After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind. As a nation we have looked back for too long. We learned lessons from the attacks, but so many of them were wrong. The last decade was a detour that left our nation weaker, more divided and less certain of itself.
Reflections on the meaning of the horror and the years that followed are inevitably inflected by our own political or philosophical leanings. It’s a critique that no doubt applies to my thoughts as well. We see what we choose to see and use the event as we want to use it.
This does nothing to honor those who died and those who sacrificed to prevent even more suffering. In the future, the anniversary will best be reserved as a simple day of remembrance in which all of us humbly offer our respect for the anguish and the heroism of those individuals and their families.
But if we continue to place 9/11 at the center of our national consciousness, we will keep making the same mistakes. Our nation’s future depended on far more than the outcome of a vaguely defined “war on terrorism,” and it still does. Al-Qaeda is a dangerous enemy.
But our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies.
We asked for great sacrifice over the past decade from the very small portion of our population who wear the country’s uniform, particularly the men and women of the Army and the Marine Corps. We should honor them, too. And, yes, we should pay tribute to those in the intelligence services, the FBI and our police forces who have done such painstaking work to thwart another attack.
It was often said that terrorism could not be dealt with through “police work,” as if the difficult and unheralded labor involved was not grand or bold enough to satisfy our longing for clarity in what was largely a struggle in the shadows.
Forgive me, but I find it hard to forget former president George W. Bush’s 2004 response to Sen. John Kerry’s comment that “the war on terror is less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering and law-enforcement operation.”
Bush retorted: “I disagree — strongly disagree. . . . After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and their supporters declared war on the United States of America, and war is what they got.” What The Washington Post called “an era of endless war” is what we got, too.
Bush, of course, understood the importance of “intelligence gathering” and “law enforcement.” His administration presided over a great deal of both, and his supporters spoke, with justice, of his success in staving off further acts of terror. Yet he could not resist the temptation to turn on Kerry’s statement of the obvious. Thus was an event that initially united the nation used, over and over, to aggravate our political disharmony. This is also why we must put it behind us.
In the flood of anniversary commentary, notice how often the term “the lost decade” has been invoked. We know now, as we should have known all along, that American strength always depends first on our strength at home — on a vibrant, innovative and sensibly regulated economy, on levelheaded fiscal policies, on the ability of our citizens to find useful work, on the justice of our social arrangements.
This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears. While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.
We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back. This does not dishonor the fallen heroes, and Lincoln explained why at Gettysburg. “We can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow this ground,” he said. “The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.” The best we could do, Lincoln declared, was to commit ourselves to “a new birth of freedom.” This is still our calling.
By: E. J. Dionne, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 7, 2011
It was another one of those weeks in the capital when our leaders debated matters crucial to the survival of American civilization.
Did President Obama try to upstage the Republican presidential debate by asking to address a joint session of Congress that same night? And did House Speaker John Boehner dis the president, and the presidency, by denying him that slot?
Tempted though I was to weigh in on this important matter, I decided instead to head over to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, to preview a small but immensely powerful exhibit marking the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
There, displayed for the first time, are sacred relics of 9/11: the crumpled piece of the fuselage where the American flag had been painted on the Boeing 757 that crashed in a Pennsylvania field, a flight-attendant call button from the plane, a window shade, a landing gear strut, and a log book with the pages intact. The exhibit is simple and raw, without glass or showcases. Some dried mud caked on an airplane seatbelt was flaking off onto a tablecloth.
Nearby is the door from a fire truck crushed at Ground Zero and the beeper of a man who died in the South Tower. There’s a Pentagon clock frozen at about the time American Airlines Flight 77 struck the complex and the phone on which Ted Olson received the last call from his wife on the doomed plane. Most poignant, perhaps, is the postcard from another passenger, written to her sister the day before the crash to give the address of a new home in which she would never live.
The spare exhibit brought back the horror of that time. But it also reminded me of the pride in what followed, the national unity and sense of purpose.
The warm feelings didn’t last long, of course, destroyed by the war in Iraq and the politicization of homeland security. By now, we have lost all sense of purpose in politics, alternately distracted by Sarah Palin’s bus tours, Anthony Weiner’s private parts, David Wu’s tiger suit, Donald Trump’s birth-certificate campaign, and Dick Cheney’s broadsides.
Obama, whose uncertain trumpet has ceased to rally even his own troops, contemplated his long-delayed jobs agenda while lounging on Martha’s Vineyard last month. His leading Republican rival for the presidency talks of treason and secession. Another challenger arranges to quadruple the size of his California home (his defense: He’s only doubling the living space). Lawmakers play games with the debt ceiling and wound the nation’s credit rating but can’t agree on anything to put Americans back to work.
