Essay by Carlos Lozada
Illustration above: by Patrik Svensson
Sept. 3, 2021
. . . the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness.
America is suffering from a sort of post-traumatic stress democracy. It remains in recovery, still a good country, even if a broken good country.
Perhaps he has no choice but to sound such a note when writing for mainline media that fully endorsed the War on Terror 20 years ago.
He [his pastor-father] is an unusual fundamentalist; for he believes that inerrancy extends to the teachings of Jesus.—John Alexander in Your Money or Your Life: A New Look at Jesus’ View of Wealth and Power
The dialogue was organized by the Presbyterian Church in Alaska because debate was heating up in a state with no death penalty on the books.
It took place March 22, 1997 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and was teleconferenced throughout Alaska including into the Juneau legislature, and also translated simultaneously for the deaf. Questions were posed from the university audience and from the teleconferencing sites. There was a professionally produced video of the exchange made available to churches in Alaska. Parts I and II permitted a statement of my opposition to capital punishment. Part III dealt with specific biblical texts used erroneously, I argued, in defence of capital punishment.
Dr. Land sadly went on to become one of the most outspoken American evangelical voices in support of the War on Terror. See his tragic “Land Letter.”
When I was initially invited, it was to a “debate.” I refused to attend. I said that a debate reflects a “winners” and “losers” mentality that is of little use except possibly as entertainment. But I said I would take part if it was a “dialogue.” The event eventually was called “To the Talking Place,” based on a local aboriginal tradition of the entire community coming to “the talking place” to work out differences respectfully and communally. 2
In our very [White Evangelical] protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits–Douglas Frank in Less Than Conquerors: The Evangelical Quest for Power in the Early Twentieth Century.
Afterwards, Dr. Land shared with me that he was a seventh-generation Texan. That growing up white in that state meant profound “unlearning” on racial issues alone. That when his then 18-year-old son, a top university American football draft pick that year as I recall, discussed the “dirty little war” in Vietnam, Dr. Land told me that, contrary to his Southern Baptist preacher-father, he informed his son that if America again was caught up in another war of that sort, he was duty-bound to burn his draft card! (Dr. Land’s father had warned he would be disowned if he ever burned his draft card during the Vietnam War.)
See too my book review of The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God by Lee Griffith–for a profoundly opposite Christian take to Land’s, and prescient–manuscript at the publisher’s before 9/11 hit.
John Alexander observed in Your Money or Your Life that it is the rarest fundamentalist who believes that the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture actually extends to the words of Jesus . . . So it seemed borne out once again in the life of Dr. Land.4
America, pace the author of the highlighted article below, pace Dr. Land, has ever manifestly been an Evil Empire.
Whether in auspicious or declining times, as we have seen, we [Evangelicals] display a tenacious commitment to self-deceit. It is true that we are those who like to think we heed Jeremiah’s words, ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.’ Our history, however, gives evidence of Jeremiah’s wisdom in adding these words: ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?’ (Jer. 17:7, 9). In our very protests of trust in the Lord, we find occasion for our deepest self-deceits (p. 278).
My response to Dr. Land after hearing of his change of view in relation to Blacks, in relation to the Vietnam War, was: perhaps it was time to change “now” his thinking about the death penalty.
Sadly, Dr. Land’s “teachable moment” was seemingly entirely lost (except in his private thoughts?), and he only subsequently entrenched further in the great triple Christian West heresies of Just War, Just Deserts, and Just Hell of eternal conscious torment. A personal letter to him in response to the “Land Letter” went unacknowledged, unanswered. There is none so blind as they who will not see–so it seemed. (For us all a sobering spiritual truth repeatedly on the lips of the prophets, of Jesus!)
America, pace the author of the highlighted article below, pace Dr. Land, has ever manifestly been an Evil Empire. Another essay on this website asks pointedly: Was America Great When It Burned Native American Babies? Dip into any American foreign policy era, and one can legitimately pose a similar question, one pointing invariably to unadulterated terror against its long list of chronic enemies. “America The Great Horror Show” is the way the world has predominantly experienced the nation/empire.
Roman historian Tacitus wrote so long ago:
To plunder, butcher, steal, these things they misname empire; they make a desolation and call it peace[/democracy].
