Saturday, September 11, 2004

Today, minus 3 years
It's been 3 years since that horrible fall morning. I was in French 138, during my freshman year, when those planes hit their targets. I left class, and overheard someone say "that's it, we're going to war." Now, being on a college campus, I'm used to hyperbole regarding political causes, so I figured someone was just talking about something they wanted to protest, and moved on. I lived right above the campus post office, so on my way back from class, I went to check my mail when a friend of mine ran up to me.

"Brian, isn't it so awful?"
"Isn't what so awful?"
"Oh my God, you haven't heard?"
And it hit me. Something totally awful had happened. Some act of war. Someone needs to pay.
These thoughts ran through my head, as I stood there, totally unprepared for what she was about to tell me.
"The World Trade Center is on fire, and both towers were hit by planes."

My world changed right then. I ran upstairs into my Freshman Counselor's room; she had a TV, and I didn't. I jogged in the door, and stopped cold as I saw that tiny screen. I watched as the towers spewed black smoke into the sky. I watched as they flashed back to a plane careening into the side of that office building. I watched as the camera zoomed in on the bodies falling from the sky, the people who decided that jumping over 100 stories was a better choice then facing the inferno racing towards them. I watched, and the cameras flashed back to the towers as the commentator's voice became pitched, as the first of the towers folded in on itself, and the second disappeared in the smoke and dust that lingered behind.

I spent most of the rest of the morning on the computer. I tried to track down my dad, who worked in the city. I IMed my then girlfriend, who was at Georgetown and could see the Pentagon burning from her dorm room window. Between the two of us, we notified pretty much every parent in Connecticut that their Georgetown sons and daughters were safe (local telephones worked, and IM was the only option for long-distance). Once I heard from my Dad (he caught the absolute last train out of Grand Central, and his cell phone started working as soon as he crossed into CT) and called my mom to tell her that I'd heard from him, I went back downstairs to watch the TV coverage.

In the days that followed, I had several political discussions, but one that was particularly memorable. My roommate tried to explain to me that these terrorists (though he wouldn't use that word) were justified. That they'd had enough American culture shoved down their throats, and this was just the way to strike back. Let's just say we're lucky I left the room, or I'd probably be posting this from prison right now. We've hardly spoken two words since.

So why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons: 1)For my own reflection on that horrible, horrible day 3 years ago, and 2)So I can endeaver to explain some of my current political positions based on what I felt then and on what I feel now.

We all remember, and commonly reflect upon those few weeks and months after 9/11 where there were no Democrats and no Republicans. We were all Americans, committed to never again allow an event like this to occur. We had been attacked by madmen who would slaughter innocent men, women and children to strike fear into the hearts of other innocents.

Somewhere along the road to war in Afghanistan, however, that goal vanished, and was coopted into the goal of punishing the people who were guilty of this specific crime. War against the Taliban was justified because they had harbored Bin Laden, and encouraged his attacks on the US and American interests around the world. When they were quickly routed, it was easy to go back to the way things had been.

Some of us, however, were not willing to revert to that 9/10 mindset. For us, the world had changed too drastically. Our eyes were opened, and we now see that the threats come from the Bin LadenS of the world, not just Bin Laden himself, and not just Al Quaeda. We believe firmly that Americans will not be safe from terrorism until we have found and captured or killed all who use terrorism to advance an agenda of any kind, all who would target innocents for their own well-being. For us, Afghanistan was not the concluding act to the 9/11 War, but the first major battle of the War on Terror. We had been attacked many times over the past few decades, but always turned the other way. Now, Bin Laden had woken the sleeping giant, and would feel his wrath. We would call down God's own thunder on all those who would harm innocents, by whatever means necessary.

So, we turned to Saddam. He, who had behaved beligerently towards all of his neighbors, and particularly towards the US since the Gulf War, who regularly tortured, wrongly imprisoned, and murdered his own people, who slaughtered Kurds in northern Iraq, who had used chemical weapons on his own people, who sent monetary support to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers, who allowed terrorist training camps to operate in his country (if you don't believe me, then read this article written in 2002), seemed the logical next choice. How surprised were we to discover that not everyone followed our logic? But, through methods that I don't necessarily think were the smartest, or most strategically effective, we did convince the country to go along with our plan. We did not convince the UN, but that comes as no surprise, particularly when one considers France's many contracts with Saddam, especially the ones signed as the ship was going down. What matters is that we found a way to act in our national self-interest, and to convince many countries that it was in their interest as well. We've lost some along the way (Spain), but some have remained steadfast under repeated ultimatums (Italy).

While the peace has not gone quite as well as we expected, and while we have not found the weapons caches that EVERYONE believed Saddam held prior to the war, we have uncovered the necessary apparatus for quickly rebuilding chemical and biological stockpiles, as well as several attempts at building nuclear capabilities. Many American soldiers have been killed, and each one is a tragedy. But they have also freed a people who have never known freedom. We have built the beginnings of a Democracy, with true potential. We are slowly eliminating the resistance to this effort, who would seize the reigns of government for their own well-being, while trying to take the US down a notch at the same time.

Some now ask me, once we can withdraw a significant portion of our troops from Iraq, and we have the available forces to pursue another country through similar means, where do we go next? The answer is: nowhere, yet. I do not believe that force is the only way to effect change in the world, or the only effective way to protect ourselves. The trick is that the threat of force has to be strong; the world has to believe that, when we have exhausted all other options, we will not blink before blowing them off the planet. Saddam learned this the hard way. Quadaffi learned it the easy way. Our focus must remain building a stable democracy in Iraq, that will serve as a shining example for the rest of the Arab world, whose people yearn for freedom even if they don't know it. Yes, I recognize how condescending that sounds, but truly, if you have never known freedom, you do not know its advantages. Once Iraq exists to provide this example, they will leap at the chance.

