Tomorrow marks the 22nd anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks which shook the nation and changed the world. Nearly 3,000 people lost their lives that day in New York City, Arlington County, Virginia and Stonycreek Township, Pennsylvania. Those of us who were alive that day no doubt remember the intense national unity Americans felt for a brief period of time.
This period of national unity, through the lens of nostalgia, is no doubt something many look back fondly on compared to the incessant bickering of national politics today.
But that period of national unity also blinded Americans to the vast and sweeping powers assumed.
“The temptation US leaders will struggle with in the next day or so is to respond intelligently and in a measured fashion rather than blindly and disproportionately,” write the late Orange County Register editorial writer Alan Bock in his Sept. 12, 2001 column published by Antiwar.com.
As the days, months and years that followed demonstrate, politicians opted for the blind and disproportionate route.
They passed the so-called Patriot Act which dramatically expanded the surveillance powers of the federal government. It empowered the federal government with indefinite detention powers. And it even gave the government excuses to poke around the library records of Americans.
In the period of national unity after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government rushed to approve an Authorization for Use of Military Force so broad and so vague that it essentially empowers the president of the United States to wage limitless war around the world without congressional checks and balances. Only one representative, Barbara Lee of Oakland, was brave and perceptive enough to vote against this blank check.
Presidents have invoked the 2001 AUMF to justify bombings in Afghanistan, Djibouti, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as vague “support” for counterterrorism operations in countries ranging from Cameroon to Kosovo to the Philippines.
Unfortunately, one long-term consequence of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 has been to keep the United States in a state of perpetual war, with little congressional pushback or attempt at proceeding in the manner intended by the U.S. Constitution.
These post-Sept. 11 conflicts resulted in the deaths of over 940,000 people directly due to war violence, according to the Costs of War project, and millions more indirectly. Millions of refugees have been created and $8 trillion spent or obligated by the United States.
Remarkably, American voters have rewarded those who made horrible calls on post-Sept. 11 policy.
President Joe Biden, for example, as a senator supported the civil liberties-trampling Patriot Act and the forever wars unleashed by the 2001 AUMF (as well as the subsequent, disastrous war in Iraq).
Memories are short, it turns out.
Though he withdrew from Afghanistan in a sloppy manner, President Biden did end the pointless war and occupation in Afghanistan. At least there’s that.
One thing is certain, the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 forever changed the world. It changed America.
Here’s to hoping that some day, the constitutional order is restored, that the bloodlust of the military-industrial complex is finally checked and that America can someday pursue a more sensible foreign policy. We won’t hold our breath, but we can certainly hope for that.