Novelist J.M. Coetzee writes in Waiting for the Barbarians (1980):
One thought alone preoccupies the submerged mind of Empire: how not to end, how not to die, how to prolong its era. By day it pursues its enemies. It is cunning and ruthless, it sends its bloodhounds everywhere. By night it feeds on images of disaster: the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation (p. 133).
American public intellectual Edward Said wrote in the Preface of Orientalism (1978):
Every single empire in its official discourse has said that it is not like all the others, that its circumstances are special, that it has a mission to enlighten, civilize, bring order and democracy, and that it uses force only as a last resort. And, sadder still, there always is a chorus of willing intellectuals to say calming words about benign or altruistic empires5, as if one shouldn’t trust the evidence of one’s eyes watching the destruction and the misery and death brought by the latest ‘mission civilisatrice.’
American Empire has always and supremely been about “plundering, butchering, and stealing,” “the sack of cities, the rape of populations, pyramids of bones, acres of desolation,” leaving “desolation,” “destruction and misery and death” in its wake (while calling it “peace and freedom”), and long since has been in voracious bid for worldwide domination, in order to extract maximum wealth from all peoples and the Planet. Our call is simply to practise insurrection against Empire in all its avaricious, brutal and horribly destructive ways. (No small order!) (Some of the above from the Front Page.)
In light of Mr. Lozada’s concluding phrase about America–“still a good country”–one must juxtapose the above–and so much more!
Please see a sequel reflection, September 7, 2021, in The Washington Post, by Ishaan Tharoor: The world 9/11 created: The sprawling, dark legacy of U.S. counterterrorism.6
Please see a third reflection in The Washington Post, September 8, 2021, by Ishaan TharoorThe world 9/11 created: What if the U.S. had not invaded Iraq?
Further, this is compelling, by Nathalie Baptiste, September 9, 2021: 9/11: When Pop Culture Went Into Patriotic Overdrive.9
Another wise article by David Von Drehle, September 11, 2021, is entitled: 20 years later, Americans kid themselves if they think the war born of 9/11 is over.10
Deep within the catalogue of regrets that is the 9/11 Commission report — long after readers learn of the origins and objectives of al-Qaeda, past the warnings ignored by consecutive administrations, through the litany of institutional failures that allowed terrorists to hijack four commercial airliners — the authors pause to make a rousing case for the power of the nation’s character.
[Jason M. Blazakis, a former counterterrorism official in the State Department] warned that “we must confront the real possibility that our next 9/11 could arrive from within.”
“The U.S. government must define what the message is, what it stands for,” the report asserts. “We should offer an example of moral leadership in the world, committed to treat people humanely, abide by the rule of law, and be generous and caring to our neighbors. . . . We need to defend our ideals abroad vigorously. America does stand up for its values.”
This affirmation of American idealism is one of the document’s more opinionated moments. Looking back, it’s also among the most ignored.Rather than exemplify the nation’s highest values, the official response to 9/11 unleashed some of its worst qualities: deception, brutality, arrogance, ignorance, delusion, overreach and carelessness. This conclusion is laid bare in the sprawling literature to emerge from 9/11 over the past two decades — the works of investigation, memoir and narrative by journalists and former officials that have charted the path to that day, revealed the heroism and confusion of the early response, chronicled the battles in and about Afghanistan and Iraq, and uncovered the excesses of the war on terror. Reading or rereading a collection of such books today is like watching an old movie that feels more anguishing and frustrating than you remember. The anguish comes from knowing how the tale will unfold; the frustration from realizing that this was hardly the only possible outcome.
In the name of counterterrorism, security is politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized.
Whatever individual stories the 9/11 books tell, too many describe the repudiation of U.S. values, not by extremist outsiders but by our own hand. The betrayal of America’s professed principles was the friendly fire of the war on terror. In these works, indifference to the growing terrorist threat gives way to bloodlust and vengeance after the attacks. Official dissembling justifies wars, then prolongs them. In the name of counterterrorism, security is politicized, savagery legalized and patriotism weaponized.
…Bin Laden did not win the war of ideas. But neither did we. To an unnerving degree, the United States moved toward the enemy’s fantasies of what it might become — a nation divided in its sense of itself, exposed in its moral and political compromises, conflicted over wars it did not want but would not end. When President George W. Bush addressed the nation from the Oval Office on the evening of Sept. 11, 2001, he asserted that America was attacked because it is “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world, and no one will keep that light from shining.” Bush was correct; al-Qaeda could not dim the promise of America. Only we could do that to ourselves.
