Marty Lederhandler A/P
The U.S. response following the September 11, 2001 attacks initiated a string of reactions leading to economic turmoil and the inability to project an effective foreign policy.

By R. James Towe  james@sollicitus.us

In the hours and days following September 11, 2001, debate was heavy within the Bush Administration over how to retaliate against an enemy without a state. Al-Qaeda was global; protected and funded by governments and wealthy enemies of America thousands of miles away.

Some of the more hawkish in President George W. Bush's cabinet argued to destroy the Iranian regime and eliminate any government that was complicit with terrorism.

Cooler heads prevailed. Or did they?

In October, 2001, The United States invaded Afghanistan to occupy what it considered a breeding ground for terrorism and training camps directly affiliated with al-Qaeda. Covertly, the U.S. was waging a war against terrorism in every corner of the globe; secret prisons, torture and imprisonment without trial for those willing to kill civilians in mass numbers. The terrorists killed in the name of their god or an anti-West fanaticism, or probably a combination of the two.

The economic impact of 9/11 was devastating. One can find estimates as high as a trillion dollars lost due to the attacks. The psychological blow was significant. The new reality made some more pacifist and apologetic, others, like political pundit Dennis Miller, decided liberalism was not to work in such a new world. Those like Miller converted to a new hawkish and iron-fisted approach to our enemies.

When President Bush decided to remove Saddam Hussein from power in 2003, the administration believed that American forces on either side of Iran would force the Islamic Republic to admonish it's aggressive rhetoric and terrorist proxies. The result was much different.

The U.S. became bogged down in a region the West has never understood. A land where 'an eye for an eye' still rings as true as it did a thousand years ago. Cultural norms oppress women, ethnic and religious minorities are persecuted; democracy and secularism find themselves incompatible with the prevailing religious doctrine.

The financial crisis of 2008 made a tenuous situation into one that was dire. Two wars, one won, but both requiring permanent American money and presence, were threatened by an incoming president nurturing the hopes of a public tired of the fighting and death. A view further propagated by a news media hell-bent on destroying "W" and the 'so called' war on terror, to which it was often referred.


Not to say that George W. Bush didn't lay the foundation for today's foreign policy mess, but not the financial crisis of 2008. Those roots originated during the Clinton administration. Sub-prime mortgage lending and playing loosely with the market returned with the growth of credit default swaps (Link). Poor decisions at home and the five billion dollars a month (Link) we were spending in Afghanistan and Iraq put a strain on an already wounded economy.

As usual, there is plenty of blame to go around, but G.W. decided on the two wars and opened 'Pandora's box' with today's NSA problems of domestic surveillance. The Patriot Act turned out to be anything but patriotic. It has devolved into a program that violates our most basic rights. It alters the behavior of a law abiding public.


The Chinese are pushing their weight throughout Southeast Asia as army garrisons occupy Filipino and Vietnamese islands in a blatant land grab for natural resources. They threaten Japan over islands internationally recognized as Japanese and expand air defense zones hundreds of miles into international waters. The Russians run circles around our inept president in the Syria standoff and continue to befriend Iran. 

Most recently, Iran declared victory over the West. An Iranian general even confused make-believe with reality when he declared that America could not defeat Iran militarily.  

Perception is reality regardless of America's true power and potential influence. Years of poor decisions and inept leaders coupled with an unprecedented style for tragedy in 9/11 led to a confused and knee-jerk response. A response that damaged American prestige and helped devour our economy.

Twelve years after September 11, 2001, Iraqi cities are surrendering to al-Qaeda militias. In Afghanistan, the Taliban sit in wait for American withdrawal to overwhelm the weak and ineffective Afghan government NATO has protected. 

What was gained and what was lost? I fear much more has been lost as America risks a permanence to its damaged image and economic prowess.