Sunday, September 04, 2011

Ten Years Later

Lengths of some wars you may remember:

Vietnam War--August, 1964 to April, 1975, 129 months
Afghanistan--  October, 2001 to Present, 119 months

Iraq War--March, 2003 to Present, 102 months
American Revolution--April, 1775 to September, 1783, 100 months
U.S. Civil War--April, 1861 to April, 1865, 48 months
World War II--December, 1941 to September, 1945, 45 months
World War I--April, 1917 to November, 1918, 19 months
Korean War-- June, 1950 to July, 1953, 37 months
War of 1812--June, 1812 to February, 1815, 32 months
U.S.-Mexican War-- May, 1846 to February, 1848, 21 months
Spanish-American War--April, 1898 to August, 1898, 5 months
Gulf War--January, 1991 to March, 1991, 3 months

Is there a lesson in the relative lengths of these wars?  I think there is: if you are going to kill people for a cause, you need to know what the cause is and know whether killing people will get you to your goal.  We haven’t undertaken that analysis the last three times we engaged in nation building (other than GHW Bush’s under-appreciated decision to live with the original goal of the Gulf War).

Leonard Pitts, September 12, 2001

It's my job to have something to say.

They pay me to tease shades of meaning from social and cultural issues, to provide words that help make sense of that which troubles the American soul. But in this moment of airless shock when hot tears sting disbelieving eyes, the only thing I can find to say, the only words that seem to fit, must be addressed to the unknown author of this suffering.

You monster. You beast. You unspeakable bastard.

What lesson did you hope to teach us by your coward's attack on our World Trade Center, our Pentagon, us? What was it you hoped we would learn?

Whatever it was, please know that you failed.

Did you want us to respect your cause? You just damned your cause.

Did you want to make us fear? You just steeled our resolve.

Did you want to tear us apart? You just brought us together.

Let me tell you about my people. We are a vast and quarrelsome family, a family rent by racial, cultural, political and class division, but a family nonetheless. We're frivolous, yes, capable of expending tremendous emotional energy on pop cultural minutiae: a singer's revealing dress, a ball team's misfortune, a cartoon mouse.

We're wealthy, too, spoiled by the ready availability of trinkets and material goods; and maybe because of that, we walk through life with a certain sense of blithe entitlement. We are fundamentally decent, though -- peace-loving and compassionate. We struggle to know the right thing and to do it. And we are -- the overwhelming majority of us -- people of faith, believers in a just and loving God.

Some people -- you, perhaps -- think that any or all of this makes us weak.

You're mistaken. We are not weak. Indeed, we are strong in ways that cannot be measured by arsenals.

Yes, we're in pain now. We are in mourning, and we are in shock. We're still grappling with the unreality of the awful thing you did, still working to make ourselves understand that this isn't a special effect from some Hollywood blockbuster, isn't the plot development from a Tom Clancy novel.

Both in terms of the awful scope of its ambition and the probable final death toll, your attacks are likely to go down as the worst acts of terrorism in the history of the United States and, indeed, the history of the world. You've bloodied us as we have never been bloodied before.

But there's a gulf of difference between making us bloody and making us fall.

This is the lesson that Japan was taught to its bitter sorrow the last time anyone hit us this hard, the last time anyone brought us such abrupt and monumental pain. When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length in the pursuit of justice.

I tell you this without fear of contradiction. I know my people as you, I think, do not. What I know reassures me. It also causes me to tremble with dread of the future.

In days to come, there will be recrimination and accusation, fingers pointing to determine whose failure allowed this to happen and what can be done to prevent it from happening again. There will be heightened security, misguided talk of revoking basic freedoms. We'll go forward from this moment sobered, chastened, sad. But determined, too. Unimaginably determined.

You see, there is steel beneath this velvet. That aspect of our character is seldom understood by people who don't know us well. On this day, the family's bickering is put on hold. As Americans, we will weep; as Americans, we will mourn; and as Americans, we will rise in defense of all that we cherish.

Still, I keep wondering what it was you hoped to teach us. It occurs to me that maybe you just wanted us to know the depths of your hatred.

If that's the case, consider the message received. And take this message in exchange: You don't know my people. You don't know what we're about. You don't know what you just started.

But you're about to learn.

George W. Bush, September 20, 2001

Americans are asking, why do they hate us? They hate what we see right here in this chamber--a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms--our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other. They want to overthrow existing governments in many Muslim countries, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan. They want to drive Israel out of the Middle East. They want to drive Christians and Jews out of vast regions of Asia and Africa. These terrorists kill not merely to end lives, but to disrupt and end a way of life. With every atrocity, they hope that America grows fearful, retreating from the world and forsaking our friends. They stand against us, because we stand in their way.

