I have been shying away from most of the 9/11 retrospectives, because when I think of what that day wrought in this country, all I feel is grief. Grief, that is, over what we in the United States have done to ourselves in response to the real and perceived threat.
The usually acute FT columnist Philip Stephens argued last week that in the grand scheme of things, 9/11 mattered not much of all. The main story of the
last decade is "the rising states of Asia and Latin America"; 9/11 just accelerated the relative "rise of the rest." That may well be true. But to add
as a corollary that "Bin Laden did not really change very much at all"
is reverse myopia of the worst kind.
What Bin Laden changed was the United States. He may ultimately prove to
have destroyed it. 9/11 gave George W. Bush carte blanche for a long,
destructive season. In short space, Bush made torture of captives
official U.S. policy, putting the U.S. in violation of international
law and making a mockery of the Bill of Rights -- as did his years of illegal spying on Americans, later codified into law. He started two wars and
doubled the defense/security budget while radically cutting taxes,
digging a fiscal ditch that his crazed party will now not let the
country climb out of. He stacked the Justice Dept. with evangelicals
and the regulatory agencies with industry shills, and his financial team
slept at the switch while a housing bubble based on rampant and
flagrant fraud grew to mammoth proportions. He created new norms of
dysfunction for a party now bent on shredding the country's tattered
social safety net, further cutting taxes for the wealthy, restoring the
unilateralist aggression that Stephens assumes to be discredited, and
proudly reinstituting torture.
Yes, the rise of the rest may be the main story now, if the human race
doesn't destroy itself or slip into another dark age. But for the
decline of the west, whether reversible or no, give Bin Laden a big assist.