A very different take on September 11

WASHINGTON — Out of the clearest blue sky, a thousand Tuesdays ago, four doomed planes came roaring into New York, Pennsylvania and across the river to the brick fortress with five sides.

The hijacked airships smashed so many lives — and so much steel — into smithereens, in moments that turned to years.

Nineteen guys — 15 Saudis, zero Iraqis — did it.

Their simple plot started to shipwreck the American 21st century. Just look around. We let that happen.

America was badly bleeding, grieving for the nearly 3,000 who perished. The world wept with us.

But the falling towers and the burning Pentagon gave our new leaders license to do what they wanted to do anyway: Wage wars of aggression against Afghanistan, Iraq and lest we forget, the “war on terror.”

Brash President George W. Bush never let losing the popular vote to former Vice President Al Gore sober him up for a second.

Speaking in Texan Bush parlance, the new president vowed to kick some a–. After peace, prosperity and former President Bill Clinton’s way with words, this did not fall gently.

Trillions of dollars and thousands of military and civilian lives later, as we remember the tragic terrorist attacks, it’s time for some remorse and reflection.

We’ve done damage to other countries in these futile wars. Afghanistan and Iraq were left in shambles.

But we also lost American pluck, self-reliance and common sense, old Yankee Revolutionary virtues. We scared too easily after Sept. 11, unlike our staunch strength and resolve after the Pearl Harbor bombing in 1941, 60 years earlier.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt appealed to the best in us, Bush to the worst.

The world’s last best hope — Lincoln’s words — should not go to war over 19 guys the FBI could have caught on our own soil.

Compare that with making peace in Bosnia.

Bush ignored warnings from the outgoing Clinton (on al-Qaida) and a CIA briefer who flew out to his Texas ranch to brief him on the red-hot plane plot. He sneered and even swore at the briefer on Aug. 6, 2001.

Bush paid no price, because later, President Donald Trump was even worse. Hurricane Katrina in 2005, which made New Orleans gone with the wind and water, was Bush’s endgame. People saw firsthand how inept he was when times got tough.

The Bush-Cheney years darkened and coarsened our character at home and abroad. Suddenly, everyone was a suspicious stranger to everyone else. Public spaces became like police states.

We let liberties go out of our grasp. Torture overseas and spying at home became government policy. The “homeland security” apparatus grew vaster than we citizens knew.

The FBI, failing miserably at preventing the attacks, spent its time hounding and investigating Muslim communities living here in peace.

We threw everything we had at 19 guys and took 10 years to take their mastermind out: Osama bin Laden.

Former President Barack Obama accomplished that mission but escalated “his” war in Afghanistan. The generals helpfully named it a surge.

Obama pursued a drone war, too, inherited from Bush. He conducted secret strikes against desert-poor Yemen. Congress never approved and lost a lot of its ground in checking the presidency in the benighted 21st century.

Obama charmed the public with smiles and speeches with a command of the English language after Bush’s mangled syntax.

Yet his appointments were quite elitist and Harvard-centric. He was an elegant soloist, not playing politics as a hard team sport. He didn’t even fight for his Supreme Court nominee.

This liberal fell out of love.

One knell: Obama appointed James Comey, a Republican, FBI director. High-handed Comey dealt two near-death blows to Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016.

As president, you usually try to protect your legacy and chosen successor.

Obama kind of let Trump win — overconfident that “Hillary would win anyway.” He didn’t like campaigning for other people.

Openly racist after the first Black president, Trump rolled into town with a scowl and renewed the Civil War for our times. (Like Bush, he lost the people’s vote.)

The rest is history, inescapable as we speak. The pandemic map is deadlocked, divided into Northern and Southern states, vaccinated and unvaccinated. And that is not an accident.

It’s as clear to me as that turquoise blue sky.

— — —

Jamie Stiehm may be reached at JamieStiehm.com To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists, please visit Creators.com.


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