The political extraneousness of the moment, in other words, is like that of early September 2001. We spent those days amusing ourselves with Gary Condit and shark attacks. President George W. Bush spent August on a record-long ranch vacation. The biggest issue under debate: stem-cell research. Warnings about Osama bin Laden were ignored while the administration obsessed over rewriting a missile treaty with Russia.
What will it require to end the drift this time? A depression? Another attack? Or is there a less painful way to regain national purpose?
“For most people,” curator David Allison told me as I toured the Smithsonian exhibit, “Sept. 11 is only a media event.” The exhibit is a modest attempt at changing that, taking that day’s ruins out of storage and rekindling memory. The lucky few who see the exhibit during its short run will be reminded that there are things more important than whether the president addresses Congress on a Wednesday or a Thursday.
Consider the simple postcard, written by Georgetown economist Leslie Whittington to her sister and brother-in-law, as Whittington, her husband and their 8- and 3-year-old daughters headed off to Australia for a sabbatical. The card, postmarked Sept. 12 at Dulles Airport, must have been mailed just before the family boarded American Flight 77. The note says, in its entirety:
Dear Sara & Jay,
Well, we’re off to Australia. When we return we will have a new address (as of 11/30): 8034 Glendale Rd. Chevy Chase, MD 20815
We don’t know our phone # yet. While we are in “Oz”, email will work best for contacting us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love, Leslie, Chas, Zoe & Dana
I thought about Sara receiving that postcard from her dead sister, and about those little girls who never made it to Glendale Road – because of 19 evil men and a government distracted by less important things.
Then I went out onto Constitution Avenue, where, across from the museum, a bus labeled “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” had just parked.
By: Dana Milbank, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, September 2, 2011
Koch Industries Lobbying Aggressively To Allow Safety Loopholes At Chemical Sites At Risk Of Terrorist Attacks
One of the largest private companies in the country, Koch Industries, is fighting tooth and nail against regulations aimed at protecting the United States from a terrorist attack on chemical plants, according to a new report. Since 9/11, homeland security officials have worked to establish rules for top chemical producers to ensure that major American plants identify vulnerabilities and shore up potential risks. However, the safety rules are costly, and as Greenpeace reveals in a study released today, Koch has used its influence in Congress to loosen enforcement on its own sprawling network of chemical facilities.
There are two bills that deal with industrial chemical safety standards and terrorism prevention. One bill, the Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standard (CFATS), will “exempt most facilities and actually prohibit the authority of Department of Homeland Security to require safer processes.” Another bill, the Continuing Chemical Facilities Antiterrorism Security Act (CCFASA), closes security loopholes and provides authorities the power to enforce the law on chemical manufacturers. Koch has pushed for an extension of CFATS and has unambiguously lobbied to kill the CCFASA bill.
John Aloysius Farrell, Ben Wieder and Evan Bush, reporters for iWatch News, have covered the issue and note the proximity of Koch’s most dangerous facilities to large population centers:
– An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
– A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
– A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
– And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.
Koch’s campaign donations appear closely aligned with their anti-terrorism prevention lobbying. For instance, Rep. Dan Lungren (R-CA), the lead author of the flawed CFATS extension, blocked amendments to the bill that would “require facilities to asses their ability to convert to safer chemical processes, close regulatory loopholes, and involve non-management level workers in the chemical security process.” Lungren has accepted over $22,000 from Koch-related campaign donations.
By: Lee Fang, Think Progress, August 24, 2011
To the anti-union governors, the Tea Partyers, the whiner down the street who is convinced that everyone in the public sector enjoys a high salary and benefits for doing a cushy job, let us consider the government worker whose effort we have witnessed in the past week.
Let’s start with all the career intelligence staffers—and this includes those who worked under the Bush administration—who have been looking for clues for a decade to chase down and capture or kill Osama bin Laden. These include people who may have had small successes that led to last week’s big success. Or they may have had enormous successes we don’t even know about: Who can say how many major terrorist attacks our teams at the CIA, the Department of Homeland Security, the White House, and the Pentagon have averted through good intelligence work? They can’t say. It would endanger their work. And when people complain about what they do—or don’t do—they just have to suck it up and keep quiet, lest they tip off terrorists.
