With tomorrow being the ten year anniversary of September 11, I thought it was an appropriate time to reflect on the last 10 years or so. I know these are sensitive and heavily debated issues, but I offer you my historical perspective.
First, some background. I couldn't decide who to vote for in 2000. Even walking into the voting booth (then at Center School), I contemplated writing my wife in as a write-in. I had the thought, "The country is pretty much running itself. It doesn't really matter who the President is." My Republican upbringing kicked in. I voted for Bush.
September 11, 2001
9-11 changed everything. No longer did I listen to morning comedy in the car. Now I listened to NPR for any news I could get my hands on. The climate of the news changed from hearing almost nothing international to a regular stream of news about places I couldn't then find on a map, like Afghanistan.
I've almost forgotten the climate of fear that immediately followed here in the States. It's funny now but I felt the paranoia that led the then mayor of Marion to put concrete barriers around our court house. I flew to Greece right before we invaded Iraq and was immensely paranoid on the plane.
It's hard to remember how we thought before. I would never have believed someone could attack us here in that way before. I really thought they were joking that morning when I heard about it. No one ever worried about a plane getting hijacked back then. Everyone wants to blame people after the fact. We can't remember how we thought before.
We had the sympathy of the world. There was broad international support for our invasion of Afghanistan and removal of the Taliban. This was a great opportunity for us in the world, I thought. So far so good.
But then the Bush administration began to divert our attention to Iraq. It has emerged after the fact that Powell and Cheney likely stood on opposite sides of this issue. Most would say that history has vindicated Powell. The series of events that followed has taken a man I once hoped would be president and almost removed him from the public sphere altogether.
It would have been political suicide for anyone but those from the most liberal of districts to vote against authorizing President Bush to take action in Iraq. It is a reminder in times like these where American emotions are on a similar high. We're probably not thinking straight. I have never been a big fan of Hillary Clinton, but I didn't hold it against her that she voted in favor of authorizing Bush. It would have been political suicide not to.
I do not believe Ahmadinejad would have come to power in Iran if we had not invaded Iraq. The people elected him in reaction to our impingement in the region. I believe the horrible situation in Iran is thus one of many unforeseen consequences of the Iraq war.
We invaded Iraq. I remember thinking as Powell presented evidence of WMD to the UN Council that I sure hoped they had more evidence than he was sharing. Funny not to present your best stuff, though.
I truly believe that Bush had very good intentions in invading Iraq. Remember that there was a strong avoidance of the word "invasion." People fought over a word that everyone now uses without thinking.
Almost everyone recognizes now that there was no connection between Al-Qaeda and Hussein. Yes, Hussein was a very bad man. Yes, most people were sure he had WMD at the time. But the war in Iraq is a textbook case against pre-emptive war in virtually every situation.
I believe that what was behind our attack on Hussein was a well-intentioned uber-strategy for the Middle East. With the Arab spring, it is possible that it is actually working, although ironically not at all like the think tanks of the time thought it would. It doesn't justify invading a country out of the blue morally, but it is possible that our mistake will, in the end, lead roughly to its uber-objective: a region that is more friendly to us and somewhat democratized.
At the same time, I truly believe that Bush would not have invaded Iraq if he had known that mission was not going to be accomplished as quickly as he thought it was on that air craft carrier. I pictured him making that decision with a heavy heart and only because he thought that it would not cause many American (or Iraqi) lives. Unfortunately, he was massively, massively wrong.
My hunch is that he was culturally naive on a grand scale. He thought that everyone wants democracy. Only someone who doesn't know much about other cultures would think that.
I was in Germany the Spring of 2004. I remember a concerned German at church saying something to me about us going into Iraq and I responded that I didn't think Bush had known what he was doing. I do believe that Bush was a lot wiser in his second term and that Cheney had less influence. It must be nice to be a second term president who doesn't have to worry about re-election.
It seemed impossible that Bush would not be re-elected in 2004. People like me were taking a lot of flack at that time for saying things everyone was saying by the 2008 election. 9-11 put us in a massive defensive and protectionist mode. In my opinion, we still cannot quite think straight. The anger and fear of that event have gone down, but have yet to return to normal levels. And the economic crisis has in its own way refueled that same mode of thinking.
The rest of the story, as I see it, tomorrow...