories are bound to defend it, our regard
for international law has become extremely ragged, especially in defense of Israel.  For the first time in our history we attacked
a country with absolutely no affirmable cause and now regularly and openly
violate the sovereignty of other nations, particularly Pakistan,
something our government at least tried to keep secret during the Vietnam war.  In the name of security, and with no little
arrogance, we routinely treat other nations in ways that would bring howls of
anger and indignation were we on the receiving end.  We regularly insist that nations heed the
resolutions of the UN Security Council, but promptly ignore them if they are
contrary to our interests; consider our record of vetoes of resolutions
critical of Israel.

Our very
Constitution is being threatened by this government-encouraged mania of fear
and the attendant xenophobia.  Apart from
serious issues concerning the policing powers allowed by the Patriot Act there
is also a threatening growth in the power and autonomy of some federal
entities, most notably the CIA.  Whether
or not death from above is effective (many innocents are killed), the notion
that anonymous individuals in the military and CIA have the authority to judge
who is a terrorist and execute him is a bit disturbing.  And it is now our intention to assassinate an
American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, if he can be found.  Perhaps this is the only way to deal with
this loathsome creature, but we nevertheless thereby place ourselves on a
frightening slippery slope of expediency over principle.

The 9/11
terrorists certainly demonstrated that fear can profoundly affect a society: a
frightened populace is inevitably more willing, even enthusiastic, to grant
government more authority, which will be eagerly accepted by any government,
whatever its nature.  All political entities seek to defend and increase their
powers, and the American Presidency is no exception, its vaguely defined
Constitutional powers constantly expanded and supplemented, especially since
World War II. And once granted,

power will not be easily relinquished; for all its promises the new
administration has kept intact the emergency arrangements of the last.  Power is power, whatever your ideological
stripe.

America
is still here, but it is not quite the same.
The terrorists destroyed two buildings and thousands of lives, but it is
we who changed our country, and not for the better.

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