Tuesday, September 11, 2007

What kind of day has it been?

"A plane has hit the world trade center".

6 years ago today, I heard those words on Howard Stern's radio show, and assumed Howard was about to go into some bit about Arab terrorists or whatnot. I was wrong.

I was on my way to work when it happened. Back in those days I was still manning the costumer service desk at Comp USA Easton (now out of business). The previous weekend had been our quarterly inventory, and I was headed in to assist with reconciliation. Back in those days I thought that any day that I didn't have to deal with customers was a good day, and reconciliation meant no customers. It was going to be a good day; the first hint Autumn was in the crisp morning air and the sky was crystal blue with nary a cloud in sight.

"This is not a bit," Howard protested.

A lot of people needed the second plane to hit to realize what was going on. I did not. When I realized that it wasn't a bit I distinctly recall some B-roll footage of OBL running through my head. It wasn't like he was a secrete. Anyone with even a causal knowledge of world events knew who Bin Laden was. Anyone who paid attention knew that he had declared Jihad against the U.S. And the U.S.S. Cole had been attack exactly one year ago, I remember thinking. God, why didn't Clinton do something about that guy? 10 cruise missiles into a tent does not a serious national security policy make. They'd attacked the towers in '93, plus our embassies overseas and U.S. personnel in Saudi Arabia, plus the Cole. If that's not casus beli I don't know that is; NUKE THE SON OF A BITCH!

"A second plane has hit the tower," Howard announced.

I was listening to this over the radio, and I had a definite image of Bin Laden but also of a small commuter plane. I wasn't capable of conjuring the image of a 737 plowing into a building.

The first real shock of the day came when I arrived at work and found most of the employees (and customers) huddled around what T.V.s were available. I headed for the back, where reconciliation was taking place. That was when I finally got a good look at the massive hole in the towers. And of the video of the second plane colliding with the second tower. And something still hadn't dawned on me; wouldn't dawn on me until I heard a CNN reporter say "We have reports of a plane having been hijacked this morning."

There were people on those planes.

From the moment I heard about the attack I had imagined some rich Saudi sheik buying jumbo jets (just like John Travolta and a host of other celebrities) and handing them over to be used in martyrdom operations. I assumed those plane had flown in strait from Saudi or Afghanistan or Iraq.


There were people on those planes. The pilots had their throats slit. Probably flight attendants too, I remember thinking. We need to respond with nukes.

The next big shock, of course, was the Pentagon. We kept wondering what was next. The talking head was announcing the flight numbers that were unaccounted for. I remember somebody writing those numbers on a wipe board. We were trying to figure out how many planes were left."They've just hit Camp David," someone said, pointing towards the T.V. The plane they were referring to as "hitting Camp David" was flight 93. It has gone down in a field vaguely in the area of Camp David. Many of us assumed the plane had been shot down. We never imagined the heroism that actually transpired.

My biggest fear on that day wasn't being attacked; it was America's response (or what I believed would be out lack-there-of). In the 2000 presidential primary I had voted for John McCain for this exact reason; I knew our national readiness had fallen under old B.J. Bill, and I wanted a tough, serious president who would not run his foreign policy based on opinion polls. Given the options, I voted for Bush in the 2000 general election, but I doubted weather or not he would be all that different from Clinton. I assumed he would promise to bring the perpetrators to justice and order some air strikes in Afghanistan. I assumed he was just like Clinton. I assumed he was just like his father, who'd allowed Saddam to massacre Shia and Kurdish resistance rather than take ownership of the security in Baghdad. I assumed wrong.

Bush Sr. wanted to change Saddam's behavior, just a bit.

Bill Clinton just wanted people to like him.

Bush Jr. wanted to change the world.

On that morning I never imagined SOCOM and CIA would take down A-Stan in about four weeks. I never imagined that Pakistan would still be in the hands of a moderate, quasi secular leader and moving closer and closer to true modernity (look, Pakistan is far from perfect, but the situation today is a hell of a lot better than the worst case scenario of Pakistan falling to the Taliban, a scenario I would have assumed likely in September of 2001). I never would have imagined that girls would be in school in Kabul, or that the most popular T.V. show in Afghanistan would be an Indian soap opera. Yes, the Taliban still makes trouble. But there is a world of difference between what they were in 2001 and the small band of thugs they have become.

And I never would have imagined that someone finally had the guts to yank Hussein out of his spider hole and string him up. Nor would I have imagined that the fastest growing stock market in the world would be in Egypt or that Libya would have voluntarily relinquished its nuclear program and would now be courting western businesses.

Finally, I never would have imagined the kind of "turning out" that I see on the horizon for America. With ongoing commitments in Iraq (soon to be Kurdistan) and Afghanistan and the soon-to-be-stood-up AFRICOM, the U.S. is turning outward more than any time since the immediate aftermath of World War 2. We've almost reached the point of critical mass; the point after which it will be impossible to bury our heads in a missile silo and await "The Clash of Civilizations". General Petraeus's new COIN doctrine, when combined with AFRICOM's mission will make nation building the "new normal", and that's the only long term strategy that can really safe guard our nation against another 9/11 style attack.

Have there been screw ups along the way? 'Lil Kim is alive and kicking and setting off nukes 70 miles from China's border, so, yeah, some things are still fucked up. There is simply no excuse for that guy living to see the ball drop in '05, let alone 2007 and beyond. And our myopic focus on "WMD", whatever that is (in my day we used NBC, because it's a more accurate statement), has left us in denial over Iran's new role as regional pillar in the Mid East. I mean, we propped up Saddam specifically so that he would hedge against Tehran, and then we are shocked! Shocked! That as soon as Saddam shuffles off this mortal coil Iran suddenly feels emboldened. In 1941 we made a deal with the devil and helped Stalin defeat his two biggest enemies (Japan and Germany). In 2001 we should have made a deal (especially considering that they helped us bring down the Taliban) with a far lesser devil once it became clear that A-Stan and Saddam were both on the chopping block.

Six Years On, what kind of day has it been?

Mistakes and missteps not withstanding, America is safer and stronger than we were on that clear September morning. Our airports are exponentially more secure than they ever were prior to 9/11. September 11th proved to be Bin Laden's bridge too far; today he has been made virtually irrelevant as Al Qaeda morphed into Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia and shifted its focus from killing "infidels" to killing Shia Muslims. Recent events from Germany suggest that the global jihad movement has become merely the cause celeb for the spoiled children of the privilege, just as Maoism was in the west in the 1960's.

And that's the balance sheet; America is stronger than ever and Bin Laden is five years away from being reduced to the image of choice for those who simply aren't fashionable enough to own a Che Guevara t-shirt. 9/11 was a day of uncertainty, would there be another attack? When? Where? What method? Would we find Bin Laden? Would we get sucked into a quagmire in Afghanistan like the Soviets did? Today the future looks much more certain; development and capitalism (if not democracy) are on the march the world over and Bin Laden's dream of a new Caliphate dies a bit more each day. Much like Marxism before it, Jihadism has utterly failed everywhere its been tried and is now reduced to a parasitic existence in the most war torn regions of Iraq and the most politically bankrupt states in Africa.

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