9/11 plus seven years

The way we split up duties on the editorial board, Cindi Scoppe handles scheduling. For instance, she maintains "the budget," which has nothing to do with money — it’s newspaperese for a written summary of what you plan to publish in upcoming editions.

A couple of weeks back, Cindi put a bold notice on the budget to this effect: 9/11 ???? Beyond that, she’s mentioned it a couple of times. Each time I’ve sort of grunted. The most recent time was Monday, and I felt compelled to be somewhat more articulate. I explained that I hate marking anniversaries. Such pieces are so artificial. The points one might make 365 days after an event should not differ from what you would say the day before, or the day after — if you’re saying the right things.

Nevertheless, I’m kicking around a column idea, one that I’m not sure will work. If I can pull it together between now and Wednesday morning, we can run it Thursday.

Actually, it’s a couple of column ideas. One would simply be a bullet list of things to think about: the movement of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan would be one bullet, another would be Osama bin Laden, another would be the state of the NATO alliance — or something like that. Something acknowledging that it’s tough to isolate One Thing to say on a topic so complex.

The other would be to hark back to the editorial I wrote for the Sunday after 9/11 — 9/16/01. In it, I set out a vision of how the U.S. needed to engage the world going forward. A key passage:

We are going to have to drop our recent tendencies toward isolationism and fully engage the rest of the world on every possible term – military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian.

There’s nothing profound about it — it seems as obvious to me as the need to breathe. But America is a long way from embracing the concept holistically. We seem to lack the vocabulary for it, or something.

A couple of months ago, former State staffer Dave Moniz — who is now a civilian employee of the Air Force with the civilian rank of a brigadier general, operating out of Washington — brought a couple of Air Force guys to talk broadly about that service and how it’s doing these days. In passing, one of them mentioned the concept of DIME (which refers to "Diplomatic," "Information," "Military" and "Economic" as the four main elements of national power), which apparently is widely understood among military officers these days, even though it doesn’t enter much into civilian discussions.

We’ve wasted much of the last seven years arguing about the legitimacy of the exercise of military power, to the exclusion of the other parts. It’s sucked up all the oxygen. Occasionally we talk about "soft power," but as some sort of alternative, not as a necessary complement. And as long as our discussions are thus hobbled, it’s tough for us ever to get to the point of accomplishing the overall goals of making the world safer for liberal democracies:

    But we are going to have to do far more than simply project military power. We must help the rest of the world be more free, more affluent and more democratic. Advancing global trade is only the start.
    We must cease to regard "nation-building" as a dirty word. If the people of the Mideast didn’t live under oligarchs and brutal tyrants, if they enjoyed the same freedoms and rights and broad prosperity that we do – if, in other words, they had all of those things the sponsors of terror hate and fear most about us – they would understand us more and resent us less. And they would, by and large, cease to be such a threat to us, to Israel and to themselves.

With rescue workers still seeking survivors in the smoking rubble of the twin towers, it didn’t occur to me that the military part would be such a political barrier. I couldn’t see then how quickly political partisanship would reassert itself, or how quickly we would split into a nation of Iraq hawks and the antiwar movement.

I’m encouraged that the surge in Iraq has been successful enough — Gen. Petraeus was thinking in DIME terms as he suppressed the insurgencies — that we are prepared to redeploy troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. (Which reminds me of something I often thought over the last few years when antiwar types would talk about "bringing our troops home." I didn’t see how anyone would think we could do that, with the battles still to be fought against the Taliban. The most compelling argument those opposed to our involvement in Iraq had was that it consumed resources that should be devoted to Afghanistan. Obviously, as we turn from one we turn more to the other — not because we want to exhaust our all-volunteer military with multiple deployments, but because until we have a larger military, we have no choice — no credible person has asserted that Afghanistan is a "war of choice.")

You know what — I’m just going to copy that whole Sept. 16, 2001, editorial here. Maybe it will inspire y’all to say something that will help me write a meaningful column. Maybe not. But I share it anyway… wait, first I’ll make one more point: What the editorial set out was not all that different from the concept of "Forward Engagement" that Al Gore had set out in the 2000 campaign to describe his foreign policy vision — although after he unveiled it, he hardly mentioned it. Too bad that between his own party’s post-Vietnam isolationism and the GOP’s aversion to "nation-building," we’ve had trouble coalescing around anything like this.

