"Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche
There is no moral justification for the mass slaughter that took place on the morning of September 11, 2001, when sadistic religious zealots murdered 3,000 innocents on American soil. However, the U.S. is worthy of condemnation for its disproportionate response to the attacks, for the U.S. in the 9/11 decade has violated the very principles it sought to protect and has begun to resemble the evildoers it once set out to slay.
The Bush administration prosecuted "preventive" war in Iraq, tortured suspected militants, racially profiled Arabs and Muslims and wiretapped its own citizens while President Obama accelerated a cowardly CIA drone war and currently ponders prolonging America's futile military presence in Afghanistan until 2024.
Although over 6,000 American troops have lost their lives in the wars so far, at least 225,000 natives have been killed in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan combined, with over 75 percent of those deaths categorized as civilians according to a recent Brown study. In other words, we got our revenge for 9/11 -- and then some.
However, the sweet taste of vengeance has been fleeting for Americans. On top of the cost in blood, Brown also conservatively estimated the expense of the wars to be well over $3 trillion. But even more damaging has been the blow to America's moral standing in the world. A world, by the way, that was once behind us, epitomized by a Le Monde editorial in November 2001 that declared "We are all Americans!"
The U.S. had every right to hunt down Osama bin Laden and other al Qaeda operatives responsible for September 11th. However, U.S. war planners decided to bomb and occupy Afghanistan despite the fact there is zero evidence that a single Afghan was involved in the designing or execution of the 9/11 attacks.
Ignored was the fact that most of the hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia. Overlooked was the fact most of the heavy lifting of the planning occurred in Hamburg, Germany. The path of least resistance was turning Afghanistan into a parking lot. One wonders if the U.S. would have been able to locate and kill bin Laden in a safehouse outside Pakistan's capital without deploying 100,000 troops to southern Afghanistan to basically wage a 10-year war against every Pashtun tribal confederation on both sides of the Durand line.
Growing up we were taught America always took the first punch. However, in 2003 the U.S. decided to compromise this ethic by invading the sovereign nation of Iraq based on misleading evidence. America reinvented its foreign policy, underpinned by the neoconservative philosophy that "might makes right."
In addition to the dubious claims linking Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda, the funding of the misadventure in Mesopotamia represented the height of fiduciary irresponsibility as the country spiraled from budget surplus towards bankruptcy. According to economist Joseph Stiglitz:
Even if Bush could be forgiven for taking America, and much of the rest of the world, to war on false pretenses, and for misrepresenting the cost of the venture, there is no excuse for how he chose to finance it. His was the first war in history paid for entirely on credit. As America went into battle, with deficits already soaring from his 2001 tax cut, Bush decided to plunge ahead with yet another round of tax "relief" for the wealthy.
Gone are the days of promoting democracy through moral authority. As Bill Clinton put it during his 2008 DNC speech: "People the world over have always been more impressed by the power of our example than by the example of our power."
However, Obama's actions would indicate otherwise considering he is continuing the gross militarization of U.S. diplomacy as part of the misguided "War on Terror" as this Congress and administration provide the defense establishment with a blank check in the midst of an economic crisis. Fareed Zakaria warned of the perils inherent in such an imbalance:
The result is a warped American foreign policy, ready to conceive of problems in military terms and present a ready military solution. Describing precisely this phenomenon, Eisenhower remarked that to a man with a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.
Meanwhile, opportunists have used 9/11 as a pretext to foment irrational xenophobic fears against Muslims and other immigrants. America still beckons the world to give us their tired, poor and huddled masses "yearning to breathe free" -- that is, as long as said huddled don't include Muslims and Mexicans.
This anti-Muslim sentiment has emboldened militarists and justified rendition and torture programs. The premise goes that since deviants like the Taliban would not hesitate to decapitate a Western captive, waterboarding a few Muslim militants is more than acceptable -- all the while missing the point that by employing such tactics we close the moral gap between us and them.
The truth is the world has lost confidence in the "indispensable nation" and has ceased looking to us as a military, economic and moral leader. And as we remain mired in military excursions countries like China are surpassing us on the economic front.
Despite all of this conservatives wonder aloud why U.S. leaders don't publicly tout "American exceptionalism" as often and as brazenly as they once did. Glenn Beck-types are aghast that we always seem to be apologizing to the world for our actions.
The reason? Perhaps it's because, especially based on our policies since 9/11, saying "I'm sorry" is the least we can do. And, in truth, would be a good start to restoring America's global standing and reinstituting the values we once held dear.