We are not deceived by their pretenses to piety. We have seen their kind before. They are the heirs of all the murderous ideologies of the 20th century. By sacrificing human life to serve their radical visions--by abandoning every value except the will to power--they follow in the path of fascism, and Nazism, and totalitarianism. And they will follow that path all the way, to where it ends: in history’s unmarked grave of discarded lies.

Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command--every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war--to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network. . . . Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism. Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. From this day forward, any nation that continues to harbor or support terrorism will be regarded by the United States as a hostile regime.

Our nation has been put on notice: We are not immune from attack. We will take defensive measures against terrorism to protect Americans. Today, dozens of federal departments and agencies, as well as state and local governments, have responsibilities affecting homeland security. These efforts must be coordinated at the highest level. So tonight I announce the creation of a Cabinet-level position reporting directly to me--the Office of Homeland Security….

These measures are essential. But the only way to defeat terrorism as a threat to our way of life is to stop it, eliminate it, and destroy it where it grows. Many will be involved in this effort, from FBI agents to intelligence operatives to the reservists we have called to active duty. All deserve our thanks, and all have our prayers. And tonight, a few miles from the damaged Pentagon, I have a message for our military: Be ready. I’ve called the Armed Forces to alert, and there is a reason. The hour is coming when America will act, and you will make us proud.

Americans are asking: What is expected of us? I ask you to live your lives, and hug your children. I know many citizens have fears tonight, and I ask you to be calm and resolute, even in the face of a continuing threat.

I ask you to uphold the values of America, and remember why so many have come here. We are in a fight for our principles, and our first responsibility is to live by them. No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith. . . .

We will come together to give law enforcement the additional tools it needs to track down terror here at home. We will come together to strengthen our intelligence capabilities to know the plans of terrorists before they act, and find them before they strike. We will come together to take active steps that strengthen America’s economy, and put our people back to work….

After all that has just passed--all the lives taken, and all the possibilities and hopes that died with them--it is natural to wonder if America’s future is one of fear. Some speak of an age of terror. I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.

Great harm has been done to us. We have suffered great loss. And in our grief and anger we have found our mission and our moment. Freedom and fear are at war. The advance of human freedom--the great achievement of our time, and the great hope of every time--now depends on us. Our nation--this generation--will lift a dark threat of violence from our people and our future. We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

It is my hope that in the months and years ahead, life will return almost to normal. We’ll go back to our lives and routines, and that is good. Even grief recedes with time and grace. But our resolve must not pass. Each of us will remember what happened that day, and to whom it happened. We’ll remember the moment the news came--where we were and what we were doing. Some will remember an image of a fire, or a story of rescue. Some will carry memories of a face and a voice gone forever.

I will not forget this wound to our country or those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people. The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain. Freedom and fear, justice and cruelty, have always been at war, and we know that God is not neutral between them.

Fellow citizens, we’ll meet violence with patient justice--assured of the rightness of our cause, and confident of the victories to come. In all that lies before us, may God grant us wisdom, and may He watch over the United States of America.

Senator and candidate Barack Obama, 2008

….As President, I will pursue a tough, smart and principled national security strategy – one that recognizes that we have interests not just in Baghdad, but in Kandahar and Karachi, in Tokyo and London, in Beijing and Berlin. I will focus this strategy on five goals essential to making America safer: ending the war in Iraq responsibly; finishing the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban; securing all nuclear weapons and materials from terrorists and rogue states; achieving true energy security; and rebuilding our alliances to meet the challenges of the 21st century….

President Obama, June, 2011.

My fellow Americans, this has been a difficult decade for our country.  We've learned anew the profound cost of war -- a cost that's been paid by the nearly 4,500 Americans who have given their lives in Iraq, and the over 1,500 who have done so in Afghanistan -– men and women who will not live to enjoy the freedom that they defended.  Thousands more have been wounded. Some have lost limbs on the battlefield, and others still battle the demons that have followed them home.

Yet tonight, we take comfort in knowing that the tide of war is receding.  Fewer of our sons and daughters are serving in harm’s way.  We’ve ended our combat mission in Iraq, with 100,000 American troops already out of that country.  And even as there will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end.

As they do, we must learn their lessons.  Already this decade of war has caused many to question the nature of America’s engagement around the world.  Some would have America retreat from our responsibility as an anchor of global security, and embrace an isolation that ignores the very real threats that we face.  Others would have America over-extended, confronting every evil that can be found abroad.

We must chart a more centered course.  Like generations before, we must embrace America’s singular role in the course of human events.  But we must be as pragmatic as we are passionate; as strategic as we are resolute.  When threatened, we must respond with force –- but when that force can be targeted, we need not deploy large armies overseas.  When innocents are being slaughtered and global security endangered, we don’t have to choose between standing idly by or acting on our own.  Instead, we must rally international action, which we’re doing in Libya, where we do not have a single soldier on the ground, but are supporting allies in protecting the Libyan people and giving them the chance to determine their own destiny.

