Looking Ahead from 9/11

After nine years of healing, many Americans still look at September 11, 2010 as a day of silence. On that fateful day nearly a decade ago a country stood petrified as it watched, in horror, the single greatest act of violence this nation had ever witnessed. Even Pearl Harbor paled in comparison to the giant burning buildings in New York and Washington, D.C.

With Pearl Harbor the tragedy fell upon soldiers who knew what they were getting themselves into when they volunteered. They knew that the world’s war would soon become their own. They just lacked knowledge of the precise moment.

At the World Trade Center civilians were thrown literally into a raging inferno that most did not know existed. The idea of “terrorism,” let alone “terrorists,” was only a foggy notion in most of our minds. At the time the most infamous terrorist in the United States was a conservative Christian from the Heartland named Timothy McVeigh. A decorated Army veteran, McVeigh’s death by lethal injection was still fresh in America’s collective consciousness when the towers crumbled before our eyes.

In the wake of one of the most shocking events in American history we all groped with the proper response. Fear turned to anger, and eventually to hatred. The United States was wrapped up in a thinly veiled xenophobic response to perceived “enemies” around the world. As evidenced by the recent tempest surrounding a proposed faith-based community center in New York that xenophobia remains a factor in the U.S. today.

When it was revealed that the Taliban government in Afghanistan had granted its support, and asylum, to those responsible for the September 11th attacks the U.S. felt compelled to act.

Unfortunately, it seems increasingly like our chosen course of action was an over-reaction. Many scholars and journalists have been pointing this out for years. Most recently this cohort was joined by Fareed Zakaria of Newsweek.

In the past nine years we have gone from completely ignoring international terrorist organizations to completely overestimating their capacity – and the necessary response to them. We have invaded two countries in the wake of September 11, 2001.

The first, Afghanistan, was and remains justifiable in the eyes of most of the international community. However, the enormous troop presence in that country is simply irrational. According to the best estimates of the intelligence community, Afghanistan harbors no more than a few dozen “terrorists.” The U.S. response to them is a 100,000-man military campaign.

The second nation to be invaded in the name of the “war on terror,” Iraq, was untenable from the start. It is now considered nothing more than a black eye in American history.

The United States responded to 9/11 with overwhelming force when it would have been prudent to restrain ourselves. Removing the Taliban and allowing a coalition government to form in its stead would have been fine. Staying in Afghanistan for nearly nine years trying to build an American-style international government has been a disaster.

Thanks to the Obama administration’s move to shift focus away from Iraq and into Afghanistan we should only expect to see our commitment in central Asia increase in the future.

When we all stop for a moment of reflection on Saturday September 11, 2010, we must consider whether or not we want to continue paying for the overzealous mistakes this country made in the throws of emotion years ago. Fighting in Afghanistan in October of 2001 was probably justified. Continuing the same fight in October of 2010, 2011, and beyond is unjustifiable.

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