Hard to believe it’s been a decade since America was dealt what could have been a wake-up call for the ages. Hard to believe, that is, unless you’ve been on the receiving end of the brutal and often absurd U.S. response to those horrific attacks on New York and Washington. For the stricken and stunned victims of al-Qaeda’s wrath, the terror was over after a few hellishly harrowing hours. For the tens of millions of Afghans, Iraqis and others who have been subjected to a seemingly endless U.S. war, every day of the last decade has been filled with interminable terror. More than 100,000 innocent men, women and children have perished either directly from American bombs and bullets or indirectly as a result of the violent chaos caused by the destabilization visited upon multiple nations by the War
on of Terror. That’s dozens of times as many people as bin Laden’s jihadists murdered on 9/11. And what have we gained from all that slaughter? How has our nation benefited from the more than $1,250,000,000,000 and more than 6,000 U.S. servicemen and women spent invading and occupying Muslim countries, one of which (Afghanistan) is known as “the graveyard of empires?” Has the War on Terror made America more or less safe from the threat of future terror attacks?
America has earned scant return on the staggering amount of blood and treasure it has invested in fighting what is now the longest war in its history. For all the talk of spreading democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq, both countries have a woeful record on security, human rights and freedom. Ethnic and religious slaughter, torture and random violence continue to plague both nations. The rights of women and of religious and sexual minorities are shamefully repressed in both as well. Corruption plagues Iraq and absolutely dominates Afghanistan, which is now one of the most corrupt nations on the face of the earth. As for terrorism, the Taliban flourish in Afghanistan and the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has all but certainly spawned a whole new generation of baby bin Ladens who will one day seek their revenge against the country that caused so much bloodshed and devastation in their beloved homeland.
The big winners in the War on Terror are the corporations that have made billions of dollars from the death and destruction of war. The arms makers and the oil takers have seen record profits over the last ten years, even as tens of millions of ordinary Americans suffer though the worst economic crisis in 80 years. Many of these firms are intimately connected with the U.S. government. Many of them are or have been run by the very same people that were instrumental in waging the War on Terror. Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice (Halliburton and Chevron) come instantly to mind, but there have been others as well.
Another beneficiary of America’s wars has been Iran. The fall of Saddam Hussein and his replacement with a Shi’a- dominated government has been a dream-come-true for the Shi’a mullahs in Tehran. Rid of their longtime nemesis, Iranian power has greatly expanded in the region and Iran has been a meddlesome force that has stymied U.S. hegemony in Iraq. The absence of an Iraqi counterweight to Iranian power has also increased the likelihood of conflict between Iran and the U.S. and/or Israel in the near future.
More important than what we have gained is what we have lost from our nation’s incessant war-waging. We have lost thousands of young men and women killed fighting not for freedom but for strategic and economic gain. Tens of thousands more have been maimed; hundreds of thousands more suffer from mental health issues as a result of the horrors of war they’ve witnessed. We have lost the respect and sympathy of most of the world, as well as the credibility and moral authority we once enjoyed. America’s slaughter of tens of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Yemen; the concentration camp at Guantanamo Bay (in which the majority of detainees have been innocent boys and men, by our own admission); the torture, murder and unlawful kidnapping and imprisonment of untold numbers of terrorism suspects (many innocent); the imprisonment and sexual abuse of female detainees and the horrific wartime atrocities committed by our troops have irreparably stained our nation’s reputation abroad. The Orwellian erosion of our civil liberties– the spying on everyday Americans, the stifling of dissent, the warrantless wiretapping, the persecution of Muslim-Americans, the very un-patriotic Patriot Act and much, much more– has sullied our democracy here at home.
We’ve also lost ground economically as a result of the more than $1,250,000,000,000 spent fighting the War on Terror (much of it on a Chinese credit card) and the $700,000,000,000 or so spent annually on “defense.” Such staggering sums are good news for what President Eisenhower dubbed as (and warned against) the military-industrial complex, but they are very bad news for everyday Americans who’ve seen spending on much-needed social services slashed year after year. As a result of our grossly misplaced priorities, the gap between rich and poor has widened to Third World proportions. Around 50,000,000 Americans– that’s one in six of us– are poor. Around the same number struggle with hunger. More than 35% of black children are living in poverty. Unemployment has soared. Millions have lost their homes. Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. But there’s always more money for war.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all about America’s response to 9/11 is that it hasn’t made us any safer. Far from it. Sure, we haven’t been attacked since then. But our nation’s actions have surely created legions of future terrorists that will one day seek their revenge for all the death and devastation wrought by a decade of invasion, occupation, slaughter and humiliation. Iraq had nothing to do with anti-American terrorism before Bush’s invasion, but it sure does now. And for damn good reason. On the home front, our shameful back-shelving of our most cherished civil liberties has not strengthened but rather weakened our democracy. As Benjamin Franklin said, “any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.” Ironically, the citizens of world’s most powerful nation feel the most insecure– just the way our (mis) leaders want us to feel so that they can continue to justify spending hundreds of billions of additional dollars on wars while tens of millions of us go without health insurance or enough to eat.
America cannot bomb its way out of terrorism. But it sure can bomb its way into it. That’s exactly what we’ve been doing for the last ten years, and even though the next 9/11 has not yet happened, it certainly will, sure as Seattle showers. And when the next attack does occur on these shores, it could very well make the last one look like the ’93 World Trade Center bombing (remember that?) did after 9/11. Of course, there will be millions of Americans who will wonder why anyone would want to visit such horrors upon such a benevolent nations such as ours. Our (mis) leaders will rant about how the terrorists “hate our freedoms.” They do not. They hate our hypocrisy. They hate that we preach freedom while actively supporting governments from Rabat to Riyadh that deny freedom to their people. They hate our lopsided support for Israel, a country that is ethnically cleansing the Palestinian people. They hate the Guantanamos, the Abu Ghraibs, the Fallujahs, the Nisoor Squares, the Kill Teams, the extraordinary renditions, the rapes, the torture, the banning of mosques, the vilification of Muslims and the never-ending onslaught against Muslim countries that has created countless widows and orphans.
If one country did all of this and more to your people, you would probably hate it too.
September 11, 2001 was a golden opportunity for our nation to take a long, honest look in the mirror and humbly change direction for the benefit of not only America but the whole world. Instead, we predictably lashed out like a wounded beast with results that exceeded Osama bin Laden’s wildest expectations. Bin Laden might be dead, but in the long run, his camp has fared better than ours. For, the events of 9/11 have certainly accelerated the inevitable decline that all empires must eventually face. We learned nothing from the awful tragedy of ten years ago today, and that is the greatest shame of all. In choosing to learn nothing, we have further sealed our fate. And we have nobody to blame for it but ourselves.