Anyway, here’s the editorial:

THE STATE
IN THE LONG TERM, U.S. MUST FULLY ENGAGE THE WORLD
Published on: 09/16/2001
Section: EDITORIAL
Edition: FINAL
Page: A8

IF YOU HAD MENTIONED the words "missile defense shield" to the terrorists who took over those planes last Tuesday, they would have laughed so hard they might have missed their targets.
    That’s about the only way it might have helped.
    Obviously, America is going to have to rethink the way it relates to the rest of the world in the 21st century. Pulling a high-tech defensive blanket over our heads while wishing the rest of the world would go away and leave us alone simply isn’t going to work.
    We are going to have to drop our recent tendencies toward isolationism and fully engage the rest of the world on every possible term – military, diplomatic, economic and humanitarian.
    Essentially, we have wasted a decade.
    After the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union crumbled, there was a vacuum in our increasingly interconnected world, a vacuum only the United States could fill. But we weren’t interested. After half a century of intense engagement in world affairs, we turned inward. Oh, we assembled and led an extraordinary coalition in the Gulf War – then let it fall apart. We tried to help in Somalia, but backed out when we saw the cost. After much shameful procrastination, we did what we should have done in the Balkans, and continue to do so. We tried to promote peace in the Mideast, then sort of gave up. But by and large, we tended our own little garden, and let the rest of the world drift.
    We twice elected a man whose reading of the national mood was "It’s the economy, stupid." Republicans took over Congress and started insisting that America would not be the world’s "policeman."
    Beyond overtures to Mexico and establishing a close, personal relationship with Vladimir Putin, President Bush initially showed little interest in foreign affairs.
    Meanwhile, Russia and China worked to expand their own spheres of influence, Europe started looking to its own defenses, and much of the rest of the world seethed over our wealth, power and complacency.
    Well, the rest of the world isn’t going to simply leave us alone. We know that now. On Tuesday, we woke up.
    In the short term, our new engagement will be dominated by military action, and diplomacy that is closely related to military aims. It won’t just end with the death or apprehension of Osama bin Laden. Secretary of State Colin Powell served notice of what will be required when he said, "When we’re through with that network, we will continue with a global assault against terrorism in general." That will likely mean a sustained, broad- front military effort unlike anything this nation has seen since 1945. Congress should get behind that.
    At the moment, much of the world is with us in this effort. Our diplomacy must be aimed at maintaining that support, which will not be easy in many cases.
    Beyond this war, we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful military, and keep it deployed in forward areas. Our borders will be secure only to the extent that the world is secure. We must engage the help of other advanced nations in this effort. We must invest our defense dollars first and foremost in the basics – in keeping our planes in the air, our ships at sea and our soldiers deployed and well supported.
    We must always be prepared to face an advanced foe. Satellite intelligence and, yes, theater missile defenses will play roles. But the greatest threat we currently face is not from advanced nations, but from the kinds of enemies who are so primitive that they don’t even have airplanes; they have to steal ours in order to attack us. For that reason, we must beef up our intelligence capabilities. We need spies in every corner of the world, collecting the kind of low-tech information that espiocrats call "humint" – human intelligence. More of that might have prevented what happened last week, in ways that a missile shield never could.
    But we are going to have to do far more than simply project military power. We must help the rest of the world be more free, more affluent and more democratic. Advancing global trade is only the start.
    We must cease to regard "nation-building" as a dirty word. If the people of the Mideast didn’t live under oligarchs and brutal tyrants, if they enjoyed the same freedoms and rights and broad prosperity that we do – if, in other words, they had all of those things the sponsors of terror hate and fear most about us – they would understand us more and resent us less. And they would, by and large, cease to be such a threat to us, to Israel and to themselves.
    This may sound like an awful lot to contemplate for a nation digging its dead out of the rubble. But it’s the kind of challenge that this nation took on once before, after we had defeated other enemies that had struck us without warning or mercy. Look at Germany and Japan today, and you will see what America can do.
    We must have a vision beyond vengeance, beyond the immediate guilty parties. And we must embrace and fulfill that vision, if we are ever again to enjoy the collective peace of mind that was so completely shattered on Sept. 11, 2001.

