Sep 072011
Authors: Jesse Benn

We all have our story from that day. I woke up to my dad telling me a plane hit the Word Trade Center. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I remember sleepily thinking, “So?”

Obviously, as we close in on ten years since, my initial reaction couldn’t have been more wrong.
In the weeks that followed, I remember predominantly feeling two things: anger and camaraderie. It was easy to feel angry, that was the obvious thing to do. But there also seemed to be a solidarity throughout the country that I’d never seen before — and haven’t since. (I say this reflecting on my experience. It would be shortsighted of me not to acknowledge that Muslim and Arab-American’s likely saw more anger and less of the camaraderie than myself.)

Now, as I think about the decade since, it’s hard for me to feel much but disappointment.
There were the silly, little changes — flag lapel pins, the ticker on 24-hour news networks and for a little while, we had freedom toast.

Then there were the bigger ones — the wars abroad, the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay and Homeland Security.

After the attacks the U.S. and its allies took the fight to bin Laden, invading Afghanistan in a war that found broad support worldwide. There was a moment that it seemed like we might get him. Somewhere called Tora Bora, not that it matters now. But bin Laden escaped and fled to Pakistan (eventually at least).

And at this point, in some ways, he’d already won.

Bin Laden didn’t do anything new. He used a classic guerrilla strategy, turning his enemies’ advantages on their head. Immediately, bin Laden hoped to get the U.S. trapped in a drawn-out guerrilla war – just as the Taliban had defeated the Soviets in the 1980s, they would now suck the U.S. dry of blood and treasure as well.

More broadly and ambitiously, however, bin Laden hoped that by baiting the U.S. into invading a Muslim country, he would rally support for his cause, leading to steadier recruitment and eventually Islamist revolts across the Muslim and Arab World.

Now, bin Laden must have known he would get the U.S. to invade Afghanistan; even a hypothetical President Kucinich would have invaded post-9/11. But I can only imagine his surprise and delight when the U.S. invaded Iraq as well. (Two wars for the price of one!)

And whatever you think of the war in Iraq, it would be hard to argue that it would have happened without 9/11. (Nevermind their complete disconnection otherwise). Both wars played right to bin Laden’s broader strategy, boosting terrorist recruitment — but with its negative perception throughout the world, the war in Iraq was particularly helpful to this end.

Of course, it wasn’t just recruiting a new generation of terrorists that bin Laden was after by ensnaring the U.S. in protracted conflict — there was the blood and treasure al-Qaeda was after as well.

And over a trillion dollars later (think of the opportunity cost), as our country sits in economic ruin and some $14 trillion in debt, it’d be hard to say bin Laden wasn’t successful here as well.

It’s estimated that the attacks of 9/11 only cost al-Qaeda around $500k. That makes $1.2 trillion a pretty good return on their investment, and we aren’t done spending yet.

Then there is the absolutely immeasurable human cost. Just on the American side there are over two million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, over 6,000 KIA and officially more than 30,000 wounded — inadequate record keeping means this number is actually much higher though (like times 10).

And for every service member represented by one of the staggering numbers above, there is a whole group of family and friends affected by their service, their loss or their injuries.

Add to those totals the intentionally unmeasured cost of Iraqi and Afghani lives –- killed, wounded, displaced or otherwise affected and the human costs are multiplied by the thousands.

Fortunately, not all of bin Laden’s goals could be accomplished based on a predictable U.S. response. And despite the U.S. invading two Muslim countries, bin Laden’s calls to mass Jihad were never answered.

But 10 years later, the Arab and Muslim World has seen revolution –- not one that embraced theocratic, Islamist rule though, quite the opposite.

The Arab Spring brought with it the largest demand for basic human rights and democratic principles the world has seen for a long time. And I can only hope that before bin Laden met his end, he knew that his broader objective had failed –- that freedom beats out fear, and that the principles the U.S. stands for (forget about our failure to always live up to them), are preferable to those al-Qaeda stands for, no matter what part of the world you ask.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who finally bought a new pair of shoes. His column appears Thursdays in the Collegian. He can be reached at  

 Posted by at 3:46 pm

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