There are some pretty high-level government workers to thank—President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. First, kudos to Obama for offering Clinton the job at State after a bruising and testy primary fight. Kudos to Clinton, as well, for accepting it. Being in government service, at any level, means setting aside personal gripes for the sake of the public. They both did that. And if Clinton had a problem with the United States going into Pakistan to get bin Laden—an idea she questioned during the primary campaign—she surely got over it, and presumably was deeply involved in the diplomatic gymnastics required before and after the raid.
And how about the Navy SEALs, who are, after all, government workers as well? They conducted a brilliant surgical strike on the most wanted man in the world, and we will likely never know their names, never be able to approach them on the street just to say thanks. They’re used to that; they are, I imagine, OK with that. Service isn’t about personal aggrandizement or fame. It’s about doing your job, sometimes anonymously.
And underneath these teams are the support staff who helped the intelligence workers and high-ranking officials and military people do their jobs. They, too, helped make this mission happen.
To the antigovernment forces who repeatedly ask the (hopefully) rhetorical question, “What good is government? Name me one government program that has worked.” Of course, we can start with roads and bridges, public libraries, Social Security, public education, and a raft of other items. But for those who can’t even see the value in those public works, we have the teams that worked for a decade, over two administrations, to get bin Laden. This is what your government does, and it was carried out by government workers. They deserve thanks—not derision.
By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and Worl Report, May 9, 2011
Conservatives have attempted to credit George W. Bush for President Barack Obama’s success in killing Osama bin Laden in various ways, from exaggerating the role of so-called “enhanced interrogation techniques” to praising Bush’s unsuccessful seven year attempt to do so.
Today, Ross Douthat offers the latest version of this argument: That killing Bin Laden constitutes “the most visible proof” so far of Bush-Obama continuity in matters of national security:
The death of Osama bin Laden, in a raid that operationalized Bush’s famous “dead or alive” dictum, offered the most visible proof of this continuity. But the more important evidence of the Bush-Obama convergence lay elsewhere, in developments from last week that didn’t merit screaming headlines, because they seemed routine rather than remarkable.
This is an odd formulation that ignores that the hunt for bin Laden predated the Bush administration — remember that conservatives accused President Bill Clinton of “wagging the dog” when authorizing missile strikes against al Qaeda in the midst of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. Yet Douthat does not praise Clinton in making this argument about “continuity,” because doing so would acknowledge that any president, regardless of party, would regard it as part of his duty to defend American citizens from terrorism.
While there are indeed many examples of Obama continuing Bush-era policies to the frustration of liberals, killing bin Laden is not one of them. Rather, Obama’s focus on bin Laden represents a departure from his predecessor, who had decided shortly after 9/11 that bin Laden was “just a person who’s been marginalized,” just a small part of a much larger battle. As Michael Hirsh wrote last week, Obama rejected the Bush approach that “conflated all terror threats from al-Qaida to Hamas to Hezbollah,” replacing it with “with a covert, laserlike focus on al-Qaida and its spawn.”
During the 2008 election, Bush mocked Obama for asserting he would target bin Laden if he was hiding in Pakistan. GOP presidential candidate John McCain attacked Obama as “confused and inexperienced” for saying so.” It is a bit rich to regard the results of an operation that Bush and McCain would have opposed as “continuity” with the prior administration. There are a number of disturbing continuities between Bush and Obama on national security, but the singular focus on bin Laden isn’t one of them.
What is notable however, is that the major distinction between Obama and Bush that has formed the basis of GOP criticism of Obama — the President’s rejection of torture — has proven so decisively wrongheaded. Conservatives attempting to attribute successfully killing bin Laden to torture are merely attempting to take credit for what President Bush pointedly failed to do. Far from yielding the necessary intelligence, the two al Qaeda suspects who were waterboarded pointedly resisted identifying the courier whose activities lead to the U.S. discovering Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. The pro-torture argument ignores the obvious — that if torture was so effective, bin Laden would have been dead long ago. Bin Laden was found through years of painstaking intelligence gathering, not through the barbarous methods supported by many Bush apologists.
One cannot discount how shattering the Obama administration’s killing of Bin Laden has been to the self-image of conservatives who have convinced themselves of that the fight against al Qaeda hinges not just on torture, but on how many times the president says the word “terrorism,” or on Obama’s refusal to engage in juvenile expressions of American toughness.
While we’re far from the moment where terrorism ceases to be a threat, what torture apologists fear most now is a future in which al Qaeda is destroyed without the U.S. embracing the war-on-terror “dark side” that’s become central to their identity. Indeed, having rejected torture, Obama has nevertheless lead the country to its greatest victory in the fight against al Qaeda.
By: Adam Serwer, The Washington Post-The Plum Line, May 9, 2011