On this 15th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, we should ask ourselves what those attacks inaugurated. In a word, calamity. The wildly successful actions of Al Qaeda, combined with the wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, marked the 21st century as one that will likely become known to future historians as calamitous.
In thinking about the 9/11 attacks, as an Air Force officer, what struck me then, and still does now, is the psychological blow. We Americans like to think we invented flight (not just that the Wright Brothers succeeded in the first powered flight that was both sustained and controlled). We like to think that airpower is uniquely American. We take great pride that many airliners are still “Made in the USA,” unlike most other manufactured goods nowadays.
To see our airliners turned into precision missiles against our skyscrapers, another potent image of American power, by a terrorist foe (that was once an ally against Soviet forces in Afghanistan) staggered our collective psyche. That’s what I mean when I say Al Qaeda’s attacks were “successful.” They created an enormous shock from which our nation has yet to recover.
This shock produced, as Tom Engelhardt notes in his latest article at TomDispatch.com, a form of government psychosis for vengeance via airpower. The problem, of course, is that the terrorist enemy (first Al Qaeda, then the Taliban, now ISIS) simply doesn’t offer big targets like skyscrapers or the Pentagon. The best the U.S. can do via airpower is to strike at training camps or small teams or even individuals, all of which matter little in the big scheme of things. Meanwhile, U.S. air strikes (and subsequent land invasions by ground troops) arguably strengthen the enemy strategically. Why? Because they lend credence to the enemy’s propaganda that the USA is launching jihad against the Muslim world.
The wild overreactions of the Bush/Cheney administration, essentially continued by Obama and the present national security state, have played into the hands of those seeking a crusade/jihad in the Greater Middle East. What we have now, so the experts say, is a generational or long war, with no foreseeable end point. Its product, however, is obvious: chaos, whether in Iraq or Libya or Yemen or Syria. And this chaos is likely to be aggravated by critical resource shortages (oil, water, food) as global warming accelerates in the next few decades.
We are in the early throes of the calamitous 21st century, and it all began fifteen years ago on 9/11/2001.