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The Collective
Sunday, September 30, 2007
By Dr. Steven Taylor

Tom Friedman’s piece in this morning’s NYT
(9/11 Is Over) is going to make a lot of people mad, I suspect (some examples already here and here). While I do not agree with every sentence in the piece, and think some of his comparisons towards the end are strained, his fundamental point is sound:

We don’t need another president of 9/11. We need a president for 9/12. I will only vote for the 9/12 candidate.

What does that mean? This: 9/11 has made us stupid. I honor, and weep for, all those murdered on that day. But our reaction to 9/11 — mine included — has knocked America completely out of balance, and it is time to get things right again.

It is not that I thought we had new enemies that day and now I don’t. Yes, in the wake of 9/11, we need new precautions, new barriers. But we also need our old habits and sense of openness. For me, the candidate of 9/12 is the one who will not only understand who our enemies are, but who we are.

(All italics from the original).

Many will take substantial umbrage at being called “stupid” and will similarly show outrage at the suggestion that the war on terrorism isn’t any less than a true threat to our very existence. There is also the fact that those who wish to see the threat as existential also like to use the phrase “9/12 mindset” (or other similar formulations) to indicate their point of view, so Friedman is not only contradicting their views, he is appropriating their rhetoric.

Nonetheless, Friedman’s basic point seems to me to be threefold: 1) we are overly focused on the actual day and the events of 9/11, 2) this has led to an overly zealous approach to fighting terrorism, and 3) this has ultimately affected our own national progress and our place in the world.’

In regards to the first point, the bottom line is that overly focusing on that day, those events and the tragic deaths of that days is unhealthy. Like someone who loses a spouse to a violent crime, there comes a time where one has to let go and move on. Holding the anger, the fear and the need for revenge in one’s heart is poisoning over time. Many continue to allow the events of 9/11 to so thoroughly traumatize them that they haven’t moved on. Yes, we should remember. Yes, there were very important lessons to be learned, but at some point the past has to be the past, no matter how traumatic and tragic that it was.

The second point follows on from the first: if one remains too much in the tragic moment, it colors the way one acts. We have overreacted and continue to overreact. Clearly we launched the Iraq war for the wrong reasons. The fact that the war could only have been launched in the context of a focus on 9/11 illustrates this fact. Further, we have moved to substantially empower the government in a way that has substantially increased the ability of the government to damage the liberties and privacy of innocent American citizens.

On the third point, I know many will say that we shouldn’t care about what others think. However, one of America’s greatest strengths has long been its values and its image. We have seriously damaged that image. That has long terms political and economic implications that we shouldn’t ignore. The numbers on tourism that Friedman cites are alarming. Sure, tourism may not seem like that big a deal, but we are talking about millions of dollars in the economy, and Friedman’s point about contact between the US and the rest of world is not a small one.

Further, along those lines, one may scoff as Friedman’s suggestion that we have infrastructural and other problems, one has to admit that the billions and billions of dollars that has gone to fight the Iraq war in particular represents national wealth being drained away from other uses, be they governmental or private.

In terms of the “stupid” claim, it is noteworthy to point out, that 1 in 3 Americans believe that:

“Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.”

[…]

Four in 10 Republicans still hold this view, compared with 32% of Independents and 27% of Democrats.

The poll of 1,035 adults was taken Sept. 4 to 8.

Further, many still believe that Saddam’s WMD were shipped to Syria or are still buried in the desert. They base these claims on that notion since it is possible that such scenario could have happened, that they probably did-forget the fact that we have no empirical evidence whatsoever to confirm such theories, such views help validate the fact that the war had a real basis, so they ignore reality and hope that fantasy is true.

At a minimum, therefore, there is clear evidence of a lack of fuzzy thinking and conclusions based on faulty evidence out there. Another example of this is the notion that we face an ongoing and imminent threat of al Qaeda via our southern border, despite the fact that has been no evidence of such a threat. It just sounds good, so it must be so.

Let me confess that I, too, allowed 9/11 to make me stupid. Those events coupled with the still unsolved anthrax attacks made it appear at the time as if we had entered a new phase of global politics that allowed me to be more persuaded than I should have been by a number of policy proposals of the Bush administration-most especially the Iraq policy. I will note that the administration took those events of 2001 and did nothing but fuel the notion that we were, in fact, faced with imminent and repeated attack.

At some point we are all going to have to assess the world away from images of planes flying into buildings and the smoldering heaps they left behind. Politicians who seek to continually take us back to that moment as a way to stoke to fires of anger and revenge do us all a disservice. President Bush and Vice President Cheney have gone to that well quite often over the last six-plus years. Rudy Giuliani seems to have based roughly 95% of his campaign on the continual revisiting of those events. We need to move beyond those events.

I don’t mean that we forget them, or that we ignore the real threats that exist in the guise of al Qaeda and similar groups. There are real threats out there. But like my arguments concerning assessment of Iraq itself, we need candidates, and eventually a president, who will realistically assess these threats, not simply conjure images of 9/11 as if any minute another such event is going to take place. Policies based on rational and empirical assessments rather than fear would be a nice change of pace.

h/t: A&I for the polling story on Iraq and 9/11 linked above.

