The September 11 attacks have been revealed as a last gasp of a fading, cult-like twentieth-century vision, not as the wave of the future. They were the equivalent of the frenetic dashing to and fro of a chicken already beheaded. Al-Qaeda’s core assumptions have been refuted by subsequent events and above all in 2011 by the Arab Spring.
The entire ideology was never more than a crackpot vision, entirely unrealistic and all the more violent for that. (A corollary is that one reason the US was not attacked again on that scale is that 9/11 was bait, and George W. Bush took the bait.)
Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush, however, saw the attacks as “an opportunity.” They were an opportunity to assert American dominance of the oil fields of the Middle East, and therefore, they reasoned, of the energy future of the entire world, ensuring the predominance of the American superpower throughout the twenty-first century.
Ironically, American politicians attempted to pull the wool over our eyes by saying that al-Qaeda hated us for our values. But it turns out that the Arabs are now the peoples sacrificing most for a rule of law, accountability, transparency, and parliamentary governance. One wonders, indeed, if they do not now value those things more than most Americans.
The real cost of the wars of aggression was a decline in the standing of the US abroad, a gutting of the UN Charter and international legal norms, and a de facto repeal civil liberties at home. The American people, however, are resilient and strong. The American system of government is flexible. If we are supine and abject, our children will not be. Already, federal government intrusion into our lives is being questioned on the right and the left alike. With hard work and a bit of luck, perhaps over the course of a generation, we can get our Bill of Rights back. And if government officials drag their feet too much in returning our inalienable rights to us, the Egyptian and Tunisian youth have already shown the way forward.