The towers embodied the power of American capitalism, but their design embodied the folly of American greed. On that day, both conditions proved fatal.
Clarke’s conclusion is simple, and it highlights America’s we-know-better swagger, a national trait that often masquerades as courage or wisdom. “America, alas, seems only to respond well to disasters, to be undistracted by warnings,” he writes. “Our country seems unable to do all that must be done until there has been some awful calamity.”
The problem with responding only to calamity is that underestimation is usually replaced by overreaction. And we tell ourselves it is the right thing, maybe the only thing, to do.
…Under the new rules, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was able to rent three-quarters of each floor of the World Trade Center, Dwyer and Flynn report, a 21 percent increase over the yield of older skyscrapers. The cost was dear. Some 1,000 people inside the North Tower who initially survived the impact of American Airlines Flight 11 could not reach an open staircase. “Their fate was sealed nearly four decades earlier, when the stairways were clustered in the core of the building, and fire stairs were eliminated as a wasteful use of valuable space.” (The authors write that “building code reform hardly makes for gripping drama,” an aside as modest as it is inaccurate.) The towers embodied the power of American capitalism, but their design embodied the folly of American greed. On that day, both conditions proved fatal.
The message was unmistakable: The law is an obstacle to effective counterterrorism.
Such episodes, led by ordinary civilians, embodied values that the 9/11 Commission called on the nation to display. Except those values would soon be dismantled, in the name of security, by those entrusted to uphold them.
The message was unmistakable: The law is an obstacle to effective counterterrorism. Worrying about procedural niceties is passe in a 9/11 world, an annoying impediment to the essential work of ass-kicking.Except, they did lawyer this thing to death. Instead of disregarding the law, the Bush administration enlisted it. “Beginning almost immediately after September 11, 2001, [Vice President Dick] Cheney saw to it that some of the sharpest and best-trained lawyers in the country, working in secret in the White House and the United States Department of Justice, came up with legal justifications for a vast expansion of the government’s power in waging war on terror,” Jane Mayer writes in “The Dark Side,” her relentless 2008 compilation of the arguments and machinations of government lawyers after the attacks. Through public declarations and secret memos, the administration sought to remove limits on the president’s conduct of warfare and to deny terrorism suspects the protections of the Geneva Conventions by redefining them as unlawful enemy combatants. Nothing, Mayer argues of the latter effort, “more directly cleared the way for torture than this.”
Almost nowhere in these memos does the Justice Department curtail the power of the CIA to do as it pleases.
To comprehend what our government can justify in the name of national security, consider the torture memos themselves, authored by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel between 2002 and 2005 to green-light CIA interrogation methods for terrorism suspects. Tactics such as cramped confinement, sleep deprivation and waterboarding were rebranded as “enhanced interrogation techniques,” legally and linguistically contorted to avoid the label of torture. Though the techniques could be cruel and inhuman, the OLC acknowledged in an August 2002 memo, they would constitute torture only if they produced pain equivalent to organ failure or death, and if the individual inflicting such pain really really meant to do so: “Even if the defendant knows that severe pain will result from his actions, if causing such harm is not his objective, he lacks the requisite specific intent.” It’s quite the sleight of hand, with torture moving from the body of the interrogated to the mind of the interrogator.
After devoting dozens of pages to the metaphysics of specific intent, the true meaning of “prolonged” mental harm or “imminent” death, and the elasticity of the Convention Against Torture, the memo concludes that none of it actually matters. Even if a particular interrogation method would cross some legal line, the relevant statute would be considered unconstitutional because it “impermissibly encroached” on the commander in chief’s authority to conduct warfare. Almost nowhere in these memos does the Justice Department curtail the power of the CIA to do as it pleases.
You have informed us. Experts you have consulted. Based on your research. You do not anticipate. Such hand-washing words appear throughout the memos. The Justice Department relies on information provided by the CIA to reach its conclusions; the CIA then has the cover of the Justice Department to proceed with its interrogations. It’s a perfect circle of trust.
In these documents, lawyers enable lawlessness.