Terrorism is not a tangible enemy. We haven't declared war on Muslims, or on the Arab world, but on a tool that happens to be used regularly by small minorities of those groups. As such, we cannot ever eliminate our foe. What we can do is remove the motivation for using that method, as well as the reasons for doing so. When we strengthen the majorities in these countries, when we show them that free societies like America are not to blame for their poverty and unhappiness, but that they can live as successfully as we do by overthrowing their violent, intollerant leadership, when they have the voices and the openness to condemn these terrorists, and to punish them for their actions, terrorism will be dead. That is why Iraq was and is a necessary step in this great War.

Finally, I'd like to apply this to the current election and explain why I cannot stomach the election of John Kerry. As many things as I've disagreed with President Bush on over the past three and a half years, this, for me, is the most important issue, and on it he and I see eye-to-eye. He is the impetus behind the war in Iraq, and the steady leadership we need to prevent another 9/11. He recognizes that we cannot prevent each individual attack, or one will slip through, and that we need to attack terrorism at its roots. Senator Kerry, on the other hand, can only campaign on the message that he is not President Bush. He says he would have done everything different on Iraq, yet he voted to support military action there, and says he would not change that vote if it were held again today, even though he says the only reason he voted the way he did is because he was misled. Wow, there's a cogent argument. And when asked specifically what he would have done differently, he says he would not have gone to war without international support. Well, since we were never going to convince France, Germany, or Russia to attack Iraq, that poses a problem. Assume, for example, that Senator Kerry was himself convinced that Iraq needed to be attacked (hard to know one way or the other, but just assume for the fun of it), and by some miraculous circumstance he had had presidential authority on whether or not to invade Iraq. That means that, even though he was 100% sure it needed to happen, he would never have taken the necessary action, because France, Germany and Russia would not have approved. Yet he also says he would not hang our foreign policy on the opinions of other nations, but according to what he's said, that is exactly what he would have done. There's an inconsistency here, folks, and whether you agree with his sentiment or not, you have to be frightened by it. This is a man who cannot come out and say what he really thought of war in Iraq, or where he really wants to take the War on Terrorism. He says he'd sit down with foreign leaders, which he can do better than President Bush because he's allegedly already built a reputation with them, and presumably because his wife is foreign, but he doesn't say what the point of such meetings would be. He has taken about a thousand positions on these issues, but he has not taken a single stand. I can say definitively that President Bush's goals are to establish democracy in Iraq, through military support and defense of public elections, and to use diplomatic means to discourage the nuclear programs of Iran and North Korea, followed by the threat of force. What is John Kerry's plan? I've really tried to figure it out, and I can't.

The fundamental problem is, the platform of the Democratic party shows its leadership to be in a 9/10 mindset. On this, the third anniversary of September 11, 2001, that is the way of thinking we can least afford.

I offer my prayers to the families of the victims of the several attacks on 9/11. I offer my prayers to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan who deserve freedom from fear, freedom from violence, and freedom from suffering, and the American troops who aim to provide them with that liberty. I pray that the aggressive, power-hungry leaders of the world who threaten innocent people for the consolidation of their own power see the error of their ways. I pray that the perpetrators of violence around the world be brought to justice, and sent to meet their Maker. And I pray, Lord, that you might shine your love across the planet on this day, as your people strive to better themselves, and create a better life for the whole world.

3 comments:

Aamena Carlisle-Omar said...

"Our focus must remain building a stable democracy in Iraq, that will serve as a shining example for the rest of the Arab world, whose people yearn for freedom even if they don't know it. Yes, I recognize how condescending that sounds, but truly, if you have never known freedom, you do not know its advantages. Once Iraq exists to provide this example, they will leap at the chance."

One would think that as a Yale student you would have some inkling of what really goes on beyond the borders of this country. I would suggest that you do some research before making such ignorant comments in the future... America has no right to come into countries and upset their political, cultural, and religious systems. Not every country WANTS to have XXX stores, McDonald's, and Wal-marts, all over the place. What is best for "them" is not for you to say, nor is it for George W to say, nor for me to say. America needs to mind it's own business. And as for your other ridiculously uninsightful (??) comments... well, they speak for themselves. Posting things of this nature only serves to show your ignorance with regards to anyone unlike yourself.

RFTR said...

Aemena, your premise is slightly mistaken. When McDonald's, WalMart, and so forth enter a country, it isn't America "com[ing] into countries and upset[ting] their political, cultural, and religious systems."

And the problem is that your argument is by its very nature hypocritical. You say that not every country wants these staples of American country, and it's not for me to say. You're right. But, you must acknowledge, some portion of every country does want such things. Who are you to say they are not entitled? These organizations enter a country through free trade, and if they survive, it is because the people of the country choose to patronize them. Just look at EuroDisney. Many claimed it would be disasterous for European culture. Instead, no one went, and it folded in a few short months (maybe years, at the most).
If you truly believe in the freedom of a nations people to not subject themselves to American culture, then give them that option. But don't defend someone's right to deprive his neighbor of anything, which is exactly what you've just done.

Pat in NC said...

In response to the first comment. Liberty and democratic government by the people of a nation does not mandate a change in culture. Voter registration in Afghanistan at 95%. The Iraqi blogs and our military bloggers reveal that these people long for liberty. I fear this person is one who does not do research before forming opinions. Thank God our President views liberty as more than the property of the west but as God's gift to mankind.