In all that we do, we must remember that what sets America apart is not solely our power -– it is the principles upon which our union was founded.  We’re a nation that brings our enemies to justice while adhering to the rule of law, and respecting the rights of all our citizens.  We protect our own freedom and prosperity by extending it to others.  We stand not for empire, but for self-determination.  That is why we have a stake in the democratic aspirations that are now washing across the Arab world.  We will support those revolutions with fidelity to our ideals, with the power of our example, and with an unwavering belief that all human beings deserve to live with freedom and dignity.

Above all, we are a nation whose strength abroad has been anchored in opportunity for our citizens here at home.  Over the last decade, we have spent a trillion dollars on war, at a time of rising debt and hard economic times.  Now, we must invest in America’s greatest resource –- our people.  We must unleash innovation that creates new jobs and industries, while living within our means.  We must rebuild our infrastructure and find new and clean sources of energy.  And most of all, after a decade of passionate debate, we must recapture the common purpose that we shared at the beginning of this time of war.  For our nation draws strength from our differences, and when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

This is me.

With all due respect, bullshit.

When roused, we are righteous in our outrage, terrible in our force. When provoked by this level of barbarism, we will bear any suffering, pay any cost, go to any length in the pursuit of justice.

As much as I Iike and respect Leonard Pitts, he, and we, let our anger get in the way of our brains.  It was sentiments like this that let GW Bush say and do stuff like this.

Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen.

I know there are struggles ahead, and dangers to face. But this country will define our times, not be defined by them. As long as the United States of America is determined and strong, this will not be an age of terror; this will be an age of liberty, here and across the world.

We will rally the world to this cause by our efforts, by our courage. We will not tire, we will not falter, and we will not fail.

The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain.

Was it?  We wandered through the literal and figurative deserts of Iraq and Afghanistan for years, spending money and lives.  We grew fatigued and in good part elected Barack Obama on his promise to end the adventure, albeit in a “balanced, responsible” way.

[T]here will be dark days ahead in Afghanistan, the light of a secure peace can be seen in the distance.  These long wars will come to a responsible end….when our union is strong no hill is too steep, no horizon is beyond our reach.

There are hills too steep and there are false horizons.  We were naïve to think that we could change centuries of a way of life in the Middle East based on its cultures by spending money and spouting slogans based on the imposition of our culture.

It’s a decade later, trillions have been wasted, tens of thousands of lives have been lost, a greater number of lives over there and back here have been made poorer, we have access to the oil that we secured in three months two decades ago, at a huge literal and figurative cost, and not much more.


Anonymous said...


I always supported the war effort in Afghanistan while Bush's Iraq War has always puzzled me. And I have no idea how the soldiers in Bush's War are fighting for my freedom. I damn sure don't feel any safer. The problems that impeded a unified response to the attacks on 9/11 still exist, we aren't any safer today than we were then. Is anyone paying attention??? Doesn't feel like it.


Dave said...

I support, kinda, what we did early on in Afghanistan and then changed my mind - there is no such thing as "success" there and we've spent too much in various currencies to achieve the evolving definitions of success we are given.

Jeni said...

Although I don't believe we should isolate our selves from every country around the world in need of help, etc., I also don't believe we should become their "salvation" when we have needs here for a whole lot of salvation of our own people. In particular, with other countries, I think we spend too much time/energy trying to reform them, to force them to see things OUR way because of course OUR was it THE ONLY way to have a country that is the absolute best. Oh and perhaps easing up on the greed where we go in and use other countries to our sole benefit probably isn't a good way to make friends, is it?
But as to making peace, perhaps working a bit harder at doing that from within our own borders first might make for a decent starting point. I have no problem with Americans standing up, showing pride in our country, our laws, our method of government, our freedoms, etc., but just as we don't want others coming here to push their beliefs on us, what makes us, as a nation, think those people want us to come there and try to rule/govern them in some manner or other? Did Afghanistan ask us to come and wage war with them or did we venture there on our own? If they'd asked for our assistance, that's one thing but that isn't how we got there is it? Maybe we're doomed to be like Moses, wandering the desert for 40 years or some thing in search of "peace" as they searched for a way to their Promised Land. But anyway, in essence, I do agree with what you've written here today, Dave.

Dave said...

I don't think we can become anyone's, maybe including our own, salvation Jeni.

Obama's treatment of the Arab Spring does seem to have merit - moral suasion with measured political and economic support for people who themselves initiate the original effort to throw out dictators.

Lalit Chauhan said...