Yet the logic is itself tortured. In a May 2005 memo, the lawyers conclude that because no single technique inflicts “severe” pain amounting to torture, their combined use “would not be expected” to reach that level, either. As though embarrassed at such illogic, the memo attaches a triple-negative footnote: “We are not suggesting that combinations or repetitions of acts that do not individually cause severe physical pain could not result in severe physical pain.” Well, then, what exactly are you suggesting? Even when the OLC in 2004 officially withdrew its August 2002 memo following a public outcry and declared torture “abhorrent,” the lawyers added a footnote to the new memo assuring that they had reviewed the prior opinions on the treatment of detainees and “do not believe that any of their conclusions would be different under the standards set forth in this memorandum.”In these documents, lawyers enable lawlessness. Another May 2005 memo concludes that, because the Convention Against Torture applies only to actions occurring under U.S. jurisdiction, the CIA’s creation of detention sites in other countries renders the convention “inapplicable.” Similarly, because the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment is meant to protect people convicted of crimes, it should not apply to terrorism detainees — because they have not been officially convicted of anything. The lack of due process conveniently eliminates constitutional protections. In his introduction to “The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable,” David Cole describes the documents as “bad-faith lawyering,” which might be generous. It is another kind of lawyering to death, one in which the rule of law that the 9/11 Commission urged us to abide by becomes the victim.
Bloodlust, moral certainty and sudden vulnerability make a dangerous combination.
Years later, the Senate Intelligence Committee would investigate the CIA’s post-9/11 interrogation program. Its massive report — the executive summary of which appeared as a 549-page book in 2014 — found that torture did not produce useful intelligence, that the interrogations were more brutal than the CIA let on, that the Justice Department did not independently verify the CIA’s information, and that the spy agency impeded oversight by Congress and the CIA inspector general. It explains that the CIA purported to oversee itself and, no surprise, that it deemed its interrogations effective and necessary, no matter the results. (If a detainee provided information, it meant the program worked; if he did not, it meant stricter applications of the techniques were needed; if still no information was forthcoming, the program had succeeded in proving he had none to give.)“The CIA’s effectiveness representations were almost entirely inaccurate,” the Senate report concluded. It is one of the few lies of the war on terror unmasked by an official government investigation and public report, but just one of the many documented in the 9/11 literature.
It did not seem to occur to Bush and his advisers that Iraqis could simultaneously hate Hussein and resent the Americans
Officials in the war on terror didn’t deceive or dissemble just with lawmakers or the public. In the recurring tragedy of war, they lied just as often to themselves.
In “To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America Into Iraq,” Robert Draper considers the influence of the president’s top aides. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (long obsessed with ousting Saddam Hussein), Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld (eager to test his theories of military transformation) and Cheney (fixated on apocalyptic visions of America’s vulnerability) all had their reasons. But Draper identifies a single responsible party: “The decision to invade Iraq was one made, finally and exclusively, by the president of the United States, George W. Bush,” he writes.
…Bloodlust, moral certainty and sudden vulnerability make a dangerous combination. The belief that you are defending good against evil can lead to the belief that whatever you do to that end is good, too. Draper distills Bush’s worldview: “The terrorists’ primary objective was to destroy America’s freedom. Saddam hated America. Therefore, he hated freedom. Therefore, Saddam was himself a terrorist, bent on destroying America and its freedom.”
[Anthony] Shadid understood that governmental legitimacy — who gets to rule, and by what right — was a matter of overriding importance for Iraqis. “The Americans never understood the question,” he writes; “Iraqis never agreed on the answer.”
Note the asymmetry. The president assumed the worst about what Hussein had done or might do, yet embraced best-case scenarios of how an American invasion would proceed. “Iraqis would rejoice at the sight of their Western liberators,” Draper recaps. “Their newly shared sense of national purpose would overcome any sectarian allegiances. Their native cleverness would make up for their inexperience with self-government. They would welcome the stewardship of Iraqi expatriates who had not set foot in Baghdad in decades. And their oil would pay for everything.”
…There are lies, and then there is self-delusion. The Americans did not have to anticipate the specifics of the civil war that would engulf the country after the invasion; they just had to realize that managing postwar Iraq would never be as simple as they imagined. It did not seem to occur to Bush and his advisers that Iraqis could simultaneously hate Hussein and resent the Americans — feelings that could have been discovered by speaking to Iraqis and hearing their concerns.
. . . a top communications official under Bremer, when reporters asked about waves of violence hitting Baghdad in the spring of 2004. “Off the record: Paris is burning,” the official told the journalists. “On the record: Security and stability are returning to Iraq.”