25 thoughts on “9/11 plus seven years

  1. Doug Ross

    > Our borders will be secure only to the
    > extent that the world is secure.
    Does securing our borders include keeping out people who are not Americans? or just terrorists?
    > We are going to have to drop our recent
    >tendencies toward isolationism and fully
    >engage the rest of the world on every
    >possible term – military, diplomatic,
    >economic and humanitarian.
    Paid for by how and by whom? And according to which section of the Constitution?
    > At the moment, much of the world is with
    > us in this effort. Our diplomacy must be
    > aimed at maintaining that support, which
    > will not be easy in many cases.
    How did that work out for us? Did Bush succeed on that one?
    I think the past seven years has been a complete foreign policy failure. We’ve killed thousands of people (many hundreds of them innocent) to get revenge for the thousands of deaths caused by people who weren’t from Iraq. We’ve yet to capture the guy who orchestrated the whole 9/11 attack. We’ve created multi-billion dollar government agencies that tell us that we’re in “Threat Level Orange” for years while making sure we don’t bring 4 ounces of shampoo onto a plane. We have expended the lives of thousands of soldiers and seen tens of thousands maimed all in the name of trying to create a government in the middle of a sectarian environment.
    You are right on this point:
    “For that reason, we must beef up our intelligence capabilities. We need spies in every corner of the world, collecting the kind of low-tech information that espiocrats call “humint” – human intelligence. More of that might have prevented what happened last week, in ways that a missile shield never could.”

    Reply
  2. bud

    Beyond this war, we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful military, and keep it deployed in forward areas.
    -Brad
    That’s not part of the solution. Rather it’s part of the problem. Our overseas adventurism gives the radicals credibility. What we end up with is a cycle of death and destruction. What we have in Iraq now will never be a nation we can count on as an ally until we remove every single combat troop. What are we waiting for?

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  3. bud

    For those of us who understand that peace and security cannot be secured by dropping bombs on people in countries that are not a threat to us it is critical that we head off any more talk of more wars before they it gets out of control. Thus we need to be vigilant to speak out against war mongering talk against places like Iran and in Georgia. This all starts out with these non-hostile discussions about some bad dude overseas. And we all agree, indeed the dude in question is a bad dude. Then somehow that rather benign talk escalates until the bad dude is a dire threat to our security. Then we end up with a $3 trillion price tag, lots of rationalization and thousands of innocent deaths.
    I say NO to more wars against non-threatening nations. NO to war mongering. NO to the likes of Bush and McCain who see solutions only through the barrel of a gun. It’s time to reduce our military before the damn thing gets us all broke, or worse, dead.

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  4. Doug Ross

    > You see why we’ve had so much trouble
    >getting a grip on a national strategy?
    We have a national strategy. It’s one based on perpetuating the defense industry and thinking that America is the world’s policeman. It’s based on the assumption that every man, woman, and child in the world needs to be exposed to and accept America’s culture, values, and religion.
    As Bud says, that’s why we’re at where we’re at.

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  5. Phillip

    Good points, Doug.
    Brad, while it may be unfair to pick apart via the benefit of hindsight an editorial you wrote 7 years ago and in the immediate emotional aftermath of the WTC/Pentagon attacks, I do sincerely hope that 7 years has given you a chance to find the inherent inconsistencies in some of your argument.
    1) Basically, on the one hand you extol the need to build up nations of the world in terms of their domestic political freedoms, their economies via free trade. But militarily, you insist on the imperative of the USA to be the dominant power of the planet.
    If the world is “increasingly interconnected,” how can the vacuum to which you referred be one that “only the United States could fill”? As long as this is seen to be the case, your hope that “the people of the Mideast would…understand us more and resent us less…” is naive and a profound misreading.
    2) in that same passage was your only mention of Israel…again and again on this topic you have it exactly backwards…in your opening paragraph you should have issued a call for renewed, intensive attention to a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
    3) “the greatest threat we currently face is not from advanced nations, but from the kinds of enemies who are so primitive that they don’t even have airplanes…”
    Wrong then, and wrong now. As we see from the renewed pushback from Russia, plus the unpredictable situation of North Korea, and now of course a strengthened Iran, the world is potentially a more dangerous place than it was in 2001 and in any case, each of these nations has advanced capabilities to truly engulf the world in massive conflict, or to inflict damage on a scale that dwarfs Al-Qaeda’s abilities.
    4) “we must continue to maintain the world’s most powerful military, and keep it deployed in forward areas. Our borders will be secure only to the extent that the world is secure.” A few days ago, complaining about the impolite Code Pink protesters, you sounded a bit Hu Jintao-ish, and this sounds just like something Medvedev might say, if he had the power to back it up.
    In the short term, even if you assume that the US has benevolent intentions in every case, surely you would acknowledge that the model for a future, more peaceful and secure world, cannot sustain the vision of one nation overall imposing that “security” by predominantly military means.
    A unipolar world is inherently unstable, and inevitably that one power has been brought down eventually. If the advancement of liberal democracies truly is our goal, then surely the strengthening of the mechanisms of joint action and decision-making among the liberal democracies of the world has to accompany that, MUST be part of that, otherwise the whole premise is illogical. Part of that has to be our insistence on other democratic powers exercising their fair share of military burdens.
    5) Lastly, in your decrying of our inward focus during the 90’s, you give a bit of a backhanded swipe at the Clintonian “It’s the economy, stupid” message of 1992. But, as we see from the latest economic mess we face, including the recent Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debacles, economic distress can do MAJOR damage to a nation from within. It may not be as spectacular in an all-at-once fashion like 9/11, but it must not be dismissed as a lesser danger. How many people since 2001 have suffered or died because of difficulties obtaining affordable health care? How many lives have been disrupted or destroyed, if not literally, then in terms of quality of life, by job losses, by the inability to keep up with rising costs?
    The message of 9/11 to me is that we let 20 or so guys, plus a handful of other planners, via a plot of unbelievable audacity and ambition, dictate the basic course of this nation for much of the last 7 years, in ways that are often profoundly at odds with our best interests. We did some good things, in security, in intelligence. But we’ve gotten terribly off course in general.
    In your editorial, you said in the 1990’s, we had “essentially wasted a decade.”
    What would you say about the first decade of this 21st century, then?

