Al Qaeda Has Won!
Did our mighty military protect us from attack on September 11, 2001? Not at all. Who won that day? Who has been winning since that day? Al Qaeda won that day, and the conservatives are their biggest accomplice in their winning ever since! The US clearly won WWII on both the European and Asian fronts. We have not won a war since! We have fought wars that have ended, but we did not “win” them. I can make a case that the US lost the war against Al Qaeda — not militarily, but in terms of which side achieved its objectives. Our country and the lifestyle it used to represent have changed dramatically since 9/11/2001 and the vast majority of those changes represent changes for the worse.
It all started on that horrible day in September of 2001. Not September 11th, September 12th. On the 11th, we experienced a national tragedy resulting in the loss of far too many innocent lives. As tragic as that loss was, it pales when compared to what we have done to ourselves since then.
Immediately following the attacks, Carl Rove and his gang recognized the opportunity to use the fear of another attack to political advantage. By October 26, 2001, George Bush signed the Patriot Act — greatly reducing most American privacy expectations.
“The Act dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies’ ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The Act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers could be applied.”
The Act represents a huge loss of freedom and privacy expectations for most Americans. Score one for Al Qaeda.
Next, came the creation of the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) and color-coded travel danger levels. One former TSA executive subsequently referred to the organization as Transportation Safety Theater because all of the inconveniences placed on passengers have a very minor impact on our safety, but they have a politically advantageous psychological impact on everyone. You cannot carry a water bottle through security, and no other tubes or bottles can exceed 3.5 ounces. Former Bush administration senior officials admitted that they deliberately manipulated danger-level color codes for political advantage as we neared the 2004 elections. I was living in Atlanta at the time and there are many, many security gates available. Despite that, there were times when it took over 2 hours to get through security. Standing in line was a reminder of the constant vigilance it took to keep us safe — NOT! Score another one for Al Qaeda.
It was not enough to remind us of the dangers when we fly. Apparently, too many people in this country do not fly so they were not getting the “FEAR” message. Therefore, the government upped the ante and installed metal detectors at the entrances to stadiums, public buildings, and other large gathering places to remind more people that we are in grave danger of another attack and the government is protecting us. Do you really believe that all of those metal detectors deterred a single terrorist? Of course not! However, they did a great job of reminding everyone that the conservatives are the masters of protecting us from harm. Moreover, they got Bush a second term. Score another one for the bad guys. (I am not saying getting Bush re-elected was a victory for the terrorists. It was a victory for Al Qaeda who manipulated public opinion using fear of another attack.)
Nine years later, and into a new administration, the terrorists were still winning. The conservatives, heavily influenced by the religious right, raised a major objection to the building of a Muslim community center ‘in the vicinity of’ Ground Zero. This country was founded on a set of principles embodied in the constitution. The Founding Fathers made religious freedom a part of the First Amendment to the Constitution. There is no room for debate about what they meant by freedom of religion. Many of the earliest settlers came to this country to escape state religions and to be free to practice whatever religion they chose. The phrase “separation of church and state” does not appear anywhere in the Constitution. Thomas Jefferson wrote that the first Amendment erected a “wall of separation” between the church and the state (James Madison said it “drew a line,” but it is Jefferson’s term that sticks with us today). The phrase is commonly thought to mean that the government should not establish, support, or otherwise involve itself in any religion.
A small subset of the Catholic Church carried out The Spanish Inquisition — a subset of Christianity. Should Spain ban all Christian churches from the country because of the actions of a few fringe zealots? Of course not! Doesn’t a similar absurdity exist with the suggestion to ban a Muslim mosque from Manhattan because of the actions of a small lunatic fringe? More importantly, doesn’t even suggesting that the government should interfere with a religious activity violate one of our country’s basic values? If we start violating our own founding principles because of the actions of the terrorists (abetted by the religious right in this country), they win. Score another one for Al Qaeda!
Surely you remember the words, ”Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It’s the invitation to immigrants on the Statue of Liberty. That invitation resulted in the arrival of people from literally all over the world. They came here because they believed in our dream and wanted to live it with us. It has served us very well for centuries. As we see the world becoming a more competitive global market, one of the ways we can continue our international innovation and economic leadership is by continuing to invite industrious, motivated people to join us. Look around you! The rich diverse mixture of cultures and ethnicities in our societies constitute one of our greatest strengths. Do we need to control immigration? Absolutely! However, it should not be a divisive partisan issue. Whether they are Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, Shinto, or any other religion should not make a difference. Our greatness comes from our diversity. Those among us who push for immigration reform in order to advance their own agendas are our enemies, not the people seeking to build a place of worship to improve their community. Score another one for Al Qaeda!
Finally, we must consider the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 9/11 attack killed 2,995 innocent people. Since 9/11 in two wars justified by that terrible event, we have lost nearly 7,000 lives; and that does not count the much larger number of civilian casualties — many of them the direct result of our efforts to get the bad guys. In the nine years after 9/11, America spent more than $1.1 Trillion dollars on the wars, and the spending continues. “Estimates conclude that there are 150 full-time insurgent Taliban forces and we’ve spent $337.8 billion to date in Afghanistan. That’s $2.2 billion per full-time Taliban insurgent. If we can’t kill them with 150,000 troops, maybe we should try to buy them off by giving each Taliban insurgent the same net worth as Baron Hilton.” When you also consider the Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prison situations, where we have again violated some of our basic human rights principals — not to mention broken international law — we have damaged our moral and human rights leadership reputation in ways that will take decades to repair.
Somewhere in a cave in some remote region of the Arab World, there is a group of Al Qaeda leaders smiling as we carry on their work for them. They provided a spark that set off a chain reaction that continues to this day. It was a brilliant strategy. They saw the weaknesses in our system and exploited them masterfully.
It is time for a few strong leaders to step up and look beyond their own personal political future. What we need now are not politicians but statesmen, truly willing to put the good of the country first. Every once in a while, we see flashes of it from both sides of the aisle. It is time for the media to stop encouraging the political squabbles that raise their ratings and instead to recognize and encourage bold statesmanship.
I have seen Tea Party members with signs saying, “I want my country back!” Ironically, I agree with their statement — if not their meaning. America is facing enough problems economically in this globally competitive environment. We need to all work together and focus on rebuilding the basic freedoms, moral foundations, and economic and industrial traditions that made this country great.
This is an excerpt from my book on Poverty — part 31
(Written but not published. If you want a MS Word free copy, let me know.)