Safeguarding America: Year 5

With countless lives lost and billions of dollars spent, our country is not safe.

This day marks the five-year anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11. In the past five years, we’ve witnessed transformations in our country’s foreign policy, domestic policy and reputation abroad. Sept. 11 altered the course of our nation as well as our role in the world.

In the days after the attack, our nation united around the president in a way not witnessed since the bombing of Pearl Harbor. We entrusted his administration with the duty of safeguarding our nation against terrorism and leading our country to correct the wrongs that had been done on that day.

Currently, President George W. Bush is touring the country, trying to rally support for his anti-terrorism policy. While his public approval rating has dropped on nearly all fronts, approval of his leadership in the war on terrorism remains strong. But one question looms – are we safer?

Some progress has been made. The reorganization of the intelligence community has helped federal agencies communicate with one another and use information to protect against another attack. But the directives of the 9/11 Commission largely have been pursued at too slow a pace or not at all. We are less safe because of this. Congress has not funded improvement of baggage screening at airports. Enriched uranium, much of it from the former Soviet Union, has not been contained and neutralized, and it will take an estimated 14 years before it is recovered. Additionally, states receive homeland security funding not based on the risk they face of a possible attack, but on a revenue-sharing program that sends a disproportionate amount of funding to such states as Wyoming.

The elements that bode worst for the future safety of our nation are the animosity and hatred that many in the world feel toward us. And sadly, much of this is a direct result of the foreign-policy decisions made in the wake of 9/11. Throughout the world, people were saddened and angered by the attacks our nation suffered and gave the United States their sympathy and support. This support could have helped create a multinational, unified front against terrorism. Instead, it was squandered by pursuing a foreign policy of unilateral aggression, disregarding dissent at home and the opinions of important allies abroad.

The Iraq war has been the administration’s centerpiece in the war on terror. In the wake of Sept. 11, it was sold to the American people by the Bush administration as an instrumental part in defending our country against terrorism. Over and over, lines were deliberately blurred between al-Qaida and Iraq, until many Americans felt they were practically the same. Reputations were smeared to silence critics of the war, and anyone hesitant in the rush to arms was labeled by some of the highest officials in the executive branch as “soft on terror,” or worse, terrorist sympathizers. Later opposition to military tribunals, secret prisons, torture of prisoners, suspension of civil liberties, or even simply a new direction in Iraq have been described as unpatriotic and anti-American.

The failure of the administration’s approach in Iraq is indicative of its wider failure in prosecuting the war on terror. Rather than encourage constructive discourse, the administration has sought to silence it. Rather than encourage unity and cooperation, it has opted for an approach that divides. And perhaps most catastrophically, rather than listen to experts who asserted the lack of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or the experts who advised for a stronger troop presence on the ground, this administration brazenly has followed its own inclinations, regardless of their basis in truth. This hubris has jeopardized success of the war at great cost to the American and Iraqi people, both in lives and in dollars.

The $300 billion spent so far in war on terrorism could have better honored the memory of those who died on 9/11 by protecting our citizens through preventative measures, rather than charging headstrong into a short-sighted, ill-advised, and poorly planned war. In the five years since that day, after countless lives have been lost and billions of dollars have been spent, it’s apparent that our country is not safe from terrorism. This, more than any conflict since the Cold War, is a conflict based on ideology. Dropping bombs cannot change minds, and it stands to reason that violence can only beget more violence.

However, during this war on terrorism, the greatest loss has been of our own principles. This administration has undertaken an attack on the principles we should be fighting to protect. Torture of detainees, spying on the American people, and withholding the right to trial of suspected terrorists, are only a few of the affronts committed in the name of our country’s safety. We should not accept this behavior from our elected leaders. This is a conflict that we will inherit, and if we are to do better than our current government, we must not abandon the values and liberties that make our country one worth fighting for.