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  6. bud

    Phillip, really great talking points. Your number 5 point is especially good. Economic security, coupled with other internal issues such as health care and basic safety concerns (traffic, suicide, homicide etc) are actually more important to our overall security than any external threat. By focusing so much attention on foreign affairs, especially those that are really not a legitimate threat, we squander resources that could be devoted to making our lives both more prosperous, healthier and safer. In the long run the trillions we’ve devoted to overseas adventurism has made us less secure, both from abroad and from within.

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  7. Mike Cakora

    Brad –
    We can’t get consensus on existential matters:

    – ballistic missile defense
    – the threat posed by an Iran with nukes (and whet, if anything, to do about it)
    – the need to maintain a robust signals intelligence collection and processing capability (yes, that FISA thingy, target the communications of foreign military, diplomatic, terrorist forces)
    – the need to rapidly increase domestic energy production so as to lessen imports, or
    – as bud notes, the need not only to maintain forward operating bases for US military forces, but to simply maintain the US military.

    I don’t think push has made the case for the items above clearly to the American people in part because it would look partisan. It would in fact be partisan because the evil Republicans do support a strong foreign policy. So unless you’ve got a way to make it non-partisan, it’s time to draw up battle lines.
    BTW, speaking of Afghanistan, have you noticed that the US is striking across the border into Pakistan almost daily? According to this article the reason is the departure of Pervez:

    “With Musharraf gone, the policy of self-deterrence is now gone,” a former senior counterterrorism official for both the Clinton and Bush national security councils, Roger Cressey, said. “We would deter ourselves from doing anything for fear that any action would destabilize Musharraf.”

    I sure hope this is true and we can keep it up. Otherwise India’s gonna have its undies in a bunch.
    Maybe Haliburton will win the cleanup contract…

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  8. Walt Hampton

    …and one day the Japanese decided, “Hey, now is a good time to bomb and invade the USA!” That’s all there was to that also, right? And then right after that, Adolph Hilter decided, “Hey, now is a good time to gas six million Jews!” Right?
    Don’t tell me. You know it’s all true, because you saw it all on the History Channel.
    No doubt you did.

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  9. bud

    Mike, I’m going to have to do something drastic here – agree with you. The tragedy of 9-11 really was a simple story of a few radicals who were brazen enough to hijack airliners and crash them into buildings. All the 9-11 conspiracy theories about buildings imploded by the government and Bush somehow planning the whole thing are just plane nonsense. Unfortunately this is mostly left-wing conspiracy theory stuff. A word to my fellow liberals, dispense with the 9-11 conspiracy stuff. It’s all bogus and doesn’t help the cause.

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  10. Walt Hampton

    >All the 9-11
    >conspiracy theories
    >about buildings
    >imploded by the
    >government
    >
    …and Humphrey Bogart said, “Give ’em a good show and they’ll buy it all!”
    Right on, Bogie!!!

