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Reflections on a Decade

I’ve been tinkering with this piece for a week now, writing and deleting paragraphs, piling on links, reading what everyone else is saying, hoping some glorious insight would descend from the heavens (assuming my glorious insight bill is paid up). But the more I think about 9/11 and the decade that has followed, the more I keep circling back to one thought:

We are still here.

Ten years have passed. Osama bin Laden and most of his henchmen are dead. Before he went, he was reduced to a bitter little man clutching a blanket and watching his past glories on TV. Al-Qaeda is broken, probably never to return in anything like its former form. Saddam Hussein is dead. Gaddafi, if not dead already, is out of power. Iran is cut off and barely clinging to power.

But we are still here.

9/11 was act of unmitigated evil. You can read Goldberg or Hitchens if you need a reminder of the vile nihilism calling itself Islam that was Al-Qaeda. I’m currently reading, somewhat belatedly, The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, which chronicles the rise of Al-Queda. This was not, as some would have you believe, a movement of oppressed peoples yearning for justice. It was lead by wealthy privileged narcissistic ideologues who persuaded young, disaffected young men to commit evil acts. Those men were not oppressed by the West, but by the medieval misogynistic cultures in which they lived (most of whom still think we faked 9/11). They delivered a terrible act of violence that killed “only” 3000 because we — the American people — responded so beautifully. The towers were evacuated in record time — almost everyone below where the planes hit survived. The first responders fell saving as many as they could. The passengers on United 93 made the first counter-attack in the War on Terror. American Muslims turned out to be our strongest allies rather than a fifth column. And later attacks — the undie bomber, the shoe bomber, the Times Square bombers — were foiled by alert citizens, not our elaborate security state. Instead of descending into chaos, we pulled together and moved on.

We are still here.

There are those who will tell you that our survival is because of the heroic leadership of George W. Bush. Perhaps. I for one agree with Anne Applebaum that, on a political level, we did over-react, did spend too much money, did sacrifice too much of our freedom. The War on Terror is a $100 billion a year expense that mostly serves to catch drug dealers. It has entailed two wars that, when you count benefits for 150,000 injured veterans, will cost us over $4 trillion. We’re treated like criminals when we try to board an airplane. We treat peaceful tourists like suspects. And the Patriot Act, with all its glaring flaws, retains bipartisan support.

But. We are still here. I think it’s absurd to argue, as Sullivan does, that bin Laden got what he wanted. It’s impossible to know what was going through that lunatic’s mind at the time, but I doubt that he envisioned, ten years later, being dead and irrelevant. That we have made mistakes along the way — some of them very costly — is not the same as him having won. We just made our inevitable victory more difficult and more costly than it had to be. But in the wealth fountain that is the US economy, even a $4 trillion mistake, assuming it was a mistake, is not something we can’t absorb. We will claw back our civil liberties, eventually. When I look around, I don’t see a police state. At least, not until I’m in an airport. I see a country that still argues, fights, debates, yells, screams … and, in the end, grudgingly does the right thing.

This is way of America. We never act precisely the way we should. We make mistakes. We go down blind allies. We, as Churchill observed, exhaust every other possibility before doing the right thing. But we gradually, fumblingly, eventually stumble in the direction we need to go.

We’re still in the process of turning back from the edge. The economy has our attention for the moment, but the watchdogs are ready to move when we are. The ACLU, God bless them, just gave Obama a stinging rebuke on civil liberties. Libertarians, liberals and conservatives continue to grumble about the TSA and the Patriot Act. Even the Washington Post got into the act, documenting the gigantic intelligence industry we’ve built. Ken at Popehat runs down a list of reasons why we put up with TSA abuses which could be expanded to many aspects of the War on Terror. All are valid, but I would say the more important aspect is that Americans simply can’t be bothered, most of the time. Things have to reach a critical mass before we react and they haven’t yet. But they will. And when they do, the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out.

But despite all that, we are still here. When I think about the last decade, I will not think about living in fear of anyone. I will think about the spread of smartphones and tablets. I will think about the Red Sox and White Sox winning the World Series. I will think about my Packers and Steelers winning superbowls. I will think about the SEC dominating college football. I will think about Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter and the movies of Chris Nolan. I will especially think about having become a dad. I will think about the science I’ve done and the people I’ve been privileged to work with. I’ll think about Lee and how I miss his voice.

That’s America. That’s our strength. That is what is crumbling would-be empires. Because being rich and having fun is more appealing to human beings than blowing yourself up. And that I can look back after ten years and see all that tells me all I need to know.

