The world changed on September 11, 2001. The way airports operate changed. The way your privacy is defined changed. We are still in two wars as a result of policies adopted post-9/11. One of those wars I have always opposed. The other I have always supported. I'm not sure we are "winning" either of them and the fallout from both will likely continue to be a symptom of how our world has changed.
Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. In my opinion, that war was a dereliction of duty by an incompetent president who had no clue what victory meant and was misled by a fanatical advisory team. The war was in direct opposition to the Powell Doctrine. One day, I am sure we will hear how much Colin Powell disagreed with the absurd and myopic misuse of power wielded by the ilk of Chaney and Rumsfeld. That we have somewhat righted a terribly executed military policy in a country where our men and women should have never been serving as soldiers does not justify the war in any way.
Afghanistan is a different situation. There is where the highly decentralized organization of al Qaeda found refuge. It is where the Taliban flaunted the fact that they supported Osama bin Ladin and his followers. That sanctuary could not be allowed to stand in the face of a postmodern Pearl Harbor. That we have not succeeded in either finding bin Ladin nor in squelching the Taliban does not in any way mean the mission should not go forward.
President Obama has seen all this and has rightly shifted the focus back to where it should have been all along. If victory eludes us it has more to do with our poorly advised and executed shift in focus toward Iraq than it does with our military policy in Afghanistan.
I will state, however, that there has never in the history of the world been a successful "shotgun democracy." Democracy is a cultural symptom more than a (romanticized) ideal. Military policy cannot "plant the seeds" of democracy upon a culture. Iraq will eventually disintegrate, Afghanistan will never stabilize. Our mission should be to secure a military base in Iraq to help keep Iran in check (that's the most we can hope for) and to punish the protective infrastructure of al Qaeda.
I'm not sure either of those modest goals for these horrendous wars is achievable. But, anything else is an American defeat no matter how whichever administration is in power tries to spin it. "We have the wolf by the ears and we can neither hold him nor let him go."
Not an enviable position, to be sure. But then, we didn't ask to be attacked. Fundamentalist Islam might disagree. But, radical Islam is an ideology and not a religion and they deserve no special intellectual respect. They understand the whip. I have no qualms about using it on them. While I applaud Obama's (rather idealistic) attempt to open up to the Islamic world, he is naive to think that the fundamentalist Islamic mindset is going to somehow be changed by his eloquence and openness. They will see him as weak, though mainstream Islam might appreciate his efforts more.
And there's where the real war is being fought. Will the majority of reasonable Muslims in the world gain the support of their coming generations, or will the fundamentalists secure the hearts and minds of Islam's youth? If the latter is the course then further violence is inevitable.
I remember I was at work on September 11, 2001. When the towers fell there was just myself and the office manager around. Everyone else was out either trying to sell, consult or install something. The company president was in Fargo, North Dakota being trained on a new system.
He phoned in and expected business as usual. He had not heard any news of the events yet. We were working through a checklist of things to do when I interjected, "We are at war right now. I don't know who we are at war with but we are at war." He hesitated. It was only later that events caught up to his efficient business mind.
Jennifer was at home watching it all on TV. She was recording it on VHS tapes. We recently had the tapes converted to MPEG format.
Of course, none of us had known anything like this in our lifetimes.
But, the image that sticks with me most as I think back today about that time has to do with several days later. They grounded all flights in the United States for several days following 9/11. Our house is situated such that we often see as many as five or six passenger jets flying high overhead. So many routine flight patterns go over our land and are visible off to the west where we have an open view.
As I have posted before, I fly various flags from our front porch. Naturally, I had the American flag flying at this time. It had gotten tangled in the pole by an early autumn breeze several days after the tragedy. I went out late in the day and straighted the flag. As I was doing this I looked out to the west. It was about a hour before sunset. The yellow was giving way to hints of orange in scattered clouds.
In the distance there was the vapor trail of the first passenger jet I had seen in days. I watched it as it silently streaked across the sky, fading invisibly in the west.