Anthony Shadid’s “Night Draws Near: Iraq’s People in the Shadow of America’s War,” published in 2005, is among the few books on the war that gets deep inside Iraqis’ aversion to the Americans in their midst. “What gives them the right to change something that’s not theirs in the first place?” a woman in a middle-class Baghdad neighborhood asks him. “I don’t like your house, so I’m going to bomb it and you can rebuild it again the way I want it, with your money?” In Fallujah, where Shadid hears early talk of the Americans as “kuffar” (heathens), a 51-year-old former teacher complains that “we’ve exchanged a tyrant for an occupier.” The occupation did not dissuade such impressions when it turned the former dictator’s seat of government into its own luxurious Green Zone, or when it retrofitted the Abu Ghraib prison (“the worst of Saddam’s hellholes,” Shadid calls it) into its own chamber of horrors.Shadid understood that governmental legitimacy — who gets to rule, and by what right — was a matter of overriding importance for Iraqis. “The Americans never understood the question,” he writes; “Iraqis never agreed on the answer.” It’s hard to find a better summation of the trials of Iraq in the aftermath of America’s invasion. When the United States so quickly shifted from liberation to occupation, it lost whatever legitimacy it enjoyed. “Bush handed that enemy precisely what it wanted and needed, proof that America was at war with Islam, that we were the new Crusaders come to occupy Muslim land,” Clarke writes. “It was as if Usama bin Laden, hidden in some high mountain redoubt, were engaging in long-range mind control of George Bush, chanting ‘invade Iraq, you must invade Iraq.’ ”
Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, a former coordinator of Iraq and Afghanistan policy, acknowledged that “we didn’t have the foggiest idea of what we were undertaking.”
In “The Rise and Fall of Osama bin Laden,” Bergen sums up how the Iraq War, conjured in part on the false connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda, ended up helping the terrorist network: It pulled resources from the war in Afghanistan, gave space for bin Laden’s men to regroup and spurred a new generation of terrorists in the Middle East. “A bigger gift to bin Laden was hard to imagine,” Bergen writes.
…If Iraq was the war born of lies, Afghanistan was the one nurtured by them. Afghanistan was where al-Qaeda, supported by the Taliban, had made its base — it was supposed to be the good war, the right war, the war of necessity and not choice, the war endorsed at home and abroad. “U.S. officials had no need to lie or spin to justify the war,” Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock writes in “The Afghanistan Papers,” a damning contrast of the war’s reality vs. its rhetoric. “Yet leaders at the White House, the Pentagon and the State Department soon began to make false assurances and to paper over setbacks on the battlefield.” As the years passed, the deceit became entrenched, what Whitlock calls “an unspoken conspiracy” to hide the truth.
“Bin Laden had hoped for this exact scenario,” Whitlock observes. “To lure the U.S. superpower into an unwinnable guerrilla conflict that would deplete its national treasury and diminish its global influence.”
…Drawing from a “Lessons Learned” project that interviewed hundreds of military and civilian officials involved with Afghanistan, as well as from oral histories, government cables and reports, Whitlock finds commanding generals privately admitting that they long fought the war “without a functional strategy.” That, two years into the conflict, Rumsfeld complained that he had “no visibility into who the bad guys are.” That Army Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, a former coordinator of Iraq and Afghanistan policy, acknowledged that “we didn’t have the foggiest idea of what we were undertaking.” That U.S. officials long wanted to withdraw American forces but feared — correctly so, it turns out — that the Afghan government might collapse. “Bin Laden had hoped for this exact scenario,” Whitlock observes. “To lure the U.S. superpower into an unwinnable guerrilla conflict that would deplete its national treasury and diminish its global influence.”
. . . officials concluded that some 30,000 Afghan soldiers on the payroll didn’t actually exist; they were paper creations of local commanders who pocketed the fake soldiers’ salaries at U.S. taxpayer expense.
…The skills and size of the Afghan security forces were frequently exaggerated; by the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, U.S. officials concluded that some 30,000 Afghan soldiers on the payroll didn’t actually exist; they were paper creations of local commanders who pocketed the fake soldiers’ salaries at U.S. taxpayer expense. American officials publicly lamented large-scale corruption in Afghanistan but enabled that corruption in practice, pouring massive contracts and projects into a country ill-equipped to absorb them. Such deceptions transpired across U.S. presidents, but the Obama administration, eager to show that its first-term troop surge was working, “took it to a new level, hyping figures that were misleading, spurious or downright false,” Whitlock writes. And then under President Donald Trump, he adds, the generals felt pressure to “speak more forcefully and boast that his war strategy was destined to succeed.”