Osama bin Laden failed. Al-Qaeda failed. All of the fanatics and monsters of the world have failed to even slow us down.

We are still here.

19 comments

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  1. West Virginia Rebel says:

    I’ll think of how we finally, finally got Bin Laden. I’ll also think of Lost, 24, American Idol, blogging, and how, for all our economic woes and the incompetency of the current administration, America is still where I’d rather be than just about anywhere else because we are still America.
    West Virginia Rebel recently posted..The Great Wealthy NorthMy Profile

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  2. CzarChasm says:

    Things have to reach a critical mass before we react and they haven’t yet. But they will. And when they do, the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out.

    I wish you would describe that carefully laid out path. Most Americans can’t even tell you the names of members to their states’ delegation to Congress. Hardly any could name all 9 Supreme Court Justices. Of course most of us could do both without much trouble, but this is a political blog populated mostly by folks old enough to have at least been taught something about civics and government in school. Not so sure that’s the case anymore.

    I do not mean to be personal here, but I find the tenor of your post to be nothing short of Pollyanna-ish. We are most decidedly not still here, and for many of the reasons which you raise, but gloss over, like the Patriot Act and all of its provisions that guarantee abuse and violations of rights. Like a president going into Libya and Pakistan without even consulting Congress, much less treating them as the equals the Constitution mandates them to be in going to war. Like lawmaking by fiat from the EPA, ATF and DEA. The Constitution is dead, it’s just not buried yet.

    But fear not Patriots! For the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out! We can’t videotape the police from our own front yards without getting arrested, but the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out! Police can beat and kill a mentally ill, homeless man while he screams for “Dad! Dad! Dad!” in front of dozens of onlookers who do nothing, but the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out! That is a link to the Kelly Thomas beating in Fullerton, CA in July of this year. I spared you the vid(s) that depict what the cops did to that kid in front of all those onlookers who did nothing, but there are plenty of related videos on that page that will show all the gory bloodletting our revered law enforcement officers are allowed to inflict on an all-too trusting public, and on an all-too regular basis. But according to the above post, we’re not living in a police state yet, and if/when we do, don’t worry because our path has already been laid out. Used to be if you got caught trying to catch a ride on a public bus without paying your fare you’d get arrested by Officer Friendly, charged with petty larceny and released on your OR to go to court and get fined $150 for a misdemeanor that wouldn’t even show up on a background check when you’re looking for a job. Now you get shot in the back 5 times by multiple cops, but this ain’t no police state, we’re still here and the path to recovering our liberty has already been carefully laid out!

    I could go on all night long with examples of police thuggery, and most of it for absolutely nothing but asserting your rights under the Constitution. Most of it based in no criminal activity whatsoever, not even trying to skip on a $2.00 bus fare.

    I am very interested in hearing about the path to which you refer Hal. I really am not a natural-born cynic. I learned my cynicism over years of watching the real world, and shedding the blinders that block the light of truth from being seen. But maybe I’ve missed this carefully laid out path. Maybe you can restore my sorely missed optimism for this country, and life in general living in it. It crossed my mind that you might be referring to a group mentality on par with our Founders, who pledged their treasure, their lives and their sacred honor as the path that subsequent generations traveled in liberty, but that can’t be. Americans today are soft, spoiled and way too dependent on the government to ever think about revolting against it, even if the collective spine for such a movement existed these days, which it doesn’t. So please describe the path. Name it, please. I could use a little optimism. But without a detailed defining of the path to which you refer, all I can say I saw here was another appearance by Pollyanna.

    CC

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  3. Hal_10000 says:

    The path laid is that we have people out there who have identified the specific things that are wrong with our approach and the alternatives. We have a handful of legislators who are staunch on this. We can not trust SCOTUS — never have been able to (unless Romney gets elected and appoints Napolitano or somebody). Fixing this will have to come from the legislative side. No one is interested right now because they’re worried about their jobs.

    The thing is, we’ve been done this road before. Under Lincoln, under Wilson, under FDR, under Johnson and Nixon. The pushback has taken time but it has always come, eventually.

    I think the big thing we need to fight right now is the idea that the goal is to have zero terrorism. That sets us up for infinite spending and civil liberties violations. And its especially since most terrorism is this country is of the domestic kind.

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  4. Seattle Outcast says:

    We can not trust SCOTUS — never have been able to (unless Romney gets elected and appoints Napolitano or somebody).

    Someone actually trusts “Big Sis” Napolitano? Seriously? She’s one of the biggest problems this country has at the moment. She should be in hiding – in South America – for the rest of her life.

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  5. Poosh says:

    Iran is cut off and barely clinging to power.

