Now, me, I’m not big on anniversaries, not even my own birthday. Just not caring, is all. When I was a kid I looked forward to my birthday, sure – presents! – but as I got older, for a variety of reasons, I grew out of it. There’s no day I set aside for celebration or remembrance of anything anymore, and that’s just me. I’m not against this kind of thing but it doesn’t resonate with me.
That’s why the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks has come and gone these blogging years without comment from me, although 9/11 marked perhaps the darkest days in my life and set in motion changes in me which were, for me, profound. It’s in the days leading up to the 9/11 anniversary that people reflect on that day and how we move forward. E.J. Dionne Jr. has phoned it in with his September 7th, 2011 column, “Time to leave 9/11 behind”.
As the title promises, the first line delivers:
“After we honor the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we need to leave the day behind.”
It’s a familiar refrain, one I’ve read from Liberal pundits since, well, shortly after September 11, 2001. We shouldn’t use this as an excuse to make war, we’ve gone off-track, we need to understand that we were attacked because we’re hated, and with good reason, we need to make amends so the world will love us again and we’ll all live together in the world with harmony and respect for cultural diversity, and then unicorns will fart rainbows, blah blah blah, blah blah, blah.
Although the Liberal MSM never stopped airing the pictures and video of the planes hitting the towers (look, big explosion!), even in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 they wouldn’t air the pictures or video of the jumpers. Those were the victims above the inferno in the towers who jumped to their certain death rather than stay and succumb to the smoke and flame. What hell that must have been for those office workers that the better option was to jump from the top floors of a skyscraper. Not a few, either; surviving rescue workers described having to be exceedingly cautious when entering or exiting the towers to avoid being crushed by a random person falling from the sky, and how unnerving it was to hear the bodies thumping on the sidewalk every couple of minutes. Why the media embargo? While not graphic, they were horrifying, and they angried up the blood. Americans were, by and large, ready to unleash our war machine, but already the imploring chorus of restraint was stirring from the anti-war left, who saw us as having gotten our just desserts – Blame America First.
It only took a half a year or so for the focus to shift, as the Lefties knew that this war business wasn’t going to treat them well. Modern Liberal Democrats are not the leaders you want in charge in a time of war, and they knew it, so on the whole they thought this 9/11 thing was taking domestic and foreign policy in all kinds of wrong directions. Like hamsters running the wheel for hours on end, they get tired and rest for a spell but soon enough they’re back at it. It’s their hobby horse and they’re not getting off it, because we can’t change policy until you people get over the hurt. So, like, it’s sad & all, but can’t you just leave it in the past? Besides which, you deserved it.
“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.”
I’ll refrain from rebutting the arguments that Dionne neglects to make himself, but suffice it to say, he’s wrong, wrong, wrong. We learned valuable lessons from 9/11, and perhaps not well enough, and our response has left us stronger, not weaker. Hey, if Dionne won’t make the case against, I’m don’t have to make the case for.
“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.”
I suppose it would be unfair to point out that Dionne, perhaps tellingly, focuses on how we choose to “use the event as we want to use it”, because in essence, I agree with this paragraph. Let’s just say, for now, that E.J. Dionne and I disagree on all the particulars.
“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.”
Long have the Liberal-Left fervently implored us not to take 9/11 so hard. Let me start hitting a couple of the specifics here:
First of all, it’s arguable whether we place 9/11 “at the center of our national consciousness”, but if that’s the case then it is so for reasons which are far beyond the ability of anyone to simply wish it away. 9/11 will gradually diminish in importance as time stretches the distance between the now and then, but what Dionne and his ilk have either never grasped or simply wanted to make not so, is that it was an event on the order of magnitude of Pearl Harbor. It is both tiresome and insulting to hear from Dionne et al that we should just get over it. Not happening, not anytime soon.
Then there’s the part where he acknowledges that “Al Qaeda is a dangerous enemy”, but “our country and the world were never threatened by the caliphate of its mad fantasies”. I don’t think it’s necessary to belabor the obvious contradiction here, as these two ideas are mutually exclusive. What Dionne means – but apparently lacks the skill to put clearly – is that Al Qaeda will never succeed in reestablishing a caliphate. It’s either clumsiness or intentionally intimating that, in some sense, we are really threatened by Al Qaeda.
