Posts Tagged ‘terrorist’

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Fifteen years ago, American self-confidence shattered amid the death and debris of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, a field in Pennsylvania and four hijacked aircraft.

The ripple effect has been felt ever since.

Before these terrible terrorist attacks, we believed history was on our side. Perhaps rightly so — the forces of democracy and capitalism had torn down the walls of communist tyranny, and the world was poised for an era of “perpetual peace” enforced by unchallenged U.S. power. In fact, foreign policy was barely discussed during the 2000 presidential election. The world was going our way.

Then Sept.11, 2001, happened. It was a shock because it was not supposed to happen.

Nineteen young men from the Middle East, carrying only box cutters, killed almost 3,000 people by flying airplanes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the field in Pennsylvania, injuring more than 6,000 others. They caused more than $3 trillion in damage, shutting down the financial and political capitals of the United States. The mightiest and wealthiest nation was exposed as a vulnerable collection of soft targets. Overnight, the symbols of American freedom and prosperity — office buildings, tourist destinations, airports, parks and even sports arenas — became sites of potential danger.

We have lived in fear ever since that terrible day. The irony is that the fear, much more than the terrorists, has done enormous damage to our country.

Our efforts to protect ourselves have increased our suffering and left us less safe. Our policies designed to boost our economy have increased inequality and diminished investments in critical public needs. Most ironic, our fight against hateful terrorists has made us a more hate-filled society.

We see evidence of it today. Donald Trump’s rhetoric against Muslims, Mexicans, immigrants and women is an extension of similar words and attitudes expressed with ever more frequency since the United States began its “War on Terror.” In the years that followed 9/11, President George W. Bush spoke of a “crusade.” Sarah Palin and other tea party activists encouraged Americans to arm themselves and stand their ground against suspected intruders in their communities, most of whom had darker skin. Some followers of this rhetoric still believe that the first African-American president is really a secret Muslim, which is their way of saying he is not a true American. Trump has only added more gasoline to this brewing hatred.

Making the hate deeper and more difficult to control are our military failures in the Middle East. Since March 2003, we have spent more than $2 trillion in Iraq on war and reconstruction. More than 4,000 Americans have died in that country, and at least 150,000 Iraqi civilians have lost their lives. Yet, more than a decade later, the situation in Iraq and the wider region is worse and more threatening. The Islamic State group, which emerged as a reaction to the war and American occupation, now controls large parts of Iraq and Syria. It uses this territory to plan attacks on American and European targets with greater zeal and effectiveness than ever exhibited by the regime the U.S. overthrew in Iraq.

Out of fear, we fought a long and costly war in Iraq that has made us less safe, less influential and less wealthy. Many Americans are angry about this, and for good reason, but they are directing much of their anger at Muslims rather than trying to bring positive change.

A similar story applies to the management of our economy. Fearing a loss in consumer confidence after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush famously told Americans to “go shopping.” In a matter of months, an inherited budget surplus turned into a deficit, with much of the money going to warfare, homeland security projects, tax cuts and other efforts to stimulate the economy. This was followed by reductions in government regulations on lending and business practices, many justified by the fear that restrictive laws would limit the country’s ability to respond to new threats and competition. The 2008 recession triggered yet another set of larger spending projects to bail out bankers and businessmen who were allegedly “too big to fail.”

Fearful spending always makes for bad investment choices. Look at what the record budget deficits after Sept. 11, 2001, bought us: rising inequality, stagnant wages and crumbling public institutions. New spending went to consumers and investors, not the builders of schools, bridges, parks or even sidewalks. Only a few decades ago, American infrastructure was the envy of the world. Now our telecommunications, electric grid and public transportation are just above Third World standards.

Where did all the money go? It followed the fear, not the country’s needs. Spending on prisons, police and surveillance increased rapidly, just as budgets for education and infrastructure have fallen. Both Republicans and Democrats support transfer payments that protect these things, but neither has taken a strong stand to protect investments in our future crop of talented citizens — many of whom are, incidentally, dark-skinned and female.

The generation of Americans who lived through the Great Depression and the Second World War followed Franklin Roosevelt’s prescient warning that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” They built a society of hope and opportunity that we still benefit from today.

