Ten years. It's been ten years since Osama Bin Laden's people attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Ten years since the United States discovered that it was vulnerable. I don't think America has gotten over that, not really. As was constantly pointed out at the time, America hadn't had a real attack on mainland soil since the Civil War. Nobody knew what to expect. Nobody knew how they'd react. They found out. It was shock, horror, dread, and confusion. There was also a bit of disbelief. Everybody—including myself—felt like it was something out of a movie. It wasn't real. Things like that don't happen for real.
Ten years since America went slightly mad. No, really. How else can you explain the "War on Terror"? It was always a bad idea. It was always somewhat incoherent. It's pretty much over now, and the consensus is that it was never properly thought out or worked that well. Attacking Afghanistan robbed Al Qaeda of their home base, but botching the occupation gave Al Qaeda's Taliban allies renewed strength, and the relationship between Pakistan and the Taliban was a big issue for years; quite rightly, as it turns out, since Osama was hiding out in Pakistan. It wasn't until the War on Terror ended that 9/11's chief architect was found and killed. If anything repudiates it, that would. Well, anything except IRAQ.
It's been ten years since a group of mad delusional idiots that call themselves "neoconservatives"—a group that's always been obsessed with Iraq—seized control of the levers of American foreign and defense policy, and proceded to drive it into the ground. Almost all the goodwill that America received after the attack was burned away by these fools and their obsession with Iraqi conquest. Almost all the advantages gained in bloody Afghanistan combat were bled away by the Iraq misadventure, and pretty much every ally of note that helped America in Afghanistan walked away in shock and disgust. Almost all of America's credibility as an international voice, as an exemplar, and as a friend to democracy ended thanks to the neoconservatives' Iraq adventure.
The worst thing about it isn't even the invasion, not really. The worst part was the botched occupation. America treated its Iraqi subjects terribly, inflicting the worst sort of horrible right-wing bullshit on them at the hands of the worst sort of Republican apparatchiks. One need only read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City to see just how badly the "Green Zone" was run, and how ruinous the Republicans have been.
And, yes, it's been ten years since the foundations were set for the current economic crisis. Sure, the regulatory changes that opened the door for the excesses of Wall Street were made back in the 1990s. But absent all this adventurism, America's fiscal situation would be very, very different, and the Republicans wouldn't have been able to wave the flag in order to silence critics of their broken, oligarchic economic policy. Hell, Bush would have probably have been kicked out of the White House in short order. What a better world it would be.
He should have been kicked out. All this happened on HIS watch. There's more than enough evidence that the ideological fervor of his administration helped blind them to the threat posed by Al Qaeda. Republicans are very good, though, at making people think that they're good at both economics and security when they're utterly terrible at anything but punishing the poor and striking macho poses. They didn't deserve it, but they got it anyway.
So, ten years later, how is America? America is broke. America is dispirited. America's workers are unemployed, underemployed, or massively overworked. America had to win its "war" only by giving up the idea that it's a "war" at all. America's poor leadership and deluded right-wing economists helped drag down the entire world, to the point of threatening the very existence of the European project. America's corporations and a tiny ultra-rich minority are doing quite nicely, but nobody else is; America's sinking into the sort of inequality and oligarchy that's normally associated with third-world dictatorships.
Worst of all, ten years later, America's governing plutocrats still won't even pay all of the medical bills of the brave men and women that risked their lives helping people to survive this horrible attack.
Yet there is hope. This has been a terrible decade, but there is still hope. I still remember how people drew together after the attack. I remember people lining up to give blood to any survivors. I remember the strong national resolve to keep going, and to show that people would not be intimidated by extremist thugs, no matter how they dress. I still remember the times when Americans came together—most recently back in 2008—to say that they wanted a better country. I remember how people bust their asses to try to improve their life and station, and still believe in the American dream of prosperity despite every single piece of evidence in the world telling them otherwise.
Americans should remember that the solution to the current malaise isn't difficult. Despite the anti-worker rhetoric, it isn't about Americans being lazy or stupid or unskilled. The current recession and stagnation is just the side-effect of a lack of aggregate demand. That's it. It's eminently fixable, too. If Americans come together to rebuild and and improve the infrastructure that lies at the foundation of their economy; if they help their friends, relatives, and neighbours that are currently unemployed; and if they realize that AMERICAN CITIZENS ARE THE JOB-CREATORS, not the plutocrats that have been mismanaging their money, they can bring their country back.
It'll mean that some Americans will need to set aside certain assumptions. "Conservative" doesn't mean "prudent". A government's finances are not that of a household. "Belt-tightening" is not the way to fix an economy. "Stimulus" doesn't mean bank bailouts. You should identify with your fellow citizens, instead of the wealthy plutocrats that are sucking the country dry and sending the wealth offshore. Privacy and civil rights aren't negotiable, no matter how many times someone says the word "War". And, for the love of God, everybody needs to remember that Republican ideologues are terrible at governing and always will be.
If that can happen, though, then America can move forward. Americans can look back on this horrible past decade as a cautionary tale, and teach their children the lessons they need to learn so that it never, ever happens again. EVER.