    I see no evidence of this at all.

    Also your inference that our enemies have ‘failed’ merely because “we’re” still here is profoundly wrong.

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  6. Jim says:

    I think he meant the other Napolitano.

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  7. CzarChasm says:

    Good God Almighty, “pushback” came against Lincoln, Wilson and FDR? In what form? Let’s look at a few tidbits of their respective histories…..

    Lincoln suspended Habeas Corpus and the Constitution. Here’s an excerpt of Lincoln the committed constistutional Statesman:

    Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable, a most sacred right – a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world. Nor is this right confined to cases in which the whole people of an existing government may choose to exercise it. Any portion of such people, that can, may revolutionize, and make their own of so much of the territory as they inhabit.

    — Abraham Lincoln January 12, 1848

    And here he is after TPTB got his mind right:

    No state, upon its own mere motion, can lawfully get out of the Union. Plainly, the central idea of secession, is the essence of anarchy. –Abraham Lincoln

    The pushback for his tyranny was what exactly? Was it also legislative in nature? The only result of Lincoln’s tyranny that I see is the 14th Amendment, which continues to serve to this day as the basis for the destruction of states’ rights through using its clauses to concentrate more power and authority in D.C. How is that pushback against Lincoln?

    There’s been pushback against Wilson? My God, thanks to him we have the Federal Reserve, the income tax and no one in Washington representing our individual states anymore. Because of the 17th Amendment, senators serve their own reelection interests instead of their states’ interests. And the “pushback” is demonstrated how exactly?

    FDR? F-freaking-DR? SSI has almost completed its Ponzi-scheme cycle by completely bankrupting this country!! How on Earth do you figure that ANY pushback against the progressives you named has taken place at all?

    Give a big hand to our guest speaker tonight ladies and gentlemen, Pollyanna is in da house.

    CC

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  8. Hal_10000 says:

    Andrew, yes.

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  9. Hal_10000 says:

    Is it? Al-Qaeda is a shadow of its former self with less than a couple hundred fighters and very limited capacity (modulo the threat the DHS is claiming right now). Right now, their primary havens are Pakistan and Yemen and even there, they are being gutted by Predator strikes. The wave of fundamentalism that was supposed to sweep the Middle East has not happened (yet).

    Part of this is informed by my current read and the dream that OBL had. They’re aren’t anywhere close to that.

    And Iran? Russia has cut off supplies to them. They’ve had to disperse their nuclear program and had numerous setbacks without a shot being fired (e.g., stuxnet). The country heaved with rebellion and has only been held on to by the most brutal of crackdowns. They are poor, isolated and using all their energy just to stay in power. I would argue Iran is much weaker than they were just five years ago.

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  10. Hal_10000 says:

    Moving this comment for better flow.

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  11. Hal_10000 says:

    Read The Cult of the Presidency — which you can get free on e-book from Cato’s site. It documents the ebb and flow of executive power. Almost all of the powers Lincoln assumed were rolled back by the end of the 19th century. Coolidge and Harding undid a lot of Wilson’s abuses. And in the 1970′s, it looked like we might almost push the Presidency back to its intended role. Indeed, many of the neocons — Cheney, Rummy, etc. — pushed so hard for executive power because they were mad that it was taken away from Nixon.

    The Republicans missed their big opportunity — stopping Obama’s illegal war. And support for restraint of power is always hard to drum up for reasons Popehat lists in the links above.

    I think the thing that will unravel this is the War on Drugs. It’s clear that America is sick of it. 22 states have legalized some form of pot use and others are considering it. Even Texas is pushing back on the imprisonment of non-violent offenders. And this is a problem for the security state because the War on Drugs is their primary motivation. As shown in the link above, they’ve used the Patriot Act very little for terrorism but a fuck of a lot for drugs. Indeed, the whole of the Patriot Act — proposed before we even knew what had happened — consisted of powers our DEA and FBI had wanted for years but Congress had refused.

    I’m not meaning to say everything is hunky dory since it certainly is not. What I mean to say is that the tyrants among us have thrown everything they have at us and failed to create the police state they so desperately want. We’re at the high water mark — past it, really. But they’re going to lose in the end because the civil libertarians care more. There was a recent study that showed that once an idea reaches about 10% penetration, it’s success is inevitable. There is a lot more than 10% of the country that wants this crap to end. Maybe I’m stupidly optimistic, but I’m convinced that it will. Because, in general, we usually get there after stumbling around and breaking a lot of furniture.

    PS – This post started out more like what you’re saying — very negative and pessimistic. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized this wasn’t me. I’m not, at heart, a pessimist.