In the sense that Al Qaeda will never succeed in their mad fantasies of a worldwide caliphate, Dionne and I agree. I wouldn’t be entirely sure of their chances for a regional caliphate, nor would I take off the table the possibility of various other states in the being absorbed into the orbit of this yet-to-be established caliphate. At any rate, I wouldn’t want to establish odds, as I think they’re pretty long on even the most modest of their goals.
This is an entirely separate question from whether Al Qaeda is an ongoing threat. They are. A diminished, less capable threat, not to be underestimated, but pursued to the ends of the Earth and exterminated wherever they are, no matter how long it takes. Further, Al Qaeda is but one organization of many that are like-minded and equally dastardly. The point I’m driving at is that what Dionne wants is for us to go back to 9/10, and I’m here to tell you this a mad fantasy of Liberal-Leftists. They’ve probably got a better chance of realizing their fantasy than Al Qaeda does for realizing theirs.
“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.”
I presume Dionne is preferentially giving shout-outs to the Army and Marine Corps based on casualty figures, but really, all of our armed service members have borne an extraordinary burden. One of the lessons we should have learned from the military engagements of the last decade is that our military is inarguably too small to do this without having to resort to extended tours of combat duty. Whether you support the war(s) or not, the presumption that we have the ability to fight such wars can no longer be taken at face value – or be relied upon as a part of our defense posture. If the possibility of going to war to defend, say, Taiwan or South Korea, is off the table because it would outstrip our capacity to effectively prosecute that third front, then that’s an excellent argument for augmenting the size of our armed forces because weakness invites attack. That lesson was, alas, not learned.
Still, it’s worth noting that Dionne doesn’t go the route of infantilizing our armed forces by talking about them as if they were children forced to go to war, or as bloodthirsty killbot murderers leaving a wake of devastation and suffering. I wish more antiwar folks were as decent as Dionne is here.
Hey, I wish for a lot of things.
“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.”
Here Dionne constructs a straw man but doesn’t even bother to knock it down. Let me set it on fire by pointing out that one of the problems with using law enforcement to prosecute a war is that law enforcement is, by varying degrees, reactive rather than proactive. Without probable cause, how to apprehend suspects? How to obtain sufficient evidence to obtain the issuance of arrest warrants, and under what standard of law do we operate – ours, or the laws of a foreign country? To what degree to we constrain and expose our law officers by working with a foreign government in the investigation? By way of example, let me point out that when it was determined that Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, the Bush Administration demanded he be turned over to us. The Taliban responded that, no, they would be doing no such thing, but they would consider extradition if we could present a case to an international court of law, and besides which, they had no idea where he was, although they would be happy to pass along any message we might wish to send him.
[Go back and read the rest of that last sentence now that you’ve stopped laughing at how the Taliban were demanding we persuade an international court of law.]
Further, law enforcement is subject to the legal constraints of a civil society rather than an effectively lawless badlands or an actual rootin’ tootin’ battlefield. In that kind of environment it is impractical to the point of being an impossibility to maintain the integrity of a chain of custody for physical evidence, and even the problematical nature of the reading of Miranda rights makes the notion of a legal battlespace, quite frankly, bizarre. Proverbially speaking, it’s bringing a knife to a gunfight, or in this case, an arrest warrant to a gunfight. OK, the FBI carries guns, but up against RPGs, AK-47s, IEDs and, well, you get the picture.
“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.”
What is obvious to Dionne in Kerry’s statement is left unstated, and it deserves to be fleshed out. I won’t do his work for him, but I will point out that intelligence gathering and law enforcement operations do not preclude warfighting as a means of confronting enemy conspirators and combatants. For a couple hundred years now, the U.S. has used all of these tools in the prosecution of war.
The disconnect between these two ideas – those of Kerry and W – is that W was responding to the unstated premise in Kerry’s statement: that we can use intelligence gathering and law enforcement to mitigate the threat of Al Qaeda without waging war.