The Russians, recent visitors to the graveyard of empires, cautioned that Afghanistan was an “ambush heaven” and that, in the words of one of them, “you’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you.”
…These are essential debates, but a war should not be measured only by the timing and the competence of its end. We still face an equally consequential appraisal: How good was this good war if it could be sustained only by lies?
Exhausting America’s will is an objective that al-Qaeda understood well.
…He threw a man down the stairs and held another by the throat. After they left, the lieutenant told him it was the wrong house. “The wrong f—ing house,” Nic says to his wife. “One of the things I want to remember is how many times we hit the wrong house.”
In Iraq, the whole country was the wrong house. America’s leaders knew it was the wrong house. They hit it anyway.
Hitting the wrong house is what counterinsurgency doctrine is supposed to avoid. Even successfully capturing or killing a high-value target can be counterproductive if in the process you terrorize a community and create more enemies. In Iraq, the whole country was the wrong house. America’s leaders knew it was the wrong house. They hit it anyway.
…When Trump declared that “we don’t have victories anymore” in his 2015 speech announcing his presidential candidacy, he was both belittling the legacy of 9/11 and harnessing it to his ends. “His great insight was that the jingoistic politics of the War on Terror did not have to be tied to the War on Terror itself,” Ackerman writes in Reign of Terror. “That enabled him to tell a tale of lost greatness.” And if greatness is lost, someone must have taken it. The backlash against Muslims, against immigrants crossing the southern border and against protesters rallying for racial justice was strengthened by the open-ended nature of the global war on terror. In Ackerman’s vivid telling — his prose can be hyperbolic, even if his arguments are not — the war is not just far away in Iraq or Afghanistan, in Yemen or Syria, but it’s happening here, with mass surveillance, militarized law enforcement and the rebranding of immigration as a threat to the nation’s security rather than a cornerstone of its identity. “Trump had learned the foremost lesson of 9/11,” Ackerman writes, “that the terrorists were whomever you said they were.”
“Trump had learned the foremost lesson of 9/11,” Ackerman writes, “that the terrorists were whomever you said they were.”Both Ackerman and Greenberg point to the Authorization for Use of Military Force, drafted by administration lawyers and approved by Congress just days after the attacks, as the moment when America’s response began to go awry. The brief joint resolution allowed the president to use “all necessary and appropriate force” against any nation, organization or person who committed the attacks, and to prevent any future ones. It was the “Ur document in the war on terror and its legacy,” Greenberg writes. “Riddled with imprecision, its terminology was geared to codify expansive powers.” Where the battlefield, the enemy and the definition of victory all remain vague, war becomes endlessly expansive, “with neither temporal nor geographical boundaries.”
Failures became the reason to double down, never wind down.
…[Ackerman] assails Obama for making the war on terror more “sustainable” through a veneer of legality — banning torture yet failing to close the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay and relying on drone strikes that “perversely incentivized the military and the CIA to kill instead of capture.” There would always be more targets, more battlefields, regardless of president or party. Failures became the reason to double down, never wind down.The longer the war went on, the more that what Ackerman calls its “grotesque subtext” of nativism and racism would move to the foreground of American politics. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a presidential candidate decrying a sitting commander in chief as foreign, Muslim, illegitimate — and using that lie as a successful political platform. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine a travel ban against people from Muslim-majority countries. Absent the war on terror, it is harder to imagine American protesters labeled terrorists, or a secretary of defense describing the nation’s urban streets as a “battle space” to be dominated. Trump was a disruptive force in American life, but there was much continuity there, too. “A vastly different America has taken root” in the two decades since 9/11, Greenberg writes. “In the name of retaliation, ‘justice,’ and prevention, fundamental values have been cast aside.”
America is suffering from a sort of post-traumatic stress democracy.
Seventeen years after the 9/11 Commission called on the United States to offer moral leadership to the world and to be generous and caring to our neighbors, our moral leadership is in question, and we can barely be generous and caring to ourselves.
Please click on: 9/11 was a test.