The response to that day that will forever live in infamy commenced amidst a shaken nation with a rare display of national and international unity, a people standing as one, the world joining in to express their shared outrage – and mourn a world gone by overnight. But that unity would quickly give way to a not-so-brave new world marked by explosive controversy revolving around twin wars and a massive new bureaucracy.
With 20 years of hindsight, was the response by George W. Bush and the three presidents who followed him after 9/11, too strong, too weak, or about right? The results of a new LibertyNation.com poll offer some surprising conclusions after the long, strange trip that is our transformation into a post-9/11 world.
The first post-attack memory for most in the new September 12 world was the famed, bull-horned promise from George W. Bush atop the rubble of the fallen twin towers that the perpetrators of 9/11 would soon hear from all of us. It was met with overwhelming applause by a grieving people. Then came the expected retaliatory attacks on the country which housed the masterminds, the killing or capture of hundreds of Al-Qaeda leaders and foot soldiers, and the widely supported declaration of “war on terror.” Swift military success in Afghanistan, and later in Iraq, was followed by a commitment to do whatever it took to build these nations into facsimiles of western democracies – whether they wanted it or not. We would sacrifice more than 6,000 lives, tens of thousands wounded, and more than $6,000,000,000,000 – for the supposed sake of our own long-term security, based on the notion that democracies do not attack each other. The project was a long, slow march to failure.
As the drums of war were beating, and the nation’s blanket of sadness began to lift and give way to seething anger and vengeance, few spoke out against the growing consensus in Washington on how to prevent future terrorist attacks on the homeland. We were told that in order to thwart 100% of potential future attacks – 99% would not do – a massive new bureaucracy with strikingly broad investigative powers would be necessary. Thus was born the Department of Homeland Security Agency and later the Patriot Act – both holding the distinction of at once protecting and threatening the fundamental rights of Americans.
For the small minority (7%) of the 4,954 respondents in the new Liberty Nation poll who believe the federal response to the attacks was “too strong,” there are a laundry list of possible reasons, from the conduct of the two wars to the very concept of building democracies in distant lands long defined by authoritarian rule, tribal warfare, and decided incompatibility with western values. Call it trying desperately to fit a round peg in a square hole. It can be jammed in, but it will never fit properly. And the most lingering objection to the 9/11 response is likely the gigantic, intrusive new agency built as its domestic centerpiece.
In the middle are roughly one in three (35%) in the LN poll who believe the response to the catastrophe was “about right.” The fact that we have not suffered another terrorist attack since that awful day is perhaps sufficient for this significant minority of people who are likely more concerned with the bottom line – no second 9/11 – than the massive expenditures, battlefield casualties, and loss of liberty.
Most surprising is that a majority of respondents in our poll (58%) believe the response to 9/11 was “too weak,” for reasons that are not as readily apparent. Should we have pressed on in one or both wars with more aggressive military action instead of nation-building? Did we take too long to get bin Laden? Did Obama give up in Iraq too quickly? Did Trump make a bad deal with the devil Taliban? Was Biden too tame to ever be capable of a clean exit? Should we have left Afghanistan at all?
For two decades now, we have bitterly debated the conduct of this twilight struggle against a shadowy enemy. Our willingness to sacrifice short term liberty for long term security, send our boys and girls off to dubious wars, and remake an entire region of the world in our own image have all come under heavy fire. The takeaway from this wide-ranging survey is that conservatives, thought to be fully supportive of the actions of George W. Bush in at least the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, are in reality broadly displeased with the weakness of the government’s response to the life-altering events of September 11, 2001.
Read more from Tim Donner.