Tuesday, September 11, 2007

9/11 -- 6 Years Later

On the 6th anniversary of the events of September 11, 2001, the American public is deeply divided. In the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attack on the United States, virtually the entire nation, excepting a handful of peaceniks who prefer capitulation over war in every instance and the blame America first crowd, supported, at least in theory, an aggressive response against Islamic militants who opposed not merely the United States, but civilization itself. Whether such resolve remains is unclear, as the nation has divided over the question of whether the war for Iraq is an extension of that against terrorism, or a detour from it.

The first major military target following the 9/11 bombings was an obvious one: Afghanistan, in the aftermath of its war with the Soviet Union, had become a state run by terrorists and a haven for Osama Bin-Laden. Once American forces had done much to destroy key al-Qaeda targets in that nation, the eyes of the administration turned to Iraq.

The notion that the Bush administration went into Iraq solely on the basis of its possession of weapons of mass destruction is widespread now, but the argument was never quite that simple. There were numerous reasons, military and humanitarian, for concern about Iraq, with the possession by a madman of weapons of mass destruction being the most compelling. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein at one time possessed such weapons, as he used them on his own people. Nonetheless, even though the presence of such weapons was never the sole reason for invading Iraq, it certainly was a predominant one, and the failure to find them in the aftermath of the invasion was a major embarrassment for the United States.

American resolve in the war effort has been softened further as the battle has become more protracted and the American military has been asked to do something that it is not typically called upon to do. Militaries exist to defeat enemies, not to build nations, but policing and rebuilding a country is what the military has been asked to do over much of the last 4 years. In addition, much of the country was shocked by the utopianism of President Bush's second inaugural address, in which he spoke of "the ultimate goal of ending tyranny." Many Americans -- including your humble correspondent -- have long supported the importance of the United States as a beacon of freedom -- or as a city on a hill, to use the long standing metaphor. However, saying that American force and influence can be used to end tyranny takes that notion much further as an ideal than reality can support.

All of this brings us to the present, at which more Americans seem focused on the testimony of a General before Congress than on flying flags and expressing patriotic sentiments. There is a certain lack of realism on both sides of this debate -- supporters of the war insisting that the surge is working, but not realizing that they are sharing the same optimistic thoughts that they have been claiming for the last several years; opponents of the war claiming that we can just walk away from the war, without recognizing any cause for worry over American self-interest or humanitarian concerns as a result of that precipitous action.

The choices we now face are difficult, for imminent victory will not happen, and failure is still not an option. As the American public, and its political leaders, review those choices, we will learn much about whether true resolve remains in a world that will regrettably continue to be shaped by the realities made manifest on September 11, 2001.


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