Ten years ago, 19 criminal thugs seized control of four planes—and the world as we knew it was shed like the skin of a snake, replaced with a new and very unpleasant reality.
On this anniversary, I want to publicly thank the hundreds of brave men and women who unselfishly, courageously faced death and yet still went back into the flaming buildings…wrested control of Flight 93 back from its hijackers and crashed it in an empty field, instead of a major government building…poured into New York and Washington to see how they could help, knowing they were risking their own health, their own lives. Also, the thousands of brave soldiers from the US and elsewhere who have put their lives on the line every day. It is not their fault that we shouldn’t have even been in those wars.
But I also want to remember what might have been. In the vast emotional outpouring following the attacks, we were, for almost the only time in our history other than Pearl Harbor, united as a people. And also, for perhaps the first time ever, we had the sympathy and compassion of the whole world.
It was the first President George Bush who had called, ten years earlier, for “A New World Order, where the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle, governs the conduct of nations.” His son had a chance to make that happen.
What was needed was a powerful, emotional speech recognizing that the old, imperialist model of conduct among nations didn’t work anymore…and seizing this terrible moment as a bridge to world peace, a chance for the world to re-invent itself as something new—as a collaborative body determined to achieve greatness as a place where war is an archaic and never-again-used way to settle disputes, no one starves, everyone can get an education and decent health care, the environment is given a chance to heal, and the enemies of industrialized societies cannot get any traction. I thought at the time that this is what Bush should have done and I still think so.
Not that the perpetrators would get off, though. Bush could have called for an international criminal manhunt to bring Bin Laden and his gang of thugs to justice for mass murder, and the world would have supported it. Especially as the US, coming off the Clinton period of prosperity and massive surpluses, had the resources to fund that manhunt.
What an outpouring of support that would have caused! People of all nations would have embraced Bush as a hero, and more importantly, would have striven to put those magnificent words into practice. The United States would have been seen as giving a precious and lasting gift to the entire world. And Bin Laden probably would have been captured early on, with no negative impact on the people unlucky enough to live in Afghanistan or Iraq.
Instead, Bush told us to go shopping…squandered the surplus in two illegal, immoral, unjust—and extremely expensive—wars (not counting the domestic war on Muslims, Arabs, and poor people)…initiated dozens of repressive practices at home…blew up our credibility in the world of nations by acting as a “rogue state” (turning us into either a hated enemy or a laughingstock, in various parts of the world)…and completely failed in his pursuit of Bin Laden (Obama had to come in and finish that one). And his actions caused so much resentment against the US that it turned Al Qaeda from a tiny cell into a massive terrorist organization spanning many countries. He made the enemy much bigger.
I have always perceived George W. Bush as a small-minded bully surrounded by smart and evil advisors, and I was not surprised that he could not step into greatness. But I’d have loved to have been proven wrong. And how much safer I’d feel today if he had somehow risen to the task. He could have been our greatest President. Instead, in my opinion, he was the worst.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11, let us think how we can still achieve that world of peace. It will be much harder now—but it is not impossible.