Nine years ago today a small group of determined, suicidal, religious fanatics killed almost 3,000 people. Every year at this time we’re reminded of every detail through haunting images and videos of that terrible day. I’m thinking back to how proud I am of the way we handled ourselves individually and as a nation at that time. I also can’t help but think about some of the mistakes we made after.
In the days and weeks after 9/11 we were wounded and grieving for those who were lost, but we showed our resilience. People went to church for the first time in a long time, and for some, the first time ever. The world saw what happened; and, just as disgusted as we were, mourned with us. If terrorism were trading on the stock exchange, it would have fell to the ground along with the towers it toppled. We all came together to mourn and seek comfort, and our petty differences just didn’t seem to matter as much anymore. The American flag was flying everywhere, including on cars and motorcycles. Even the late-night comedians had to take a break for a bit. It didn’t seem right to laugh at the time. We were sad. We were mad. In fact, we were mad as hell, and that was alright. These were appropriate responses.
At first, our government responded appropriately, too. I was very proud of how President Bush led our country in the days after. Some seemed to take shots at him pretty early, saying he sat in a classroom reading to a group of kids while it was all taking place. He was obviously being kept abreast of the situation, and when the second plane hit, he quickly ended his visit without panicking those who were there. I thought he handled it with the perfect amount of calm and appropriate reasoning at the time, and later, as he addressed the nation, I felt his confident assurance that all would be okay.
It didn’t take long to identify those who were responsible and we quickly took action. We didn’t get the help we needed from the Taliban leaders in Afghanistan, who were sympathetic to Al-Qaeda, so we did what we had to do to remove them. In less than 30 days we were in Afghanistan, and 30 days later we controlled Kabul.
Unfortunately, for whatever reason, we got off track. I remember when I first heard talk about our going into Iraq. It made no sense. We were about to significantly overstep a boundary that should not be crossed. There was a reason to go into Afghanistan. There was no connection between Iraq and September 11th. We were creating a case for invading another country based on weak or non-existent evidence, and were about to lose the credibility, international goodwill and respect gained just a year earlier.
It’s possible that George Bush wanted to finish something that he or those who served his father felt was never finished. To me it seemed like the adage “never let a good crisis go to waste”. In a previous post I talk about this as I compare Obama’s Health Care bill to the Bush’s Iraq war.
Ted Koppel has written an article that will appear in tomorrow’s Washington Post. This is an issue where I agree with much of what he says. For example:
The American reaction was quick, powerful and effective — a clear warning to any organization contemplating another terrorist attack against the United States. This is the point at which President George W. Bush should have declared “mission accomplished,” with the caveat that unspecified U.S. agencies and branches of the military would continue the hunt for al-Qaeda’s leader. The world would have understood, and most Americans would probably have been satisfied.
Of course, there’s no way to know what it would be like today if we had stopped at Afghanistan, but it’s my opinion that we would be better off. Iraq would not be a problem. I don’t think that Al-Qaeda would have survived in any organized form, and certainly not with the strength it has today. I think we would be less prone to terrorist attacks, and countries like Iran and North Korea would not be emboldened as they are. Don’t get me wrong. There would still be an enemy out there. There would still be those who hate America because of our might and our freedom. But, they would also have a vivid memory of the immediate and powerful response that is an inevitable consequence of attacking our nation. Instead, they now see a country that is as divided and partisan as ever. They certainly have seen this as an opportunity to rally back. However, if they see this as a weakness and an opportunity to attack again, they will surely regret it.