The War on Terror began on this date fifteen years ago. Tony Burman writes that, fifteen years out, some lessons are crystal clear:
First, it was preventable:
The former president, George W. Bush, will be mentioned often in anniversary ceremonies. People will speak of the surprise of the 9/11 attacks and the resolute way that Bush responded. But not mentioned will be that Osama bin Laden was already a known threat when the Bush administration took over. On Aug. 6, 2001 — a month before 9/11 — an intelligence memo to the president was headlined, “Bin Laden Determined To Strike in U.S.” Bush was on holiday at the time and he remained on holiday after the briefing.
Second, as a policy, revenge never works:
In response, the Bush administration decided to go after bin Laden by invading Afghanistan and then, in 2003, Iraq. It was a colossal blunder that must have fulfilled bin Laden’s dreams. Immediately after 9/11, the U.S. had the support of most of the world, including the major Middle Eastern powers. Had the U.S. acted in moderation, bin Laden himself would likely have become marginalized in the region, shunned by the very people whose support he sought. Instead, a series of military adventures not only cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives, but also bolstered bin Laden’s reputation in the region.
Third, terrorism doesn't spring from nowhere:
By pursuing an unwinnable military response, America’s cause was lost. And the implications of this debacle are still being felt. The focus was on the battlefield — wherever that might be in an era of terrorism. Left neglected were the root causes of terrorism’s appeal in the Middle East: the failing education systems, rampant government corruption, endemic poverty and the oppression of women at a time when their skills and talents were so desperately needed.
Fourth, the costs have been astronomical:
Sunday’s ceremony will celebrate the 2,977 innocent people who lost their lives on 9/11. That is an awful toll resulting from a heinous crime, and that should be stated. It actually has been, often, but it is easy to lose perspective. In the U.S. last year alone, 13,286 people were killed by gun violence. As a result of the military response to 9/11 in Afghanistan and Iraq, hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians were killed, as well as more than 5,000 American soldiers.
And, lastly, the war has given birth to the surveillance state:
The ferocious military action, not only by the U.S. but by governments everywhere, had a catastrophic impact on human rights. Governments used 9/11 as a pretext to curtail freedoms, squash political dissent and create a mushrooming surveillance state that is with us to this day.
After all the flag waving and drum beating, it's clear that the War on Terror has been just another chapter in The March of Folly.