Like everyone else alive that day, and the day Kennedy was shot, and the day we landed on the Moon, I remember the morning of 9/11 quite clearly. The AQ attack was simplicity itself. The immediate results were horrific. The ultimate results unendurable. And most of it was self-inflicted.
Terrorism is a tactic of the weak, designed to turn the strength of the victim back on himself, and to cause the most damage through secondary, what the Brits would call ‘knock on’ effects. The damage from the initial attack isn’t the object, that’s just the lever that tips the target into over-reacting. Go read what Peter Senge has to say about trim tabs. Based on that criteria, AQ’s 9/11 attack succeeded beyond their wildest vision.
As the result of the loss of two buildings and ~3,000 people, the US destroyed two countries, killed somewhere north of 100K civilians, lost 5,000 American lives, tore the Constitution to shreds, created the Heimat StaatsSicherheitApparat*, and turned a record budget surplus into a record budget deficit.
To unpack this summary somewhat:
1. Initial AQ attack: 3,000 killed, $2 billion in damage and cleanup costs, outpouring of support from around the world.
2. Secondary effects (Iraq, US only): 4,300 killed, $1.6 trillion, universal condemnation, grinding down of the US military.
3. Secondary effects (Afghanistan, US only): 700 killed, $500 billion, geopolitical impact still spreading.
4. Tertiary effects (international): Iraq becomes an Iranian ally, AF patriots fighting the foreign invader (us) spills over into PK and destabilizes the whole region. Our moral standing regarding torture is completely destroyed.
5. Tertiary effects (domestic): US military continues its decline. Police powers that ten years ago would have been laughed out of Congress, or vetoed by the President, or dismissed with contempt by the Supreme Court are now common.
But didn’t we drive AQ out of AF, and don’t we have to keep them out to suppress global terrorism? Yes, AQ got driven from AF (briefly, but that’s not where the attacks were planned, they were planned in Germany, among other places). No, keeping AQ out of AF won’t help, because there’s always Somalia and half a dozen other failed states to let them in. Besides, “global terrorism” is a myth. Terrorism is a tactic, not an ideology. Anyone can use it.
But if we don’t stop them there, won’t they follow us home and loll around on the couch and hog the remote? Originally, the answer would have been no, because the complaint wasn’t what we were doing here, but that we were over there, in their holy land. Now that we’ve trashed their country and killed who knows how many of their cousins, we’ve created a whole new generation of people who hate us, just because we’re us. We are far less safe than we were, but killing more people’s cousins isn’t the answer.
As far as I can see, AQ is winning on points, and winning big, and it’s mostly our fault.
What are my recommendations?
1. Well, the Iraqis don’t want us, so we pull out on schedule. This is, I think, inevitable.
2. Most Afghans don’t want us, and the war meets no national security objective worthy of the cost (see above), so we use the excuse of a Karzai-stolen election to pack up and go home. This, of course, is not likely to happen, because no-one in the chain of command is old enough to remember VietNam or understand the meaning of the term ‘quagmire’. General McChrystal should go back and read some of the statements out of MACV (or maybe he did, his certainly sound familiar).
3. Domestically the DHS is wasting most of the $40 billion or so we give it each year (see the notes below), so we put in someone to run it who understands the reality of security and the meaning of the Constitution. We cease our war on the American citizen.
4. Finally, if I had a time machine and could go back to the afternoon of 9/11, what would I recommend? Others have made the same suggestion — fill the damn hole in and ignore it.
*OK, so it’s Homeland Security, but anyone of a certain age, whose father was in the Marines at Pearl Harbor and who had uncles fought in the Army in Europe and the Navy in both oceans in WWII, will tell you that they didn’t fight the greatest war in history so that a US bureaucrat could come along and talk about the ‘homeland’. There’s no-one of that age who can hear the term ‘homeland’ and not also hear the faint echo of jackboots. The worrisome thing is that most of our civic leadership is too young to remember, to feel it.
And so far all that Heimat SS have accomplished is to create a defacto ‘Constitution free’ zone a hundred miles in from each border, exploit Congress’s fears to the American citizen like a criminal, and, incidentally, cost us tens of billions of dollars in travel delays. To justify this, they spend their time entrapping truly pitiful local yokles whose “plans are more aspirational than actual.”**
**Do I think the DHS people are evil? Not at all. Well, their original leadership, up to and including the former President certainly was, if by evil you mean someone whose underlying principles are anathema to your own, and who doesn’t care what happens to you in the pursuit of their goals. Instead, the DHS functionaries are the worst kind of bureaucrats. Now, before you get worked up, let me say that I worked in DC for years and have the greatest respect for government employees – like the wife of a successful businessman, who could have stayed home and hostessed tea-parties but instead came into the Pentagon at 5AM to analyze Soviet air operations, or the China analyst who essentially died at his desk from his third heart attack. The people who wouldn’t close the office for two hours for a Christmas party but would work at their computers with their little plates of cake in their laps. Hats off to the dedicated men and women of government. It’s not you I am speaking of.
I am speaking of those who desperately don’t want a second 9/11 to happen on their watch (and a second one is inevitable, if we continue to create enemies). Who are worried not so much that it will happen, but that it will be found to be somehow their fault. Who will inflate every threat, no matter how specious, and impose any restriction, no matter how draconian, as long as it covers their butts. Who don’t care what happens to our time, our liberties, or our protection under the law, because they’re all right, Jack, how about you?That’s not evil so much as it is predictable, and banal, and deadly to our society.
Happy Patriot Day.