In today’s Washington Post, Ted Koppell writes convincingly that it’s time we stop playing into bin Laden’s hands. We have, in so many ways, exceeded what would have been an appropriate response to the 9/11 terror attacks. And nine years later, we continue to do so.
A group of terrorists based in Afghanistan managed to engineer a monstrous attack on The Great Satan. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams when they brought down the Twin Towers, symbol of America’s industrial might. They succeeded when they struck the very heart of our military complex in Washington. And nine years later they are still succeeding.
We retaliated, smashed al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and sent bin Laden fleeing deep into the mountains of Pakistan. But we didn’t stop there. We went on to attack Iraq without cause — there were no weapons of mass destruction, no conspiring with bin Laden. We established secret prisons, violated human rights, and — though the world may never hold us accountable — committed atrocities and war crimes in violation of the Geneva Conventions and, worse, our own national values.
Nine years later, we are still in Afghanistan, doggedly pursuing a policy of nation-building in a primitive tribal country that may be culturally incapable of sustaining a democracy. And despite recent announcements of the end of combat operations in Iraq, there are still 50,000 American soldiers in that country. The day he took office, Pres. Obama announced the closing of the prison at Guantánamo, but it remains open and men are still being held there in violation of our own laws. Our military and economic capacities have been stretched beyond sustainable levels while we flounder here at home, but still we persist.
Today bin Laden is hiding in his cave smiling to himself as xenophobia in the US keeps growing. It’s been nine years, but Americans are turning on one another more than ever. He’s watching as our traditions of unity, religious freedom, and tolerance are threatened, not by terrorists from abroad but by hateful, angry, bigoted Americans. He’s watching as we do for him what he could never have achieved by himself.
Nine years after the attacks of 9/11, America still has much to fear. But it has little to do with a bearded man in a cave on the other side of the world. The biggest threat to America today comes from within. The biggest threat to our safety — yours and mine — is the madman next door.