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September 11, 2005

Four nine-elevens later America finds itself more politically polarized than at any time since the Vietnam War ended 30 years ago. To a great extent that is because it has lost the 'War on Terror' declared while the nation stood united in shock.

 

A sequential look at United Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center

 
George W. Bush. Osama bin Laden.

A resolute President Bush stood atop the rubble and declared that war. Soon after that, in his role as commander-in-chief, he dispatched military forces to Afghanistan to hunt down Osama bin Laden, destroy his terroristic sect, Al Qaeda, and punish the then-ruling Taliban faction governing that county and harboring the terrorists and their training camps.

Militarily it seems to have been something close to a success. Taliban is gone; an elusive Bin Laden is holed up somewhere in the vicinity of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border; U.S. troops -- the proverbial boots on the ground -- are in tactical control. But Al Qaeda is not destroyed. If its leadership and organization are in disarray, its followers are still capable of inflicting terror. The subway bombings in London this summer were a clear indication of that.

There are casualties in war and in Afghanistan the cost, so far, has been 289 killed and 582 wounded -- tragic to be sure, but within tolerable limits for such an operation assuming its justification.

More disturbing and potentially dangerous is the even more obvious fact that, somewhere in the process of mounting a response to Nine-Eleven, something has gone terribly wrong.

Absent another explanation, it would appear that it the anger and fear of that day has been used to further objectives parallel to legitimate retaliation.

Invasion of Iraq and the subsequent emergence of guerilla warfare there is a premier example of one of those quests having spun out of control. We're not sure at this point of the motivation. Deposing a ruthless dictator, eliminating the threat from weapons of mass destruction, bringing an exploited people the benefits of democracy have in their turn been given. So too have securing control of oil resources, imposing the will of the world's most powerful nation, crusading against a militant extreme of Islam and avenging the insult of an attempted assassination of the President's father.

Later his month the 2,000th American soldier will die in the dessert for whatever cause he or she was there. There is an untold count of Iraqi dead -- civilian, military and paramilitary.

On this fourth anniversary of a date forever etched in the memories of the present generation we are shocked by what has happened along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. To be sure, that is the result of a natural disaster of unprecedented proportions. But it also is clear that the official response, whether inept or worse, contributed to the toll.

Since the Towers fell we have been bombarded by political clichés related to the tragic event. It would seem that 'homeland security', 'Iraqi freedom', 'W.M.D.s', 'Patriot Act' and the others are meant to market a concept rather than describe a reality. That was certainly so a few weeks ago when Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld began to substitute "global struggle against violent extremism" for 'War on Terror'. The acronym GSAVE is more catchy than GWOT.

Thankfully, that but of spinsmanship did not take hold. But ought we not attempt a thorough -- and, yes, objective and non-partisan -- look at where we have come since September 11, 2001, and, more importantly, where we are going?

CLICK HERE to read a more erudite treatise on this topic published in the New York Times Magazine.

 

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