There is little I can say today that I have not already said on the subject. Since starting the Fungus in 2006, I've had seven opporunities to talk about 9/11/01 and what it meant for me personally.
But what I haven't written about is what we should have done differently in the wake of the attacks. What we should have done was politically impossible to do, of course, which is at least one reason why it wasn't done. There are even good reasons why we didn't do what we should have, and people smarter than I am made choices based on information I don't have.
It used to be that if you attacked the biggest guy on the block, you risked getting your face stomped. Now the biggest guy on the block has decided that as the biggest guy on the block he should exercise "restraint" and start thinking about everyone's feelings, and try to understand how threatened everyone else is by his size and power, and thus moderate his responses to the insults and injuries dealt to him by lesser men.
...with the inevitable result that he is constantly beseiged by little gits kicking his shins, because they know they are reasonably safe from having the crap kicked out of them in detai.
That is the problem.
9/11/01 happened because the US exercised entirely too much forbearance, and its enemies misinterpreted that as weakness. A proper foreign policy would have dealt with prior attacks with a very firm hand, proportionate responses that sent a strong message: Don't do that again.
In the 1980s, terrorists with ties to Libya bombed a disco in Germany which was heavily patronized by US servicemen. Once it was established who had sponsored the terrorists, Ronald Reagan sent bombers to Libya and had them hit strategic targets in the capital city, Tripoli. It was a measured, firm, punitive response to an outrage.
Result: Libya stopped sponsoring terrorists, at least the ones that liked to hit US targets; it worked so well, in fact, that when George Bush started talking about Iraq and WMDs, Moammar Khaddafi piped up with, "No WMDs here in Libya! Nosiree! Please don't bomb me again."
The predictions from the left--that international travel was going to be less safe--did not come to pass; in fact there were no notable terror attacks for years after that.
If we had continued that sort of policy, 9/11/01 would not have happened. A continuous policy of targeted, measured, limited responses to terrorist insults would have prevented anyone from supporting an attack on US soil of any scope. It would not have happened because terrorists would have found it impossible to function; no one would want them in their countries--or give them aid and support--for fear of what might happen if said terrorists attacked a US interest.
Yeah, I said it: "for fear". These people are never going to like us; if we don't want to be attacked we have to go the other route, I'm afraid.
So what should we have done, then, to ensure we would be feared, since we won't be liked anyway? Since we made the mistake of becoming lax, and they interpreted this as weakness (the equivalent of the little guy slapping the big dude and saying, "Whatta ya gonna do about it? Eh? Eh?" ...and then kneeing him in the crotch) we had to do something in response. The consequence of delaying action frequently means the lesson must be more harsh.
In the real world, our answer was to go after the Taliban in Afghanistan, then start the massive runup to war in Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. This worked, after a fashion--it prevented further attacks on US soil--but we still have the problem of international islamic terrorism.
What we should have done is to go on an all-out war footing. On 9/12/01 George W. Bush should have gotten on TV and told the world, "Okay, now the gloves come off." Countries that harbor islamic terrorists should have been told, "You have two alternatives to choose from: you either give us the terrorists and stop helping them, or we're at war." And make it stick: start hitting anyone who doesn't toe the line, and hit them hard.
When our military caught terrorists in battle, we'd interrogate them--wring them dry--and then execute them. No "club Gitmo", no velvet-lined resort, no kid glove treatment. no lawyers, no trials; just treat them (according to the Geneva Convention) as nonuniformed combatants.
When we'd find terror camps, we'd eradicate them. Neighborhoods found to be harboring terrorists would be bulldozed in their entirety, assuming there was anything left after the bombs hit.
"All that would do is make them hate us!" They already hate us, else we would not be here, would we? "It would just make more terrorists!" I don't care how many terrorists there are in the world as long as everyone understands that hitting the US is too costly to be worth it.
At the same time the US was doing that, domestically we'd be building nuclear power plants and oil refineries and ceasing all purchases of petroleum from the middle east. "Obviously you guys can't handle having all that money in your pockets," we would tell OPEC. (Sure, they'd sell their oil in other places. Let them.)
This bullshit with TSA and the other security theater would have been averted; instead we'd have proper profiling of terror suspects--and if that meant you were a muslim and got offended because "not all muslims are terrorists!" too goddamned bad. Perhaps you should rethink your choice of religion, but since nearly all terrorists are muslims, instead of looking where the light is brightest we're going to look where we think we lost our keys. Failures in security (such as the pantybomber and the shoebomber) would result in those carriers' flights being curtailed: "If you guys can't keep terrorists off your planes, don't fly them here." That'd give the airlines an incentive to do their own security checks rather than rely on government security, and in all probability it would mean that islamic terrorists would end up finding it very hard to fly anywhere. (Or muslims in general. Imagine my distress.)
The borders would have been secured. Instead of "amnesty" there would be a concerted effort to find people in the country illegally and get them the hell out, concentrating on muslims and their sympathizers first.