The political disharmony Dionne laments is a direct result of the disagreement between these two ideological camps over this question. What’s more, that disagreement was fueled by the political calculus of Democrats who parlayed an issue of national security in order to get more political power, which is simply unconscionable.
I’m sure Liberals will take exception to that statement, but let me preempt their howls by asking this question: how else do you explain the promises of candidate Obama, which were very much in alignment with the spirit of anti-war Liberals, to the actions of POTUS Obama? From the continuance of warrantless wiretaps, to the dramatic expansion of drone airstrikes, and the extension of the Patriot Act, to the Libyan war, and so on, it seems obvious that POTUS Obama has fallen far short of the standards he set for himself. I’m not trying to use these reversals as a cudgel against POTUS Obama, but rather, to point out that, in reality, as POTUS Obama either knew or learned, our country is not well-served by prosecuting a war as if it were a matter solely for intelligence gathering and law enforcement.
While I’m at it, let me also point out how disingenuous the Left has been over these past years. Yeah, yeah, when W was in office, the Constitution was shredded, he thought himself a king, the republic was doomed, and America as we knew it was being destroyed by the evil Republicans, damn those soulless ghouls. The Left marched by the tens of thousands, they did, to stop the wars and take back America! When they did take back America, or at least the government – which, surprisingly, still existed, and still somehow allowed free elections – Democrats won all three branches of government and those very same policies were met with… muted grumbling. Only the far left still seems to be waving their pitchforks, but mainstream Liberals have given their guy a pass.
“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.”
I’ll defer to Dionne that “the lost decade” is a phrase used with some frequency in Liberal circles, but that phrase has no currency on the Right. At any rate, American strength is not dependent on the false choice Dionne presents. Our economy must be strong in order to have a strong national defense, and our national defense can only be strong if our economy is strong. We can’t have one without the other, but regardless of economic circumstances in our national defense we must wage war on those who wage war against us. It always pays to destroy our enemies, even though it costs us.
“This is not “isolationism.” It is a common sense that was pushed aside by the talk of “glory” and “honor,” […]”
… aaaand let me stop Dionne right here and call out this BS. Glory and honor were never used by the Bush Administration to justify warmaking; this is a shameless manufacturing of a lie to serve Liberal dissent. We did not go to war in Afghanistan or Iraq for glory, period. We did not go to war against Afghanistan or Iraq for honor, either. We did not go to war against Afghanistan or Iraq for treasure either, but I digress. Dionne would like to portray hawks and neocons as warmongers seeking glory and honor, but Dionne forgets that these are the facile accusations of the Liberal-Left, now so ingrained as to be taken as self-evident truths. Recall what I said above, about how accusations against their political opposition are first taken as a possibility, then as probably true, and from there a certainty.
“[…] by utopian schemes to transform the world by abruptly reordering the Middle East — and by our fears.”
Here Dionne is alluding to the neocon ambition of upsetting the apple carts of the undemocratic Middle East dictatorships and facilitating the emergence of representative republics. It’s a shame that POTUS Bush largely gave up on that ambition in his second term, but it’s somewhat encouraging to see the possibility of that dream coming to fruition in some parts of the Middle East today as a part of what’s being called the Arab Spring. You might think that current events would have Dionne thinking twice about calling such a scheme utopian, but, well, apparently not.
“While we worried that we would be destroyed by terrorists, we ignored the larger danger of weakening ourselves by forgetting what made us great.”
And what made us great? Glory? Honor? I’d like to address this statement but as it stands I can’t make heads or tails of it and I’m not about to flesh out his argument that isn’t made so that I can rebut it.
“We have no alternative from now on but to look forward and not back.”
We can do both, unless you can’t walk and chew gum at the same time. Of course, Dionne has been arguing that we shouldn’t look back, not that we can’t, so this statement is simply empty rhetoric, and it’s just so very lame, but it does set up his final paragraph:
“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.”
It’s nice that Dionne concluded his piece with a quote from that venerated Republican Lincoln, whom we all hold dear to our hearts, but the conclusion of his piece ends up right where it began, with Dionne lazily waving his arms, chanting, “Forget, forget, forget.”
So let me sum up my fisking with this:
9/11: Never Forget.