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  11. Mike Cakora

    bud –
    Thanks, I just had a brewski in your honor. And please don’t leave out the rightwing nutcases who have been quite active in the conspiracies too.
    Heck, there may even be moderate wackos but I don’t know if we’d immediately recognize them.

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  12. Mike Cakora

    Phillip — Nice try, but Obama did not recognize the rules of the game. While I suspect that we’ve always had small scale covert incursions into Pakistan and know that there have been less covert observation and occasional Hellfire attacks with Predators, I don’t recall that Obama’s response acknowledged the precarious position the Mushman. It makes sense as the article implies that any sizable and repeated incursions would cause political problems for Pervez, so with him out the game has changed. Arguably Obama was premature and not particularly perceptive.
    I’m sure that when Obama does have a good idea, folks will listen.

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  13. p.m.

    Bud, to say that 9-11 conspiracy theories are just PLANE nonsense may be the absolute highlight of your blogging career.
    I’m having a serious drink on that one.
    Or two.

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  14. Lee Muller

    It’s amazing how so many Democrats hate America and hate President Bush to the point of denying the 9/11 attacks, and even claiming that Bush blew up the buildings.
    But when Clinton removed the FAA from the investigation of TWA Flight 800, put Al Gore in charge of it, and arrested the three investigators provided by the airlines and aircraft industry, Democrats were silent.
    When Clinton refused to arrest Bin Laden for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, Democrats were silent (except Richard Holbrook and Dick Morris, who resigned).
    Do these Democrat nut cases also think that it was actually Clinton who blew up the embassies in Kenya and bombed the USS Cole?

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  15. Brad Warthen

    Folks, my view of what needs to be done has not changed. The great shame is that we have not done these things. We have not articulated a comprehensive plan of engagement with the world, and assembled the bipartisan consensus needed to see it through. The great failure of George W. Bush is a failure of leadership — his own standard of measurement, by the way (remember all that stuff he used to say about “that’s what leaders do?”). I lost an argument in 2000 to a publisher — a man I respected a lot, by the way; we just had this one great disagreement — who thought we should endorse Bush for his “leadership” ability. That certainly got us nowhere. It would be tempting to say Bush just didn’t get it, but he gave some speeches here and there in the first couple of years after 9/11 that indicated he DID get it. But he was unable to lead the nation in that direction. You GOP Bush apologists may blame the Democrats for that — and sure, they tangoed just as hard as Republicans did in this destructive partisan dance — but partisanship flows into vacuums left by a lack of leadership.

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  16. bud

    The great failure of George W. Bush is a failure of leadership …
    -Brad
    That was sooooooooooooooooo clear in 2004 yet you endorsed him. Unbelievable. If you didn’t like Kerry why didn’t you just not endorse anyone. That’s what dozens of papers did in 2004. In part because of the failure of our national cadre of so-called journalists we ended up with the worst president in history for 4 MORE years.

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  17. Susanna

    I came across a comment today (can’t remember where) that said America has lost its sense of purpose since 9/11. I think that’s as good a way as any of saying that we’re all pulling in different directions, unable to agree on what our country should be or do on the world stage.
    (Incidentally, I think South Carolina suffers from the same malaise. I’m hoping our next governor will be someone who inspires us to take on big challenges and make this a better state.)

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  18. Walt Hampton

    Okay, this is a predictable topic,
    so I won’t go into a long, boring
    tirade about it. The truth about
    9/11 is available at your fingertips.
    I just want to throw out a few
    random thoughts, then that’s it..
    First, if you believe the establishment
    version of what happened on 9/11,
    you’ve been suckered. End of story.
    Guys like Pat Tillman are a perfect
    example of the fact that most Americans
    would rather die than think.
    Specifically, if you believe a handful of
    Arab “terrorists” pulled off the World
    Trade Center attack, you’re being naive.
    And if you believe the Twin Towers
    collapsed in free-fall fashion after its top
    floors were struck by a plane, you’re
    being foolish.
    The events of 9/11/01 were intentional, alright.
    Their purpose was to justify invasion and
    plunder abroad, and police-state tyranny
    at home. Power and profit. Period. AIPAC
    and Halliburton couldn’t care
    less that thousands of innocents died in
    the process.

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  19. p.m.

    Gosh, Walt, here’s hoping you and Rosie O’Donald mudwrestle on “The View” soon, tag team against Sarah Palin and Chuck Norris.
    Based on the unsupported nonsense you believe about 9-11, let me sell you a lump of green cheese I found on a Martian moon.

    Reply

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