Do you remember where you were 18 years ago today? If you’re in your mid-twenties or older, I’ll bet you do. — September 11, 2001 was one of those landmark dates in history when the trajectory of a nation’s future is abruptly changed. Or perhaps in the case of 9/11, I should say “abruptly accelerated.”
That September morning, soon after the attack, I heard a radio bulletin about a plane crashing into one of the World Trade Center’s towers. I switched on the TV and saw the entire horrible scene unfold as another plane slammed into the second tower and both buildings collapsed. At that moment I imagine most of you, like me, sensed that things would never quite be the same again. Terrorism from a foreign source had succeeded within our boundaries in a big way.
Immediately, new and more stringent security procedures were established both in the public areas and in the business buildings of our cities. In many cases those measures are still in place today. And we’ve gotten used to them. — Now, we think nothing of being asked to open our business bag or purse for inspection. We accept such intrusions in our privacy as necessary for our safety. (In recent years, the increasing occurrences of mass shootings have also played a big role in our acceptance of such inspections.)
9/11 made Americans a bit less secure, and a lot more open to whatever steps our government declared were needed to protect us. As we now know, those “necessary steps” eventually included the military invasion of two countries.
Realistically, it could be presumed that before 9/11 our nation’s international trajectory was already headed toward armed involvement in the Middle East. For several years, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, two bored cold warriors with no Cold War left to fight, had been touting their “Project for a New American Century.”
This vision for our future saw the United States establishing a “benevolent global hegemony.” (I guess that would mean we would call the shots for all the other nations on earth — but in a warm, friendly way.) To do this, Cheney, Rumsfeld and their fellow hawks believed we should perpetually maintain the United States as the world’s preeminent power. – Incidentally that sort of dream for America would also be a dreamy situation for government contractors like Halliburton, a company close to Dick Cheney’s heart. — Back then it actually was his heart.
So with the arrival of 9/11/2001, a lot of pieces were already in place for what came next. Of course at that moment in time we had no idea what lay ahead. But we now know that the attack in New York led to our invasion of Afghanistan, a military involvement that has become the longest war is our nation’s history, 18 years long!
From the start there was some debate about whether the actions of a group of Al Qaeda fanatics should be dealt with as if they were an enemy nation. Should we use military forces to attack them in the country where they were hiding? Or should we, and our allies, deal with them as international criminals, using spies, informants, drone surveillance, all the tools of espionage to track down the terrorists and eliminate them? We chose military boots on the ground. Since then, there have been many casualties – American and Afghani. Would a different path have been a better choice? We’ll never know.
Our involvement in Iraq began in 2003. Unlike Afghanistan where Al Qaeda was sheltered, the Iraqi government and its people had nothing to do with the 9/11 attack. However, much of the American public remained angry and open to punishing any Middle Eastern country that might have aided terrorist activities.
The Iraqis were, in fact, enemies of Al Qaeda, but that fact didn’t get in the way of the hawks in the White House. Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney and President George W. Bush all pushed for intelligence results that would justify an invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.
They got their wish, although the intelligence reports they cited were mostly bogus. 16 years later, thousands of American military have been wounded or killed and tens of thousands of Iraqi’s have died. Also, many billions of tax dollars have been spent. Beyond that, the destabilization of Iraq created a power vacuum that allowed the rise of ISIS, resulting in thousands more dead and displaced. And the chaos created by the rise and eventual fall of ISIS has led to thousands of people fleeing Syria and Iraq; creating new problems for Western Europe to the delight of Russia’s Putin.
On 9/11 as we watched the live TV coverage of the World Trade Center’s towers fall, we couldn’t see where things would lead. But there were people in our nation’s capital who could see where they wanted things to go. These were the cold war hawks who continue to believe that brute power trumps any other approach to international relations. Ironically, today’s news also included a fellow, like them, who never saw a war he didn’t admire, John Bolton. Thankfully, he just lost his White House job. Inexplicably, he still has admirers in high places.
The national trajectory that September 11 kicked into gear has yet to reach its end point.
Nels Howard, NTD Member Since 1973