Assessing Security 10 Years After 9/11

The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks was marked by memorial services honoring the victims of the terror attacks 10 years ago. While politics were put aside by Presidents Obama, Bush, and Clinton — all of whom participated in services over the weekend — many pundits and policymakers took the 10th anniversary as a time to reflect on the foreign and domestic policies of the past decade. The weekend began with what law enforcement officials described as a “credible but unconfirmed” al Qaeda threat tied to the 9/11 anniversary. As the National Security Network explained, the terror alert highlighted three fundamental facts of life in 2011: 1) The U.S. has had significant success in crippling the al Qaeda network, 2) Smaller-bore terror plots are a continued concern, and 3) The American people’s vigilance and resilience is the deciding factor in our strength.

BUSH TEAM SAYS NO REGRETS: Neoconservatives and their allies who promote a hawkish U.S. foreign policy took the anniversary as an occasion to defend the Bush foreign policy — and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — which were undertaken in response to the attacks. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz defended the Bush administration’s response to the attacks, arguing, “That we made mistakes in Afghanistan and Iraq does not prove that we overreacted.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney said he stands by the Bush administration’s decision to use waterboarding on detainees and told CNN that while there was no confirmation that Saddam Hussein had an involvement in the 9/11 attacks, there is still a possibility that the Iraq strongman was involved. The usually hawkish Wall Street Journal editorial board wrote that while plenty of critics have blamed the Bush administration for its use of faulty intelligence to justify the invasion of Iraq and its use of “enhanced interrogation,” these critics defeat their own arguments by failing to have stood-up to the administration when the post-9/11 Bush administration policies were implemented. Washington Post columnist George F. Will conceded that, “Ten years on from Sept. 11, national unity, usually a compensation for the rigors of war, has been a casualty of wars of dubious choices.”

WINNING THE WAR DOES NOT GUARANTEE SECURITY: While defending many of the Bush era policies, the Washington Post’s editorial board acknowledged the costs — the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated to have cost the U.S. $1.2 trillion. They wrote, “By refusing to raise taxes to face the new reality, it endangered its fiscal health.” Fortunately, no terrorist attack of the scale and devastation of those 10 years ago has been committed. A recent Gallup poll showed that while 42 percent of Americans believe the U.S. and its allies are winning the “war on terror” — an increase from a low of 25 percent in 2002 — only 37 percent of respondents thought that U.S. “can prevent all major terror attacks.” An identical number held that view in a September 2-4, 2001, poll. Americans appear to be saying that while the “war on terror” is winnable, safety from terrorist attacks is an untenable goal.

ISLAMOPHOBIA ON THE RISE: The Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks will remain controversial for years, if not decades, into the future. But the administration deserves credit for its efforts to combat Islamophobia in the U.S. In 2002, Bush said: “All Americans must recognize that the face of terror is not the true faith — face of Islam. Islam is a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world. It’s a faith that has made brothers and sisters of every race. It’s a faith based upon love, not hate.” Unfortunately the candidacy and election of Barack Obama appears to have coincided with a sharp uptick in Islamophobia. The attacks of 9/11 have been politicized by hatemongers and bigots to marginalize and demonize American Muslims. A 2010 ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that 28 percent of voters do not believe Muslims should be eligible to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, and nearly one-third of the country thinks followers of Islam should be barred from running for president. But a recent Duke terrorism study showed that since 9/11, Muslim terrorists have killed only 33 Americans while there have been more than 150,000 murders. The minimal threat posed to Americans by Muslim terrorists has been blown out of proportion by a small, tightly networked group of pseudo-experts, grassroots organizations, and political players. Fear, Inc., the Center for American Progress’ new report on Islamophobia in America, breaks down this network and explains how $42.6 million in core-funding from seven philanthropic foundations helps spread hate in America.

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Advocacy Team