Sunday, September 11, 2011

10 Years Later: Have We Already Forgotten?

Remember that feeling of national unity, and of global unity, immediately after 9/11? What happened?

Once again, Obama has declared Sept. 11 to be a national day of service and remembrance, as he and the nation honor the dead, those who responded 10 years ago, those who have fought terrorism and those who served in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"A decade after 9/11, it’s clear for all the world to see—the terrorists who attacked us that September morning are no match for the character of our people, the resilience of our nation, or the endurance of our values," Obama said in his weekly address Saturday.

But the president also urged the country to look ahead, calling for a return to the kind of unity that marked those dark days a decade ago. The nation focused on the tragedy and put politics aside, a sharp difference from recent days during which sharp turmoil and party bickering have become the hallmarks of Washington politics.

“On a day when others tried to divide us, we can regain the sense of common purpose that stirred in our hearts 10 years ago,” Obama wrote in an op-ed published last week in USA Today. “As a nation, we face difficult challenges, and as citizens in a democratic society we engage in vigorous debates about the future. But as we do, let's never forget the lesson we learned anew 10 years ago — that our differences pale beside what unites us and that when we choose to move forward together, as one American family, the United States doesn't just endure, we can emerge from our tests and trials stronger than before.”

Have we emerged stronger? And have we moved forward? Has the ten year long "Global War on Terror" really been what we needed?

Today is September 11th, the tenth anniversary of the horrific and inhumane Al Qaeda-led terrorist attacks that killed approximately 3,000 innocents. As Americans pause and reflect on how these attacks changed our country and the world, we should reflect upon one of deceased terrorist leader Osama Bin Laden’s primary goals: bankrupting America. In an audio tape from 2004, Bin Laden explained that Al Qaeda had adopted a “policy” of “bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy” through provoking it into engaging in perpetual warfare in the Middle East and South Asia.

Nearly ten years after the United States sent our military forces into Afghanistan, our country has spent $1.2 trillion engaging in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Priorities Project (NPP). The wars are expected to cost much more than that by their conclusion, with some estimates ranging up to $3 trillion for the Iraq war alone.

By spending this much money on wars that ended up being America’s longest in history, the United States in some ways fell into Bin Laden’s trap. This money could’ve been used in ways that would’ve invested in America — securing access to health care, a decent education, and infrastructure for alternative energy.

And what about those some claim to be our "enemies"? What is the real threat here?

Is our real "enemy" someone, or something, different? Have we become our own worst enemy?

Today, following all the Bush-era tax cuts, the US is a deeply divided country in social terms. The gap between rich and poor is almost as great as it was in the days of oil barons and steel magnates in the last century. Five percent of Americans buy almost 40 percent of all consumer goods sold in the country.

The country is at war with itself. It has a Congress where there is perpetual conflict between the right and the left -- and where they don't even want to talk to each other when the threat of a national bankruptcy looms.

Like no other country, the US became great because of its openness. Now, it has become distrustful, fearful and defensive -- against Muslims, against foreigners, against anyone who is different. Citizen militias hunt down illegal immigrants, and many people can still not accept having a black president in the White House.

Who would have thought ten years ago that in the following decade America's greatest threat would arrive not in the form of another airplane crashing into The Pentagon, but rather in the form of toxic "mortgage backed securities" and similar "funny money" financial schemes crashing our economy and leading to the worst unemployment crisis this nation has seen in over seventy years? We may be safer from foreign and domestic terrorists than we were ten years, but America doesn't feel safer because of fear of expanding unemployment lines.

Of course, this doesn't mean 9/11 no longer matters. It still does. It can't be erased from our memory, even though it may help to remember the truth of what this has all really been about.

We should continue to remember what happen, but we can't keep drumming it up, using it as an excuse for exercising bad judgment, and refusing to acknowledge the need to close this chapter of our history as we learn from our past mistakes.

In those dazed days after the attacks, a new foreign policy doctrine was hastily assembled. It said that the world faced a single, overarching and paramount threat in the form of violent jihadism. Every other battle had to be subordinated to, or subsumed into, that one. And the call went beyond foreign policy. Culture, too, was to be enlisted in a clash of civilisations between Islamism and the west that would rank alongside the great 20th century struggles against communism and fascism. Christopher Hitchens confessed he felt "exhilaration" as he saw the towers fall. At last there would be war against "dull and vicious theocratic fascism. I am prepared for this war to go on for a very long time. I will never become tired of waging it, because it is a fight over essentials. And because it is so interesting."

Such talk has been a constant of the 9/11 decade but its time has passed. For one thing, it's predicated on a mistake. The right way to regard the 2001 attacks was as a heinous and wicked crime – not a declaration of war. As Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former head of MI5, argued in her first Reith lecture calling it a war "legitimises the terrorists as warriors". It's exactly what al-Qaida wanted – feeding their fantasies of grandeur – and we gave it to them. [...]

Again, this is not to say the dangers have receded. Would-be terrorists have seen the earth-shaking impact a spectacular attack can have – especially if it prompts a massive reaction that fuels the terrorists' cause, as the Iraq invasion did for al-Qaida. If one of the Arab revolutions fails, an al-Qaida offshoot could find purchase in that country. But vigilance is not the same as a careless, undiscriminating monomania.

Even those who were not there say the memory is so vivid, it feels like yesterday. But it was not yesterday. It was 10 years ago. We should mark the 9/11 anniversary with respect and care for those who died. But then we ought to close this sorry and bloody chapter – and bury the mentality it created.

Perhaps Jonathan Freedland is correct. And perhaps the rest of the world has lessons to teach us.

This is most definitely a poignant day for our nation, and it is important to remember... But we can't afford to dwell in the past. We have plenty of problems to solve today, and we'll eventually need to get back to work in doing that.

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