Sphere: Related Content

Filed under: Iraq, US Politics, War on Terror | |

8 Comments »

  1. Amein to the above.

    Speaking only personally here, I consider the 9/12 mentality to be the one that led me to choke up at the amazing sights and sounds of unity such as the “Star Spangled Banner” played by the Queen’s band at Buckingham Palace and the spontaneous pro-US demonstrations in Tehran and other world capitals and that led many Americans to dare ask the question, “Why do they hate us?”

    The 9/13 mentality is the one that concerns me more. That is, the one emanating from the White House that looked at that smoldering rubble and could think only WEDGE ISSUE and WAR OPPORTUNITY; you are either with us (i.e. the GOP) or against us.

    Honestly, I think there is no going back to the unity and respect. At least not in the short-medium term.

    Comment by MSS — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 1:45 pm

  2. Seeing that 1 in 3 Americans still believe that “Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11tth, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon” is an outrage. This recent poll, along with many others, has shown that we have become stupid. It is hard to fight a was when we have people in our own country who do not even know the leader we are fighting. Not only is the 9/12 mindset the way we should be going, it is the way I will vote come the 2008 elections. 1 in 3, what a shame…

    Comment by Shahriar — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 2:06 pm

  3. Seeing that 1 in 3 Americans still believe that “Saddam Hussein was involved in the September 11tth, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon” is an outrage. This recent poll, along with many others, has shown that we have become stupid. It is hard to fight a was when we have people in our own country who do not even know the leader we are fighting. Not only is the 9/12 mindset the way we should be going, it is the way I will vote come the 2008 elections. 1 in 3, what a shame…

    Comment by Shahriar — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 2:08 pm

  4. I wasn’t at all impressed with the article. There may have been a point there, but it was so unfocused I just couldn’t follow it.

    What was the problem he’s railing against? Sometimes it seemed to be airport security. Or maybe cell phone coverage? Or politicians that use 9/11 for advantage? Or maybe corporate competiveness? I think there was a point there, but the gripes were too widely scattered to be sure.

    But I guess I should give Friedman a break. I may take a few columns to get back on track after a few years of being SELECTed for anonymity by his employer.

    Comment by Buckland — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 3:42 pm

  5. I have to admit that after hearing one in three Americans believe Saddam was personally involved in the 9/11 hijackings I couldn’t help but wonder how many of them also believe 9/11 was an inside job.

    Are there stupid Americans? Sure are. Has 9/11 made America stupid? I’m not convinced yet.

    Comment by Max Lybbert — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 5:40 pm

  6. 9/11 or 9/12 we still are at war with terror. It is all about how we fight that war. If 9/11 made us “stupid”, it also made us wake up to the fact that radical Islamic fighters want to kill us. Just like December 7th made us aware that Hitler wanted to kill us even though it was Japan who attacked. We need to be better at selling our position in the world and we need to figure out how to get out of Iraq and still confront Iran. But if we don’t understand that the media war is as important as the war on terror we will lose. I think Friedman often is correct but many times understand elites more than the average person when he writes.

    Comment by Mark — Sunday, September 30, 2007 @ 8:44 pm

  7. Just like December 7th made us aware that Hitler wanted to kill us even though it was Japan who attacked.

    While the Pearl Harbor attacks did propel us headlong into WWII, I am unclear on how ti showed us that “Hitler wanted to kill us”-indeed, the evidence suggests Hitler would have been more than content to keep the war in Europe and he thought at one point that Germany and the US could be allies after the war.

    Heck, for that matter, the Japanese were trying to deter us from fighting in the Pacific (so much for that plan).

    Regardless, the Pearl Harbor-9/11 analogies are rather strained. Indeed, the only real thing they have in common is that they were both sneak-attacks on US soil.

    I would submit that the constant need to make the current era into a true World War that is either supposed to be an analog to WII or to the Cold War is actually very much an example of how we have over-emphasized 9/11 and allowed it to, in Friedman’s inelegant term, make us stupid.

    This is not to say that there aren’t serious threats, but that we need to put them in proper perspective.

    Comment by Dr. Steven Taylor — Monday, October 1, 2007 @ 6:20 am

  8. My 9/12 Mindset has been influenced by many of the obvious realities that were known before and certainly after 9/11/01. I believe that most Americans are skeptical of many views about 9/11 and have not become more stupid but like myself are still searching for the truth, here are a few “truths”:

    1)The weakness and real lack of action by the Clinton admin and previous admin after multiple attacks, Iran Embassy to WTC1 & 2, embassy bombings, Blackhawk Down, USS Cole, etc.

    2)The failure of US Intelligence services to do the job, and the evidence that the Clinton DOJ/CIA was a big part of that failure! Sandy Burglar anyone???

    3)Iraqi development and use of WMD were documented and all intelligence was they existed…not to mention after 9/11/01 we know that Saddam harbored and met with many terrorist as well as financing suicide murders of Israel’s!

    4)The 9/11 Commission Report that was no more than a chance to CYA by the perps that failed the job. The Report that also tiptoed around the edges of information from sources like AbleDanger and the Documented Terrorist & Iraq interaction.

    There are certainly still a lot of unknowns about this epic struggle we cannot lose and the Left’s inability to even acknowledge this is truly astouding…as for Thomas Friedman, the NYTs is going to regret letting him out from behind the firewall of Times SelectD. This article is mush and insulting and if he feels this way, he might want to go ahead and pack and move with his Billionairess Wife to China, or better yet to Saudi Arabia!

    Comment by Vaquero — Tuesday, October 2, 2007 @ 8:02 am

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