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  12. Poosh says:

    I think the fact that they cracked down on two attempts at mass protests efficiently and with no international outcry is a big positive for Iran, quite frankly. They have incredible influence in the Middle East and even have their teeth into Iraq. Their nuclear ambitions have been protected.

    As for Al-Qaeda, that seems accurate, due largely to the Iraq War, that terrorist organisation and others have received massed causalities. But we were never at war with just a terrorist organisation. We were at war with an ideology, one that has the big picture and the long game in mind. We’ve had great wins, but we have failed to fight that ideology effectively. Islamism and the religion itself is creeping over Europe, we can be conquered with barely a shot fired. Give it two hundred years. And don’t think America is immune.

    From an american point of view, yes, on your soil, things are much better. But you forget your cousins. Al-Qaeda is one of many military arms, all supporting the same ideology and the same goals. They should not be underestimated. Turkey is slowly crumbling to Islamism. Iraq is ever threatened to be destroyed by Islam: and every single allied soldier’s death made for nothing. And the arab spring does not bring us much confidence. And Islam is never happy with ‘keeping’ to itself – it’s a political ideology after all, not just a religion. You underestimate our enemies.

    Being safe for ten years, whilst a great achievement, is not necessarily relevant, when you’re enemies are looking at gameplans spanning 100s of years.

    Take your eye off the ball and you might just be safe in your life time. But your children’s? Your children’s children? Don’t count on it. Advanced civilizations have always fallen to decadence and barbarians. When the terrorists said the West was decadent, I have never disagreed with that. There is a stench of death about it, no matter how much joy our civilization can bring.

    What factors make history and allow breeds to prosper? Culture, numbers, and material factors. Is western culture able to sustain us? Is it able to sustain us against Islamic culture? Do we have the numbers? Can we sustain ourselves against China’s demographics, and the Islamic world’s? What will European demographics look like in a 100 years time? We have technology, but whose resources do we consume? What happens if the Islamic world gets its act together and decides to follow through with the promises of the Koran, rather than keeping to itself? Or being self-interested?

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  13. AlexInCT says:

    The ice cream? :)

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  14. richtaylor365 says:

    From your Reason link:

    This surprising record has been attributed to excellent work by the FBI, CIA, and other law enforcement agencies, the war in Afghanistan, and the Bush administration’s aggressive treatment of suspected terrorists.

    It has not been pure luck, fortuitous happenstance, or serendipity that has has kept us unscathed from further attacks:

    A specter has haunted the New York Police Department during this week’s torrent of 10th anniversary commemorations of 9/11—the 13 terrorist plots against the city in the past decade that have failed or been thwarted thanks partly to NYPD counterterrorism efforts.

    The efforts and hard work of dedicated man and women have played a major role in this.

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  15. Poosh says:

    You also forget that successful Islamic terrorist strikes, such as the London strike, to some extent, were ideological successes (for Islamism). I have no doubt that a successful terrorist assault on US soil would also be a win for Islamism (i.e. this is because of US action, it’s out fault, etc). The terrorist strike on Spain was the biggest example that Islamic terrorism can not only succeed in killing non-believers, but also force the cowardice and stupidity of a target nation to change its policy or government.

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  16. CzarChasm says:

    The terrorist strike on Spain was the biggest example that Islamic terrorism can not only succeed in killing non-believers, but also force the cowardice and stupidity of a target nation to change its policy or government.

    This is absolutely true and accurate, but it’s not even the best example of islamist success. I think the Patriot Act is a glaring example that serves as the best example available for the premise you describe.

    And Hal, your last reply to my last post was a good one. I don’t agree that there’s been any substantive pushback against the most egregious violations of rights perpetrated by the presidents you mentioned, but at least I understand what parts of history you’re drawing from to come to your optimism.

    My pessimism or cynicism is fueled by the firm belief that amendments to the Constitution were *placed* in our set of laws illegally and have zero chance of ever being removed, simply because they provide D.C. a more solid foothold in centralized, seemingly “legal,” controls and authorities. For an impeccable sussing-out of the “passage” of the 17th Amendment, please go here. Or go here for a comprehensive collection of 17th Amendment links. There is no doubt in my mind that the 17th was adopted illegally, yet to get rid of it, we would have to go through the legal process proscribed in the Constitution, a literally impossible task given that that process would require the support of senators whose power resides in keeping the 17th in full force. In short, for just shy of 100 years now, this government has been illegal. No minor pushbacks against any policy or politician has even risen to the level of educating the public on the issue of the illegal passage of the 17th. Voters today recoil at the thought of not being able to vote for their senators, and are brainwashed into believing that that circumstance is actually good for the protection of their liberties.

