11 September 2011

In hindsight, what did 9-11 mean?

Ten years later what are the enduring legacies of 9-11?

The heroism of the crew of Flight 93 and the first responders who rushed into a burning skyscraper. The Afghan War that is still with us, and for twisted reasons particular to the misguided mindset of George W. Bush, the Iraq War. The marginalization of the Taliban, the death of Osama bin Laden (followed just weeks later by the only dimly related deaths of many members of the unit that killed him, shot down from a helicopter over Afghanistan), the deaths of at least half a dozen people claimed to be al-Queda number twos. New skyscsrapers are under construction to replace the old ones at ground zero.

The intelligence community budget has soared to $80 billion a year and probably hundreds of thousands of people working in it. We have the Department of Homeland Security, the Patriot Act (which doesn't actually say what popular culture believes it does, the more controversial parts of the war on terror go far beyond the Patriot Act), a chilling and dubious extraordinary rendition and enemy combatant doctrine and the thin lingering doctrinal commitment to those doctrines carried over by President Obama in the absence of Congressional support at Guantanmo Bay, dark plots of torture and abuse in secret cells where waterboarding was conducted and prisoners died from abuse and in the humiliation of Abu Grahib prison in Iraq - although the secret terror prison network and regime of torture was far smaller when real information came out that most on both sides had assumed. We have the continue legal black hole that is Baghram Airforce Base in Afganistan. We have an evolving military concept of targeted killings by drones that General Petraeus has been appointed as head of the CIA to manage.

We have the surprising fact that the last decade has not been riddled with terrorist acts related to 9-11 in the United States. We have new air travel security (we've just shed a decade of useless security level color codes) of dubious value and the TSA - the largest expansion of the federal government civilian workforce in recent memory. We have a variety of federal grant purchased law enforcement resources that were ill accounted for, are all over the United States and have negligable relationships to real terrorism. We have a lot of good scholarship that shows that neither military tribunals or torture are effective in dealing with terrorism and a lot of bad politics that is ignoring that scholarship.

Ten years later, the ominous threat of "Islamo-Fasicism" has been undermined by a wave of democratic reform across most of the Islamic world. It is not complete, but it is there. Ten years later, we still haven't come to terms with the fact that Saudi Arabia has very little to recommend it as an ally and is at the heart of the violent extremism that threatens global human rights and peace. Ten years later we still don't collective understood what experts have been saying all alone - that opposition to Americans and the West in the Islamic world has as much to do with our support with authoritarian Islamic regimes as it does to do with American support for Israel. We have forgotten the soft power that comes from support for democracy, liberty and justice for all.

We mourn the 9-11 dead and the roughly equal number who have died in military adventuries seen by those who advanced them as avenging it. The litigation arising out of 9-11 itself is pretty much concluded and left little more than a ripple of impact. The Pentagon building has been restored to almost its prior incarnation. Tom Clancy, who wrote books predicting terrorist attacks similar in targets, methods and national consciousness impact to 9-11 managed to escape any finger pointing. The military itself has had to refocus from Cold War style conflicts to asymmetric threats, a task that it has not taken to gracefully, exacting an immense toll in treasure with its strategic indecision.

The Iraq War has come and it has also gone. Support for continued involvement at current levels in Afghanistan is waning. Early decisive victories in both wars quickly evolved into prolonged counterinsurgencies.

The world changed, but not as much as we might have expected.


Dave Barnes said...

a reduction n basic rights for US citizens

Andrew Oh-Willeke said...

I'm not entirely sure if there was a long run reduction in basic rights for U.S. citizens. Some really egregious things were done in the name of anti-terrorism for the first few years and there have been a few bad precedents in the courts. But, I think that for the most part the hysteria has slipped away and that there isn't that much of a long term shift in how law enforcement and national security agencies actually conduct themselves, at least in the U.S. itself.

The biggest outstanding issue is the way that the war on terror is conducted abroad, particularly the CIA war in Afghanistan.