After Iraq had been pacified, Iran would have been next. Syria and Saudi Arabia would not have been spared; it would have been a matter of national survival for them to get out of the terror sponsorship business. Israel would have been given free rein to deal with Palestine.
There'd no longer be any pretense that islam is anything other than a death cult. None of this "religion of peace" nonsense. And we'd make it clear that the next time there is an islamic attack on the United States or any of its interests abroad the next step would be to begin destroying islamic holy sites. We could make it plain that we could smash the ka'aba into gravel, for example, by selecting a spot nearby, publishing the coordinates in advance, and then hitting it. (And if they put "human shields" there? Too bad.) Quite a big deal would be made of rubbing bacon on munitions used in combat against islamic targets, too, by the way.
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Draconian? You bet. Abso-fragging-lutely draconian. International politics is not a game of golf. It's not "Chutes and Ladders" or "Candyland" or "Hello Kitty's Island Adventure". The people involved don't care about "fairness" or "nice" and while they would scream bloody murder about the kind of "war on terror" I discuss above, they would nonetheless regard the United States as a poor choice of adversaries.
What we have, instead, is a largely incoherent policy of ad hoc responses to individual actions. Most terror attacks--even ones like Benghazi, a year ago today--garner no measurable response; instead of hitting back we shrug and roll over and make excuses for the terrorists. If you worry about the US looking weak, that kind of nonsense is the worst thing you could possibly do. It does not make the terrorists like us any more when Barack Hussein gets up and says, "Hey, it was this YouTube video that made them riot," not when the terrorists themselves know it was an organized attack.
...yet now we must hit Syria to avoid appearing weak? I might be concerned about the appearance of weakness if Syria were the only example in an otherwise unblemished reputation for being a hardass, but it's not. We have a virtually unbroken record of pussification stretching back to Jimmy f-ing Carter's lack of a response to the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran. When Reagan hit Tripoli in 1986, that was probably the best possible response to a terror attack: you can't hit the terrorists themselves, so find the people who are giving them money and sanctuary and materiel, and hit them It's supply-side war.
What you cannot do--if you wish to prevent terror attacks on your own soil--is to pretend that you're above it. These guys don't understand the difference between forbearance and weakness; their culture isn't grounded in "forgive and forget" and they hate us with a firey passion. When they hit us and our response is...nothing...they sneer contemptuously and plan another attack.
What they don't do is have some kind of epiphany: "Oh, my, we hurt them and they did nothing! We're real assholes, aren't we?" Anyone who has any retentive faculty at all will look at his childhood and realize that shit doesn't work in the real world, and just because the terrorist leaders went to top schools and are erudite, educated fellows, it does not mean you can talk to them and have them conclude that we can reasonably and peacefully disagree.
Because they hate us, their goal is our elimination from the face of the planet. No matter how polite they are in society, they still want us dead. Even if we don't want them dead, we have to treat them like we do.
That's the hard part.
See, I write all of this not because I'm a bloodthirsty warmonger, but because I understand the calculus of power. I'm a big fat softie; for crying out loud, yesterday I killed a spider that I was pretty sure was a brown recluse and I felt sorry for the thing. I didn't want to kill the spider, but I killed it nonetheless because brown recluse spiders are poisonous. Just do a Google image search for "brown recluse bite" if you doubt me, but don't do it if you don't have a strong stomach. That shit's nasty.
That's kind of the point.
Conservatives don't advocate having a strong military and good defenses because we're bloodthirsty warmongers; we advocate those things because we don't want to have to fight. And the best way to avoid fighting is to make sure everyone around you understands instinctively that if they pick a fight with you they will get hurt.
Similarly, the American response to 9/11/01 should have been to lay our foes to waste; the proper response to terror strikes should be been like that all along, from Tehran in 1979 all the way to now. Instead we fap around and try to get people to like us who will never, never, ever like us, not even a little bit.
You kill the brown recluse because--like the scorpion being ferried across the river--it's just in its nature to poison people. You don't make friends with it or keep it as a pet (unless you're either an arachnologist or an idiot) and you certainly don't let it bite you over and over and over again without repercussions. You step on it, you hit it with a shoe or a rolled-up newspaper or a fly swatter, you spray chemicals on it--you do something to ensure it's not going to bite a second time if you're unfortunate enough to have been bitten once.
But US foreign policy since 1979 has not done that. The spider has bitten Uncle Sam many times, and has not been whacked. It's long since time for that to have changed.
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Addendum: "Then why are you against going into Syria?" Because Syria didn't attack us and their use of poison gas was against their own people. (Besides, there's credible evidence that the rebels gassed targets hoping to get the US to be their air force.) Syria's problems are entirely internal and do not involve US interests; the only reason anyone's talking about going into Syria is due to the bonehead in the White House running his gums about "red lines".
In fact, I would wager that US interests are probably better served by supporting Assad, rather than trying to oust him. But that's a discussion for another post.