Twenty years after September 11, will Osama bin Laden still win?

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Today marks the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack on America. Nineteen al Qaeda terrorists hijacked four commercial planes, deliberately crashing two on the World Trade Center in New York and the third on the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Passengers on the fourth plane fought their captors and the plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania, 20 minutes outside Washington, DC The 9/11 attacks killed 2,977 people from 93 countries, the most terrorist act horrible on American soil. Like you, I remember exactly where I was and what I was doing.

I was the deputy commander of the US national intelligence cell in Pristina, Kosovo. I was on the guard floor briefing the incoming commander, who had just arrived and was still in civilian clothes. I stopped halfway through my brief, seeing what was happening on the big screens that were streaming American news agencies. Our mission changed dramatically that day. America was angry and seeking revenge – anywhere. I spent the rest of my days in Kosovo looking for handy fruit.

My wife was in England, where we were stationed permanently. She was watching cartoons with our daughter, who was sick at home after school. A friend called and told him to turn on the information. Later the two, along with our son, sat in front of the television crying. My wife prayed that whatever happened would be over before our children were old enough to join the military. His prayer was not answered.

My two children were going to serve in Afghanistan, with three combat missions between them. Our daughter was medically withdrawn from military service due to an injury she sustained while deployed. My two children have internal wounds that will probably never heal.

During two presidential administrations (Republican and Democratic), we sent our sons and daughters to fight. And, over the past two presidential administrations (Republican and Democratic), we have collectively agreed that it is time to bring our troops home.

So today also marks the end of America’s longest war. Last month we left Afghanistan. We provided security, governance, institutions, the military and education; all at a cost of $ 2,000 billion. In less than two weeks, it all happened to guys on mopeds. The Taliban rule Afghanistan, as they did before September 11. The American attempt to instill democratic values ​​and governance in Afghanistan has been a dismal failure. And on the eve of our withdrawal, while conducting one of the largest non-combatant evacuation operations in U.S. history, 13 servicemen were killed by suicide bombers.

While some might argue that more American time, blood and treasures should have been spent in Afghanistan, I fully agree with President Biden that the U.S. military, and Americans as a whole, do not should no longer be asked to sacrifice blood and treasure. While my children served in Afghanistan, I served my fighting time in Iraq, just as my father had served in Vietnam a generation before. So my family is no stranger to US foreign policy failures due to cultural ignorance, unclear strategic goals, mission drift, and overbreadth.

On the contrary, my desire to see America’s longest war end is more personal. I would never wish another family what my family went through, let alone see one more name added to the Gold Star family roster. Enough is enough.

Some argue that our withdrawal from Afghanistan makes our country vulnerable, with Afghanistan once again becoming fertile ground for the upcoming September 11th. But it’s not what the US failure in Afghanistan might bring that worries me the most. Because of September 11, over the past 20 years, the US military has been able to quietly find and eliminate terrorist threats around the world.

For me, right after my children, I worry about the scars left by September 11 in our country at the national level. This singular event directly shaped the course of each of our lives and that of our country, with an undercurrent of Americans versus Americans pushing us all to unravel our democratic norms. It is this internal threat that I think we should fear the most.

My family spent most of the decade following September 11 posted overseas. When we returned to the United States and saw the change in the collective American psyche due to the terrorist attack, the impact was sudden and shocking. In ten years America had gone from invincible and confident to fearful and suspicious of our own.

Barrack Obama campaigned and ruled as president under the mantra of hope. But the fear — the fear of terrorism, the fear of strangers, the fear of crime, the fear of government, the fear of diversity, the fear of change — has festered in the shadows. Obama’s successor Donald Trump exploited this fear to propel himself to the presidency.

After his inauguration, Trump continued to attack our institutions, the free press, and the culture of inclusion. Trump directed America’s fear against dark-haired people entering our country, or against anyone who disagreed with his style of governance. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, fascists and national terrorists disguised as “patriots” have moved from the fringes to the mainstream, exerting influence within the Republican Party.

On January 6, Trump culminated his attack on our democracy with his supporters storming the Capitol under the guise of the Big Lie to “stop the theft.” Even more worrying: After the police and the National Guard took over the Senate and House chambers, 147 Republican congressmen still refused to certify the electoral college’s votes. Amid what Joint Chiefs Chairman General Mark Milley would describe as America’s “Reichstag Moment”, these Republican leaders have ideologically chosen subversion over the will of the people.

What if those 147 Republican leaders hadn’t been the minority in Congress and not just the political theater’s effort to flatter and seek favor with one man? American democracy would be dead. And it’s not over. Nine months after that shocking day in January, America’s democracy is still in jeopardy.

Emboldened rather than dejected, Republicans continue to attack our democratic institutions and mislead their constituents with false allegations of voter fraud. Compared to the Jim Crow laws of the last century, some states have recently enacted voting restrictions that directly target minorities. And while it’s not the Taliban, the Republicans in Texas have just overthrown women’s rights for 50 years while legalizing self-defense.

I spent a good part of my life trying to instill and protect democratic norms in other countries only to come back and find that democracy was destroyed in my home. America has become more polarized along racial, religious, economic and political fault lines. Americans are afraid of Americans.

While not exclusive to a single political party, much of this internal fear resides within the Republican Party, whose predominantly white fundamentalist Christian base continues to see its numbers dwindle as our country diversifies across the country. ethnically. And this fear has led to intolerance and hatred. Indeed, the greatest current terrorist threat to the homeland is not al-Qaeda but white supremacists, according to the US attorney general and the FBI.

Osama bin Laden never believed that his attack on 9/11 would strike America directly. Rather, like other terrorists, he hoped to expose America’s weaknesses, leading to internal strife and the eventual collapse of democracy from within. So, twenty years after September 11 and ten years after bin Laden’s death, we must now ask ourselves whether al-Qaeda will still achieve its strategic objective.

Does America continue on the path of political polarization, internal divisions and the degradation of our democracy? Where do we meet?

Let us not let Osama bin Laden win.

Michael Current is a retired U.S. Army Colonel, a resident of Reno, and a concerned Nevadan. Follow Mike on Twitter @ Current4Nevada


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