All of them harsh, ugly, unsettling ones.
Some days back a friend asked me what we have learned twenty years after 9/11. I sent these answers:
1) That our enemies have taken our measure, and we never took theirs. Bin Laden’s strategic predictions vis a vis Afghanistan and the United States have been vindicated: 9/11 was for the other side a massive, generational strategic success.
2) That the entire American governing apparatus is incapable of real strategic thought.
3) That the federal government of the United States is much more inventive, determined, and relentless in curbing its own citizenry than it is in curbing those who would slaughter that citizenry.
4) That the federal government of the United States will allow foreign-power interests — specifically Saudi and Pakistani — to override and eclipse the just interests of the American citizenry.
5) The preceding item exists, of course, because we are ruled by an elite with much stronger social ties to other elites than to the people of our republic.
6) That our generational response to 9/11 guarantees that 9/11 will happen again and again.
This twentieth anniversary is even more depressing and cruel than they usually are. We didn’t suffer as a lot of Americans did that day — my wife made it out of Lower Manhattan alive, for one thing — but because we are Americans, we suffered. Our leadership class was utterly incompetent to the moment, and remained so for the succeeding generation. Today we have inflicted upon us the twin bookends of blundering who mark the two-decade span. In Pennsylvania, President George W. Bush speaks: the man who cared more for Saudis than Americans while the fires still burned, who abandoned the hunt for the immediate perpetrator mere weeks after the massacre, and who cynically leveraged the moment to pursue his own disastrous projects. In Manhattan, President Joe Biden speaks: the lone figure of significance who opposed the raid to get Osama Bin Laden, and the man who presided over the shameful humiliation of defeat in Afghanistan.
A healthy and virtuous republican citizenry would shun them, and erase their names from the record.
Some questions arise. Now that we’ve decided it’s fine for Al Qaeda and the Taliban to have a country of their own again, can we at least abolish the TSA? Now that we’ve given Al Qaeda and the Taliban a stupendous cache of arms and ammunition, can we eliminate all federal gun-control law? Now that we’ve decided we have a community of interest with the Taliban — including its Al Qaeda elements — can we release everyone jailed on account of January 6th?
Hey, just asking. It hardly seems unreasonable for Americans to ask Washington, D.C., for treatment as generous as Washington, D.C., accords the terrorist movements who slaughtered thousands of us in our own streets.
Not gonna happen, which, as his bitter sarcasm indicates, the author well knows already. Things having worked out so swimmingly for our oppressors, with authoritarian tyranny so comfortably settled in and secure on American shoulders, it’s obvious our masters learned a few useful lessons themselves. Out of all of them, the rewards gained from the mutually-reinforcing virtues of patience and single-mindedness would have to be near the top of the list.
Getting schooled updated! More damning and damaging are the lessons we DIDN’T learn.
America has not learned the lessons of 9/11. The lessons were lost as they were being learned.
Foreign pressure on political leaders in Washington, intellectual laziness or dishonesty in the intelligence community, and political correctness-turned-wokeness made it so.
American society repeated those unlearned lessons as the global pandemic spread from China.
The unlearned lesson goes like this: Trust your instincts about who was responsible for crimes perpetrated against you. Ask tough questions to find out who was behind them, and ruthlessly hold those top enablers accountable. Suspect those who deny the obvious and who discourage honest inquiry. Resist those who abuse their authority and erode constitutional rights in a misguided quest for “security” and “safety.” If you see something, say something loudly and ceaselessly.
In both man-made cataclysms, powerful foreign interests imposed extraordinary pressure to prevent the American public from demanding that the obvious funders and state sponsors be held accountable.
This is not a partisan issue.
The George W. Bush Administration actively discouraged its political allies at home from asking questions about the then-Saudi regime’s state and family-sponsorship of jihadist movements. It refused to entertain questions about involvement of the jihadist regime of Qatar.
For certain, al-Qaeda did not represent the beliefs of many of the world’s Muslims and Islamic clerics and scholars.
Oh? Name three. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
But it absolutely reflected the beliefs of elements of the Saudi regime of the time, and the entire Qatar regime then as now, to say nothing of the international Muslim Brotherhood that they funded.
In a goodwill bid toward Muslim people everywhere, Bush gave his “religion of peace” speech at the Islamic Center in Washington, D.C. All well and good. And all proper wartime public diplomacy.
And all a lie, every damned word of it. It was the opening class in Unlearned Lessons 101, a course of instruciton for which the syllabus might easily read: Never go to war against an enemy you’re forbidden to call by his rightful name.
So here we are, 20 years after the jihadist terrorist attacks that redefined our country, triggered a global techno-security system with endless mission creep, handing over our Afghanistan sacrifices to the Taliban and Xi Jinping.
We failed to learn the lessons necessary for victory. And as we don our toylike masks and fight one another over whether or not to take experimental vaccines, and enter everybody into an ever-growing global database, we fail yet again to understand those who attacked us all.
Even though, in our inner consciences, we understand very well.
Well, some of us anyway. As prep for our final exams, we will discover how many of us do, and whether that number will be high enough for a passing grade.