Given how its long shadow still falls over American life, the 9/11 anniversary yet demands our nation pay tribute to those killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and voice our commitment as a responsible leader of the free world and builder of consensus among civilized nations. Yet our times increasingly reveal not only a U.S. foreign policy utterly incoherent but a national malaise that now takes democracy for granted, to the degree we stay mum or even cheer as, bit by bit, conventional and constitutional norms are surrendered and forsaken by our elected and appointed leaders.
For instance, one might think that Vietnam veterans among us would be raising the roof about the possibility of another war costly in blood and treasure again being surrendered by the U.S. government, which would mean the sacrifices of our 2,400 dead and 20,000 wounded on the battlefield plus losses on the home front counting for naught. Yet the concessions that President Trump’s administration was prepared to make to the Taliban that once hosted al-Qaida terrorists should outrage all patriots. To quote Ryan Crocker, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon: “It’s reminiscent of the Paris peace talks on Vietnam where, effectively, the government then as the government now is saying, ‘We surrender. Let’s just negotiate the terms.’” No less than the conservative National Review magazine nailed it: “The Taliban Shouldn’t Get within 5,000 Miles of Camp David.”
Politicians offering 9/11 tributes today will talk movingly about how we must never forget. Yet where is the firm resolve President Bush warned us would be required long-term in the wake of these attacks? Has it crumbled? Have we forgotten? When U.S. intelligence agencies told us the United States was attacked in the 2016 presidential election, many Americans, fat and lazy, simply shrugged it off, deciding that since their candidate won, the threat was poppycock or irrelevant. Our president backed the Russian president’s denial over U.S. intelligence officers’ insistence. We ignore, too, the brutal murder of a U.S.-based journalist by Saudi agents, likely at the direction of a corrupt prince; we lightly entertain the idea of war with Iran after breaking our word and tearing up an international agreement that we signed; we look the other way as another president demonstrates contempt for Congress, defies the constitutional separation of powers and reigns by executive penmanship; we live in daily expectation of an administration praising authoritarian governments long seen as dangerous adversaries while treating our allies with contempt and indifference.
Today the National September 11 Memorial will read aloud the names of those lost during the 9/11 attacks in its annual remembrance event. Yet how many of us, wittingly or not, have surrendered the long battle? Would the dead of 9/11 even recognize us? Would they understand the change that has consumed our hearts and minds?