By John Stang
Marking the tenth anniversary of that tragic day on September 11 makes us all ponder the question: Have we made progress since that time in fighting the so called “War on Terror?” Disturbingly, only 42% of Americans think the U.S. is “winning” the this war, while 46% see neither side as being able to claim victory. Declaring a War on Terror is about the same as declaring a war on any general noun, like drugs or poverty. There is not a clear way to measure winning. Evening defining the word “terrorism” is difficult. As the old saying goes, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.”
After 9/11 happened, President Bush believed that this was the work of evil, even using the term “evildoers” from time to time describe the terrorists. Evil implies that there is no underlying motivation behind the person committing the act of violence. Starting the debate with that tone is the first, and still continues to be, our biggest mistake. Understandably, after 9/11 no one really bothered to have the conversation regarding the complexities of why the attack occurred. Meaning, no one wanted to address that somehow the U.S. policies in the Arab world or a possible Islamic revolution were taking place. Instead, we did as Charles Krauthammer proclaimed:
9/11 was our Pearl Harbor. This time, however, the enemy had no home address. No Tokyo. Which is why today’s war could not be wrapped up in a mere four years. It was unconventional war by an unconventional enemy embedded within a worldwide religious community. Yet in a decade, we largely disarmed and defeated it, and developed — albeit through trial, error, and tragic loss — the means to continue to pursue its remnants at rapidly decreasing cost. That is a historic achievement.
We saw 9/11 as Pearl Harbor, our generations historic act. Radical Islam became the enemy and no one, although some did, really questioned that black and white picture. Ten years on, we continue to fight the War on Terror through the same prism. This led us to make somewhat bad foreign policy choices. The Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, secret drone attacks in Yemen Pakistan and Somalia are all consequences of this thinking. Robert Klitzman at the Nation best sums up the point I’m trying to make when he writes:
In May, when US troops killed Osama Bin Laden, friends called my family and me and asked if we were now celebrating in the street. I was relieved, but I was not celebrating. I know that terrorism continues, and that we still needed to understand why – that there were lessons we perhaps still have not learned. Some still hate the US because we continued to support corrupt dictators like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and these outsiders saw us as greedy and imperialistic. In response to these thoughts, I wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times, articulating these feelings.
The one lesson we should all draw from 9/11 is that the world is complicated and not just one grand foreign policy strategy should be applied to solve such complex problems as terrorism. That is not to say the U.S. did not make smart choices along the way, we certainly have. Both Krauthammer and Klitzman reflect the respective views of the conservative and liberal movements. The former sees it as a war on traditional American values while the latter looks as at 9/11 as reaction to U.S. Middle East policy missteps. This debate is not new. The Cold War reflected the same debate in regards to the spread of communism. Certainly, this debate will not go away. In the end, the War on Terror is not something you win, but rather a state of mind to how to look at the world. I think that the best way to honor the memory of those who were lost is to ask ourselves if we have a better understanding of the world then we did 10 years ago. If the answer is no, then maybe a paradigm shift is needed.