    While I appreciate your last reply Hal, and freely admit that you succeeded in umm…. pushing back against my dismissive sarcasm, I still see no real substantive pushback against the worst of the worst of constitutional violations this country is forced to live in soft tyranny under. And unfortunately, I believe the brainwashing is so complete as to preclude the citizenry from even seeing it if/when the tyranny gets hard. As the links I provided in my first reply in this post demonstrates, there is hard tyranny happening in this country every single day already. I believe that optimism in the face of such irrefutable demonstrations of lawlessness foments the apathy and inaction that guarantees our unopposed demise. Pessimism and choosing action over complacency by a significant percentage of Americans are the only things that could give me optimism at this point.

    CC

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  17. Hal_10000 says:

    I agree. The future is even more challenging than the past. Turkey is the domino that I really worry about.

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  18. West Virginia Rebel says:

    Turkey is trying to play both sides of the fence. That may well be their undoing.

    I find it strange that nowadays Ima Dinnerjacket is now considered somewhat saner than the religious nutbars who are trying to get him sacked when they’re not trying to keep power.

    I think we were incredibly lucky on 9-11. I also think in many ways we overreacted quite a bit, both with some of the rhetorhic and the response (how long has the Patriot Act been extended for this time, again?)

    I also think it speaks to our strength as a country that we more or less got back to normal in fairly short order. In that sense, the bad guys certainly didn’t win.

    As for civilizations, I think over-extension is also part of the reason why they fall. Rome fell partly because it needed to rely on foreign troops and mercenaries to do its dirty work. I can see some parallels as we rely on extended deployments, private contractors, and countries that are fair-weather allies at best.

    As for Senators, most of the time I can take them or leave them, but do we really want to hand their selection back over to state legislatures entirely? (I could see an electoral college-type situation for the states develop as a possible alternative, however.) The real problem seems to be the lack of term limits and pork, and the attraction and influence of government committees.
    West Virginia Rebel recently posted..It’s Been Good To Know YouMy Profile

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  19. CzarChasm says:

    CzarChasm said:
    Voters today recoil at the thought of not being able to vote for their senators, and are brainwashed into believing that that circumstance is actually good for the protection of their liberties.

    West Virginia Rebel said:
    As for Senators, most of the time I can take them or leave them, but do we really want to hand their selection back over to state legislatures entirely?

    I’m tempted to just say I rest my case, but that would be a bit too glib. And besides, perhaps this can be a teaching moment.

    Your question (and parenthetical suggestion for term limits etc.) completely ignores that there is a strong body of evidence to prove that the 17th was “passed” illegally. Did you read my links? If not, just answer this simple question; how can a state legislature vote to pass an amendment when they’re not even in session? To consider ourselves “still here” as a constitutionally constructed representative republic, wouldn’t we at least have to answer that question when 1/6th of our government is put in power by illegal means if the obvious premise of the question is true?

    To answer your question directly though, I give a resounding “YES!” to it. The Senate was intended by the Founders to be on par with diplomatic envoys to the federal government, representing the interests of states that sent them there. Right now, America has diplomats representing the interests of every nation state in the world except maybe Cuba and a handful of others. But no representatives who are answerable to their own states’ interests from any of the 50 United States of America are sent to D.C. since the “passage” of the 17th. Senators are really no different than Representatives practically-speaking, so why do we need them anymore at all? How does it help further the liberties protected by the original construct of appointment to the Senate by making them answerable only to voters every six years? And even if you can think of ways that works out to a net positive, if it’s based on an illegal insertion of text into the Constitution that did not follow the proper procedures for putting it there, does your evaluation of positive outcomes trump the illegality of it all?

    See, this is what I was talking about. People are brainwashed into thinking this illegal “amendment” is good for them. We piss on the graves of the men who died to give us the Constitution when we won’t even vocalize opposition, much less stand up, to usurpations against it. At this point, the usurpations are so numerous that I can’t even claim a belief that the worst of them is an illegally “passed” amendment. At least those blindly following the 17th can claim ignorance of its origins, which in all likelihood for most Americans would be 100% true. But no rewrites of the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 5th or 10th Amendments have taken place, yet they are all but repealed by fiat in practical terms. I find that a more troubling set of usurpations, as it betrays the apathy and complacency of the people whose rights they were supposed to protect.

    So yes, any movement back towards founding and original constitutional principles is something that we should all “really want” to revert to. No doubt in my mind that that would be a substantive step in the right direction that no election or legislation could ever even come close to being equal to.

    CC

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