Pundits, Politicians, Journalists and Bloggers all over the planet will be analyzing in minutia every possible aspect of 9/11 and the five years since its aftermath. So- what could I possibly add to what is already being said? Probably nothing and I actually thought of letting the day pass without comment. Since I am a huge critic of President Bush and think that he is far worse a President than I would have ever anticipated during that agonizing election of 2000, I didn’t want to rail against the President and seem disrespectful to the memory of those that were lost five years ago today.
However I do think it is appropriate to look at the legacy of that day and to, if for no other reason than for my own benefit, write down some thoughts. We owe it to the heroes of 9/11 to learn from their deaths. Things have changed dramatically since that sunny September day.
I remember members from both parties of Congress gathering by the steps of the Capitol building singing God Bless America. Now both the House and the Senate are more fractured than ever. Only 9 days after the 9/11 attacks my partner Lee and I went on vacation to Italy. Everyone we spoke to showed nothing but compassion and support for the United States. Now most Europeans have nothing but disrespect for our government (Europeans have a wonderful way of being able to dislike our government but like its citizens). Most Arab countries condemned the 9/11 attacks, now many of our alliances in the Arab world are strained to say the least. We had unity at home and support abroad. Have we squandered that moment? True, grief tends to unite a nation and the response to that grief can cause divisiveness. But was it really inevitable that we end up where we are today?
I don’t pretend to know the answer to that question- but it feels to me like that moment in history was pivotal for this country and there were choices to be made and we went down a path that has led us to this very difficult place.
There was almost universal support for our war against the Al-Qeda and Taliban in Afghanistan. I have always found armed conflict abhorrent- but in some cases inevitable. The war in Afghanistan was appropriate and just. But now look where we are in that country. The Taliban have re-emerged and Afghani opium is flooding the world and is supporting anti-American groups with its profits. President Bush promised that he would “smoke out” Osama bin Laden and Al-Qeda, but five years later – he is still illusive. Was this country distracted from its mission in Afghanistan by turning its attention to Iraq?
The question of Iraq seems to be fundamental to our current predicament- a country divided and a world that has serious problem with our actions. There were huge anti-war demonstrations all over this country and abroad on the eve of the Iraqi invasion. Compare that to the handful of dissenters of the Afghani war who were predominantly folks who condemn any war, even one that is a justifiable response. The war in Iraq was the first time this country made a pre-emptive strike on any nation. This was a monumental shift for this country. Was a pre-emptive invasion of Iraq antithetical to our values and our moral authority as the remaining world’s super power.
The question of whether or not Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 was answered by the President himself in a recent press conference when he said that Iraq had nothing to do with those despicable attacks on our people. It is striking that according to a recent poll conducted by CNN 43% of this country believes that Iraq was directly involved with supporting those attacks of five years ago. There is debate in this country about whether or not the war in Iraq is part of the larger response to global terrorism. Is terrorism quelled by an Iraq that is, for all intents and purposes, in a sectarian civil war and is becoming more closely allied with the very real danger of that region of the world- Iran?
President Bush came to Washington with a promise to be a “uniter and not a divider”. He said he was determined to end Washington gridlock. 9/11 was a time in our history where we were united we might have built on that unity. It seems that our division and the world’s contempt have less to do with our response to global terrorism or 9/11and has more to do with our policy in
Part of our response to terrorism has been to take actions that many question- surveillance and secret prisons with questionable interrogation practices which is a nice way of saying torture. This too has caused problems at home and abroad. The larger question for me is whether or not we have lost our values in the face of a threat. Our constitution, our domestic laws and our support of international laws are central to our nation’s greatness. To me- patriotism is not about flying the American flag but is about venerating our Constitution. Have the terrorists won when our own value system is compromised?
Even in the face of falling support for his Presidency, Mr. Bush has vowed to stay the course. One may see this as determination but I and many citizens see this as arrogance. It strikes me that we do not want the legacy of 9/11 to be one of arrogance and division. As we honor those that were lost on that fateful day five years ago it important that we continue to ask fundamental questions about how this nation responds to terrorism and our involvement with Iraq. The hallmark of this nation is our ability to openly question our policies. We must continue to ask the difficult questions and to work towards a nation united- this should be the legacy of 9/11.