Seven years after the almost hysterical overreaction to 9/11, is America coming to its senses? One can only hope.
Seven years after 9/11 and there are starting to be signs that America is finally emerging from 9/11 hysteria. Maybe it’s the time gone by, maybe it’s the incredibly expensive (and failed) war on terror, maybe 9/11 is finally being put in perspective by a vastly bigger problem, the economic meltdown. 9/11 was a hell of a thing, like everyone I was mortified when I turned on the TV that day. However, within days, if not hours, I was more mortified by America’s reaction to it. By the next day I was pretty sure that the response to 9/11 was going to be vastly more expensive and counter-productive than the failed war on drugs. And sadly, if anything, I underestimated just how expensive and counter-productive the so called “war on terror” was going to be. At least I wasn’t the only one who felt the same way, but public voices speaking rationally were few and far between those days. Susan Sontag was one of the few not jumping on the Islamofascist hysteria bandwagon, she said it better than I could have:
“The disconnect between last Tuesday’s monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and TV commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public. Where is the acknowledgement that this was not a ‘cowardly’ attack on ‘civilization’ or ‘liberty’ or ‘humanity’ or ‘the free world’ but an attack on the world’s self-proclaimed superpower, undertaken as a consequence of specific American alliances and actions?”
I was pretty much afraid to speak my mind in the months following 9/11. That was far more scary to me than the fantasy threat posed by Osama Bin Laden, I knew the chances of another attack like 9/11 was basically zero, and that even if it happened, my chances of being caught by it was still basically zero. On the other hand, I knew that if I said something “unpatriotic” in front of the wrong person I could be beaten or worse. And what a big effing thrill that was.
In any event, the point I am trying to make is that because of a sensationalist media and an ideologically driven administration, a terrible crime was parlayed into a world changing event. I mean, let’s look at this. A few dozen guys conspired to hijack four planes and fly them into buildings. A few dozen guys. This wasn’t Pearl Harbor. This wasn’t the Alamo. This wasn’t a “war of civilizations.” This was a small terrorist group that got lucky. No more and no less.
How should America have responded to 9/11? We should have hardened cockpit doors, taken up the Taliban’s offers to turn Bin Laden over for trial, had a memorial for the victims…and gone on with our lives. It wouldn’t have hurt either to examine why Al Qaeda came into being and started attacking the USA, and why the people who were supposed to be defending America were asleep at the switch. Instead we were panicked into borrowing and spending trillions of dollars in an open ended war against “evil.” Seven years later some sane voices are starting to be heard. The former head of Britain’s intelligence agency for example has called the response to 9/11 a huge overreaction. Even the US State Department has gotten into the act and ried to get people to tone down the rhetoric.
I mean, what has the War on Terror accomplished? Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Iraq are all more unstable and generating more terrorism than before 9/11. Al Qaeda has spread to a dozen or more countries it wasn’t in before 9/11. Jihadists in Spain and England were inspired to commit acts of terror. And the world’s opinion of America and its foreign policy is at the lowest ebb ever. All this for only twenty thousand dead and maimed GIs and a multi trillion dollar debt? Not to mention a vastly expanded US government and a serious erosion of our civil rights? To defend ourselves against pirates, bandits, and outlaw groups? This was beyond stupid, and I can only hope the fog continues to lift from people’s eyes.
Am I saying the USA should have ignored Al Qaeda. Of course not. However, a military response was not the way to go. (And I’m pretty sure invading and occupying two countries counts as military force, not to mention missile and air strikes in at least two other countries.) This is borne out by the first comprehensive study of how terrorist groups end. RAND recently studied 648 terrorist groups that were active between 1968 and 2006. What as the most common way for them to end? 43% of them were ended via political means, IE negotiation. 40% of them were destroyed by police and intelligence action, usually by locals. 10% of terrorism groups achieved victory. And lastly, 7% of terrorist groups were destroyed by military force. So much for “you can’t negotiate with terrorists,” apparently in the real world it’s seven times more effective than military force as a response to terrorism.
As I’ve said before, terrorist groups have always been with us, and they always will. A sensible restrained flexible foreign policy and adequate police/intelligence work is the best way to both prevent and deal with terrorism. And, most important of all, don’t panic.
(The above image of America’s all-too-common response to any perceived threat is public domain under US copyright law. Doing research for this article I came upon an interesting example of just how much 9/11 has been pumped up and inflated into a world shaping event. Check out this link about the USS New York. No offence intended to anyone involved, but this is emotional self indulgence to the point of creepiness in my opinion. The whole idea of building a warship out of the steel from the WTC strikes me as being adolescent or even infantile, not to mention the web site’s almost Messianic tone. Aren’t grown-ups supposed to be running the country?)