We are upon the 13th anniversary of 9/11, and here, it seems, we are again.
Most of us, it’s safe to say, have no trouble remembering the images from the terrible, blue-sky Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001. We clearly recall the deaths, the planes crashing into the towers in New York — and into the Pentagon, here, dark smoke lifting toward the sky, the vast confusion and shock of the day, the horrible numbers of death, bodies falling from tall buildings — and the fourth plane crashing in a small-town field in Pennsylvania.
A nurse, sitting among others watching the second tower come down on the television in the Mayflower Hotel, said, “I woke up this morning in one world, and I’ll wake up tomorrow in another.” That world is the one we live in today.
We remember the events that followed: President George W. Bush declaring war on terrorism and regimes singled out as evil, and soon after that, striking against the Taliban in Afghanistan, and in 2003 moving forces against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, a decision and its consequences still being hotly debated today.
We remember less how much the country and world has changed in the aftermath of 9/11. We live now in the world created by al-Qaeda, 9/11 and America’s and the world’s response to that day. We live in a world of security threats and security checkpoints in official buildings and airports. We live in a kind of lockdown, interrupted by periodic acts of terror around the world. We live in a world of Big Brother, where telephones and emails are monitored by a huge state security network to the point where nothing is private anymore. We live in a world of chaos in the Middle East, even as we triumphantly engineered and executed the killing of al-Qaeda leader and U.S. nemesis, Osama bin Laden.
We feel somehow diminished. We have left Iraq and will soon do so in Afghanistan. We do not feel safer, or better off or more certain of our course in the world. The Arab Spring descended into lost chances and chaos.
Here we are again. On Sept. 10, President Barack Obama laid out plans for battling a dark force, which emerged from a much morphed al-Qaeda group called ISIS (the Islamic State in Syria), which is now based in the blasted landscape of civil-war Syria and which controls large chunks of territory and oil in Iraq, a nation that teeters on the edge of civil war and collapse. ISIS is the most alarmingly violent and murderous group yet seen in the Middle East and among terrorist groups, which is saying something. Beheadings of two Americans, mass executions and slaughter, an ambition to create a caliphate in the Middle East are the dark characteristics of ISIS.
It’s been suggested that President George W. Bush predicted this chaos as a result of the American pullout from Iraq. It is too bad that we didn’t have George W. Bush predicting what would happen if we invaded Iraq in the first place.
Here we are again. Even if President Obama pulls together a Gulf War-type of coalition to fight and destroy ISIS, it means we will be back in the muddy again, even without boots on the ground. We will be back in the center of the storm that began with 9/11 and is still raging with a fury we have so far not understood.