But since Sept. 11, 2001, our society has gone in the opposite direction. We have allowed fear to dominate our policymaking, our public rhetoric and even our local behavior. In this sense, the terrorists have won. The reactions of American leaders have done more to harm our society and diminish our future prospects than the crimes conducted abroad. Our wounds are almost entirely self-inflicted.

But here is the good news: We still have time to reverse course. The history of the past 15 years can awaken us to the perils of politics based on fear and hate. What we need is more of a willingness to see beyond immediate and exaggerated threats, with a renewed focus on hopes and possibilities. In the aftermath of a flawed, yet successful Summer Olympics, our leaders have a chance to re-introduce our country to the world and articulate a vision for increased cooperation so we can better manage climate change, nuclear proliferation and international trade. We also need a national economic policy that promises more opportunities for disadvantaged citizens through targeted investments, regulations and assistance.

Our leaders must talk more ambitiously about what we are for and less about what we are against. And most important, we must, as Americans, work toward rebuilding a civic culture that values conversation and compromise, discouraging hate, fear and violence. That is where the real courage resides – in the willingness to dream again, despite the scary shadows on the wall.

This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News on 7 September 2016.

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The newspapers are filled with images and recollections from the September 11,2001 terrorist attacks, but no one seems to care. The online news sources are warning of a new terrorist threat on the 10th anniversary this weekend, but no one seems terribly scared. Americans, even in New York, appear preoccupied with other problems. Americans are also tired of terrorist warnings and remembrances. College students who barely remember the September 11, 2001 attacks, do not view them as transformative in any way.

Even a few months ago, I had predicted much more public introspection and mourning on this solemn 10-year anniversary. Why is this not the case? Why is the public so apathetic about such a significant milestone?

The best answer is that the attacks were traumatic, horrifying, and enormously destructive, but they did not change very much. New York City continued to grow and thrive as a center of world capitalism. Washington D.C. remained the capital for the only truly global superpower, despite the economic difficulties of the last three years. Although the United States embarked on new wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and other regions, most citizens (especially affluent professionals and college students) did not feel any pain. The lives of most Americans continued pretty much as they had before September 11, 2001. This was not a Pearl Harbor or Fort Sumter moment.

Some might view this analysis as evidence of American resilience. That is true. Terrorists can cause a lot of damage, but they really cannot challenge American power. Terrorism is a tactic with little long-term strategic value.

The frustrating element of American resilience is our society’s stubborn stagnation. We have changed very little since September 11, 2001, but maybe we really needed to change. Americans have continued to under-invest in infrastructure and education, as both crumble. Americans have burned ever-more fossil fuels, as our environment becomes disastrously degraded and erratic. Americans have continued to live beyond our means, as the piles of debt close off new economic opportunities.

The attacks of September 11, 2001 and their ten-year memory could inspire citizens to think in fresh ways about the long-term problems in our world, and the possibilities for new solutions. Courageous leaders would encourage these reflections as Abraham Lincoln did during the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt did during the Depression and World War II, and Dwight Eisenhower and John Kennedy did during the Cold War. It is not the tragic events that re-shape a society, but the willingness of leaders to turn those events into productive experiences of self-sacrifice for larger purposes. For a decade we have lacked leaders of that caliber.

The last 10 years were a wasted decade. Americans refused to re-examine their behavior, they refused to investigate new possibilities, and they avoided collective sacrifice at all costs. Historians will look back on this period and condemn the pig-headedness of a people who were viciously attacked, and then stuck their heads in the sand. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were cover for a deeper denial that real behavioral change was necessary.

After a decade of such pathetic stagnation, why should anyone care about the 10th anniversary of September 11, 2001? Our best hope is that the necessary changes of the next decade merit more reflection and celebration when we reach the 20th anniversary.

 

This post originally appeared at http://globalbrief.ca

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About Jeremi Suri
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Jeremi Suri holds the Mack Brown Distinguished Chair for Leadership in Global Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin. He is a professor in the University's Department of History and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs. Professor Suri is the author and editor of nine books on contemporary politics and foreign policy. Professor Suri's research and teaching have received numerous prizes. In 2007 Smithsonian Magazine named him one of America's "Top Young Innovators" in the Arts and Sciences. His writings appear widely in blogs and print media. Professor Suri is also a frequent public lecturer and guest on radio and television programs.

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