There will be much introspection and reflection over the next few days.
Well see the horrifying videos of commercial airliners being flown into
the World Trade Towers. We will once again wonder why no one was able to
connect the dots and take preventative action. There will be memorial
services and candlelight vigils.
Well collectively wonder if weve learned anything at all. But as bad as
9/11 was, its the decisions weve made since that should concern us.
We knew almost immediately a group calling itself al Qaida was responsible
and that the Taliban, then returning Afghanistan to the 16th century they
so love, had aided and abetted them.
In the smartest military move of the entire decade of conflict, we
unleashed a relative handful (fewer than 100) of our best special
operations vets in Afghanistan. They formed an uneasy but effective
coalition with what came to be known as the Northern Alliance, a group of
tribal warlords who despised the Taliban for their own reasons.
With the assistance of U.S. air power, the Taliban were routed. We won.
Unsatisfied with our victory and unwilling to let the Afghan people decide
their own fate, we poured in occupying troops. The longest war in our
history was under way.
Meanwhile, our Congress passed the Patriot Act which has almost nothing to
do with patriotism. As a result, our e-mails and cell phone calls can be
routinely captured and instantly scanned by computer software looking for
key words and phrases. Our bank accounts can be examined, our medical
records pulled, our lives laid bare all without us ever knowing its
happening. To protect us from terrorism, dont you know.
We can be arrested without knowing the charges, be held without any
contact with the outside world including a lawyer, be tried in a
secret tribunal and be denied access even to the charges against us.
In the name of national security.
It is the biggest assault on civil liberties in our lifetime and has
weakened some portions of the Bill of Rights to a point where they have
become almost unrecognizable.
Then, of course, there was the nightmare of Iraq.
Too many of us nodded approvingly when Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rumsfeld and
Rice said Iraq was a direct and imminent threat to our security. They told
us the war would be quick and the Iraqi people would welcome us as heroes.
In fact, they took us to war to protect us from a threat that did not
exist and into a country that did not, and does not, want us there.
Here is some of what we now know and some of the consequences:
We know Iraq had exactly zero involvement in the events that led up to the
attacks of 9/11.
We know Saddam Hussein had no relationship with Osama bin Laden nor was he
involved with or helping al Qaida.
We know Iraq had no biological weapons or a biological weapons program.
We know Iraq had no chemical weapons or a chemical weapons program.
We know Iraq had no nuclear weapons or a nuclear weapons program.
We know that virtually everything Gen. Colin Powell said in his now
infamous presentation to the United Nations was false.
We know Iraq pre-9/11, served as a useful counter-balance to the loons
We know that in the absence of Hussein, and any functional government in
Iraq, Iran has gained both military power and political and strategic
influence in the region.
We know more than 31,000 Americans have been seriously wounded in Iraq,
many with permanent and debilitating traumatic brain injuries or
amputations. (More than 13,000 more have been wounded in Afghanistan.)
We know nearly 4,500 of our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters,
mothers and fathers, have died fighting in Iraq. (The death toll in
Afghanistan exceeds 1,600.)
We know vets returning from Iraq have higher instances of divorce,
unemployment, bankruptcy and drug and alcohol abuse than the general
We know the direct cost of the war in Iraq is now more than $800 billion
and the indirect costs (impact on the economy, lost jobs, social services
and government assistance for vets, etc.) is approaching $5 trillion.
(Weve spent another $440 billion in Afghanistan, so far.)
We know that Iraqi civilian deaths during the war are at least 109,000
(according to U.S. military documents leaked by Wikileaks.com) but might
be as high as 600,000 (according to research published in The Lancet, the
worlds oldest peer-reviewed medical journal).
Instead of pensively looking backwards to 2001 it might be more beneficial
if we look ahead.
How long do we intend to stay in Iraq and Afghanistan? If neither is able
to prove they can self-govern are we prepared to stay forever? Why should
we decide what is adequate self-governance in Iraq and Afghanistan instead
of the people who live there? What, exactly, is our policy on foreign
military intervention? Why are the current presidential candidates, who
are so worried about too much government, not outraged by the egregious
government intrusions of the Patriot Act?
Reflection on the past is instructive and, occasionally, cathartic. But
looking back to 2001, its easy to believe weve taken a wrong turn onto a
circular path. If we dont change direction, in another 10 years well
again be reflecting on 9/11 and talking about the subsequent wars that