Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

12 September 2008

9/11 After Seven

Seven years have passed since the attacks of September 11, 2001. Yesterday was a day of remembrance and tears. We properly dedicated it to the people who died on that terrible day and those close to them.

Yesterday some shunned “politicizing” that tragic day. But today is a new day. Anyway, I don’t propose to politicize anything, far less that day. I intend only to summarize eleven undeniable facts about the intervening seven years and ask a few questions.

Here are the facts:

1. A man who claims to have been the practical “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks—Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—is in our custody. We have put him on a sort of trial. Yet as far as we know, the men who inspired the attacks, built the worldwide organization to carry them out, financed them, and gave the orders to make them are still at large, somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their names are Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al Zawahiri.

2. The organization these men built, known as Al Qaeda (“The Base,” in Arabic), is still active in dozens of nations. It maintains its global headquarters not far from the place where it planned and ordered the 9/11 attacks. There it trains terrorists, works to destabilize two of our allies (Afghanistan and Pakistan), and plans further attacks on us and our other allies worldwide.

3. Al Qaeda’s own most important allies, the Taliban, are still active in Afghanistan. By our own military’s estimation, they are growing in strength there and becoming increasingly powerful across the border in Pakistan. All this is happening seven years after 9/11, and six years after we and our allies appeared to have defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan.

4. We started two wars after 9/11. One intended to capture or kill bin Laden and Al Zawahiri, destroy Al Qaeda, rebuild Afghanistan and preclude terrorists from ever again using Afghanistan as a safe haven. That war has failed in the first three objectives and (again according to our own military) is in danger of failing in the last. The largest number of American troops ever in that country is the number there now: 38,000.

5. In our second war, we invaded a country that had no effective air force and was contained by our own “no fly” zones. We now know that country had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no weapons of mass destruction. That largest number of American troops in combat in that country was about 144,000.

6. In comparison, we sent over 500,000 troops to Kuwait in Gulf I, when the goal was not to take Baghdad or occupy Iraq.

7. In a country of 300 million people, we have sent the same troops back to Iraq and Afghanistan over and over again. The rest of us go shopping and enjoy lower taxes.

8. Many of the heroic police and fire fighters who were first responders to the 9/11 attacks died because their radios could not receive an order to evacuate a doomed tower. Hundreds of others later came down with life-destroying respiratory diseases because they wore no respirators while working in a toxic stew.

9. Four years after the galvanizing effect of 9/11, our federal emergency agency was so hollow and incompetent that we allowed an historic and unique city to die in a flood, and hundreds of thousands of our citizens to become internal refugees. It took another three years (until this hurricane season), to get reasonable support for natural disasters from our federal government and reasonable cooperation between federal, state and local government.

10. The War in Iraq is still ongoing and its duration is uncertain. Some leaders insist that no time can be set for its end. Another says that, if elected president, he will terminate our combat operations in sixteen months. Even if he fulfills that promise, the War in Iraq will have lasted for over six years, and the war in Afghanistan for over eight, with no end in sight. For comparison, here is a table listing the duration of our nation’s involvement in active hostilities for all the major wars we have fought (scroll down):

Major WarDuration of U.S. Combat
War of Independence7 years
War of 1812Less than 3 years
Civil War4 years
World War I2 years, three months
World War IILess than 4 years
Korean War3 years, 1 month
War in VietnamAlmost 11 years*
Gulf ILess than 2 months

*From Gulf of Tonkin Incident; otherwise longer

11. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we Americans were united more that at any time since World War II. Today we are deeply divided by party, religion, race, culture, gender and economic class. We are also divided on many issues, including our two wars, care for our troops, energy, health care, education, our economy and what actually happened during the last seven years.

Here are my questions:

1. Is this state of affairs satisfactory, coming seven years after 9/11?

2. If not, who and what is responsible for it: what leaders, what political party, what ideas?

3. Should we give the same people (or their political allies and successors), the same political party and the same ideas another four years to try again?


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