We’re still in the shadow of where those towers ought to be.
If you want proof, consider what President Obama was pushing for until last night. A Middle Eastern country with chemical weapons, using them against a civilian population, with documented proof, and an extremely limited response involving virtually no risk of American life. Hell, even the French were on-side. And yet, overwhelmingly, the country says no. Part of that is down to Obama Derangement on the right, which even now is pivoting back toward “ATTACK NOW” ever since the vote was put on hold in favor of the Russian initiative. But part of it is just war fatigue – we’ve been down this precise road ten years ago. With more boots on the ground and less proof of the weapons. And it came an absolute cropper.
I don’t think we could have gone into Iraq without September 11. Afghanistan was necessary – we were attacked, the leadership of our attackers was in Afghanistan, the Afghan government wouldn’t give them up, and quite frankly we should have been arming the Northern Alliance long before the Taliban took control of the entire country in the mid-90s. I remember hearing about their final push on NPR and thinking “this cannot possibly end well,” and I was right.
But once we broke the seal, there was no stopping Team Bush from trying again. I don’t know how much of it was some sort of Freudian fixation to out-do Daddy, but we dropped everything in Afghanistan to hit Iraq, which is why we’re still in Afghanistan and why it took until 2011 to kill Osama bin Laden. And by the time it was over, the public didn’t want to go to war ever again. It’s not the best reason to be anti-war – because you’re tired of doing it – but it’ll do, by and large.
Because that’s the other legacy of September 11: because of Iraq, we’re sick and tired of intervening in the world. Guilt over inaction in Rwanda spurred action in the Balkans, but very few people were behind our air support of the revolution in Libya, and nobody has said a mumbling word about involving ourselves in Egypt, and it’s been two years of looking anxiously at Syria but Ed Earl Brown sure as hell doesn’t want to send troops. Pundits talk about “neo-isolationist” Americans, when in fact they probably just want to shut the window, pull the blinds, and stay out of other people’s business for a while, for better or worse.
The one reason this would change is if we got hit again, on our own soil. And Obama knows this, and this is probably why the NSA chugged right along uninterrupted, doing the same thing they’d done ever since Rob Watson was interviewing me on a Georgetown street corner for BBC’s coverage of the Total Information Awareness initiative. And Obama let it go on, because he knew that some people will piss and moan about privacy (in some cases, even rightly so) but that another September 11 would be catastrophic, so best not to take the chance.
Twelve years on, that might just be the legacy of September 11 and its aftermath: “best not to take the chance.”