On this ninth anniversary of the 911 attack, American anger is more intense than it has been in many years. In part, this is because of the mosque that is being built near the site of the World Trade Center, and in part it’s because we have been under threat now for a long time, and the threat remains as unsettling now as it was nine years ago.
We’re frustrated and we’re angry. The weakest among us are beginning to lash out in ways that illustrate our helplessness. Most of us cannot understand why we can’t win. We have lavished our national wealth and power on suppressing the threat, but the threat remains exactly as concealed and as potent as it was on the day the twin towers fell.
In fact, it is more potent because there have been nine more years for our adversaries to work toward their goal, which remains unspoken and unattended but can only be one thing: the nuclear decapitation of the United States of America.
Of course, we can console ourselves that terrorist organizations are unlikely to be able to manufacture yellowcake into weapons-grade uranium, but a number of unstable states can and have, or shortly will, accomplish this. In addition, there have been numerous known attempts to smuggle weapons grade materials out of Russia, and that country is actually assisting Iran in its quest to produce fissionable material.
So we have reason to be angry and frightened. If it destroys Washington, the next attack will in an instant do more damage to the western world than the collapse of the Roman Empire, which took two hundred years and left us virtually decivilized for nearly a millennium.
Power in our civilization is profoundly concentrated in Washington. It is as much the center of a world empire as Rome was. Even more so, because in it’s last century the Roman empire divided its government between two capitals.
Despite this clear danger, the United States has not taken the single most useful measure against such a disaster, which is for congress to pass a law that publicly outlines how the governors are to create an interim government and a constitutional convention to re-establish the republic. As matters stand, if we lose Washington, the United States will fail as a coherent structure, and what is worse, this failure will unfold in ways that cannot be predicted.
It’s worth asking some careful questions about why we are here and what we might do to improve our situation.
As World War II ended, Franklin Roosevelt made a historically unfortunate decision. He determined that the British, French and Dutch empires should be destroyed along with the malignant Axis powers. His optimism, self-confidence and deep connections to American political mysticism caused him to believe that the old empires would be, in the course of nature, replaced by democratic governments that would be devoted to the freedom and happiness of the people under their power. But peoples under the rule of the European empires had in no way been prepared for the sudden disappearance of colonial administration, and a world-historical catastrophe unfolded when they suddenly found themselves essentially plunged into anarchy. Into this power vacuum there came every sort of thief and mountebank, with the result that much of the world continues to be held under the malign sway of corruption and dictatorship, and now four generations and billions of human beings have led cruelly diminished lives as a result.
That is just one unfortunate result of Roosevelt’s decision to starve the European empires of capital and cause them to collapse. At the same time that Germany and Japan were being rehabilitated, France, Britain and Holland were being denied the loans and support they needed to resuscitate their colonial administrations at least long enough to give the nations under their rule some reasonable chance of forming viable governments.
This policy was continued by Truman, and by the time it was realized that the Soviet Union was a terribly dangerous aggressor with world domination as its objective, it was too late to resuscitate the power of the old empires, and the United States was left to stand alone against Soviet and then also Chinese aggression.
The defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 marked the end of any possible partnership between Europe and the United States against the communist states.
Of course, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization created the appearance of an Atlantic alliance, but, in fact, it was an American enterprise through-and-through. The disappearance of European power left us standing alone, and resulted in the default conversion of our republic into an empire.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was every reason to believe that the United States could at last give up its imperial role, but instead the great disaster of 911 occurred, in part due to our relentless innocence and overconfidence, and in part, perhaps, for darker reasons.
The aftermath of 911 is that the United States has been transformed from the unwilling imperialism of the cold war era into something much more desperate. In order to protect our own lives, we have essentially spread our military influence across the world.
With a single exception, all of the empires of the past had the same motive: they were designed to bring wealth, in various ways, to the dominant power. Only the Egyptian empire was functionally similar to the American empire, insofar as it was protective in nature and not aggrandizing. Like the United States, Egypt was so prosperous that it had no need for colonies. It only needed protection.
The threat that Egypt faced was aggressive competitors seeking its wealth. The United States faces another sort of threat: aggressors who fear human freedom and seek its destruction. In this sense, there is little difference between the communists and the Muslim terrorists. One sought to replace human freedom with a grim secular ideology, the other with an equally oppressive one that is based in religious belief.
However, the terrorists have an enormous advantage over the old communist states. This is the fact that they have no state infrastructure to support and no vast populations to feed. An attack that cost them a handful of lives and perhaps a few million dollars has resulted in the United States spending over a trillion dollars in self-defense and tragically compromised the very freedoms it has set out to protect and spread across the world.
And in those last four words lie the essence of the problem, and beyond it, the direction in which we need to turn this grand, vulnerable ship of ours if she isn’t to risk destruction on the rocks of terrorism.
From Franklin Roosevelt to Dick Cheney, there is an unbroken line of American leaders sharing the same ideal: that the United States has a manifest destiny to spread freedom. From Roosevelt’s confidence that the peoples of the world only needed to be relieved of colonial oppression to find their freedom to Cheney’s naive statement that the Iraqis would greet American troops with “sweets and flowers,” this fundamental delusion has been the consistent and fallacious axis of American foreign policy.
If it wasn’t a fallacy, the world would not be the vast sea of corruption, oppression and dictatorship that it is. Of course, some successful states have emerged out of the wreckage of the strangled European empires, but none that even approach either in the freedom they grant their people or in their moral validity the nations of the west, led by the United States.
This is the reality in which we live, and it is long past time to accept it and move into a new phase of policy, and a new kind of American life, and at the same time, a very old one.
I am not suggesting that the United States return to isolationism. What I am suggesting is that the western world reconnect with the value of its own traditions, and come to see itself as an alliance of nations that are essentially separate from the rest of the world. We need to accept the hard truth that the Enlightenment out of which our civilization emerged has not spread beyond its present limits, and that we no longer possess the resources to attempt to spread it further, much less to continue to project our power into areas where it remains misunderstood and unwanted.
This includes the entire middle east, and in particular the Pashtun areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan, which, despite three thousand years of invasion and political manipulation, have not been defeated by western armies since the time of Alexander the Great.
In our effort to use them to defeat the USSR’s Afghan adventure, we armed al Qaeda and our own Central Intelligence Agency established the infrastructure that it continues to use to this day as the flexible, inexpensive and potent axis of its highly maneuverable power.
Over the course of the twentieth and now twenty-first centuries, our country has consistently forgotten the lesson of the Minutemen. We cast about with ponderous, overwhelmingly costly armies while our enemies learn and apply the lessons of our own revolution against us.
What is worse, no American political party has any real idea of what is wrong or what we need to do to save ourselves. For make no mistake, those are the stakes. If we are attacked again as or more dramatically than we were on 911, we are going to give up our freedom in return for safety, and our great republic will drift into history, replaced by a vast and intricately oppressive bureaucracy, much of which will be invisible to us.
Already, 850,000 Americans possess top secret clearances and work in over five hundred different clandestine agencies, most of which are not identified to the public in any way. By its very nature, secrecy cannot protect a republic, but only diminish it. The fact that we need so much secrecy to survive is extremely dangerous to our cherished freedoms and our constitution. Where the secrets start, the republic stops. But the more we clutch at our protective empire, the more secrets we will have and the less republic.
We need to reconceive the way we protect ourselves. There must be a considered withdrawal, primarily centered on the middle east. If we remove our troops and other penetrations from these countries, they will be compelled to deal with their extremists on their own, and they will be able to, because the absence of a western presence is going to remove the primary irritant that gives Islamic extremism its energy.
As matters stand, no American political party is ready to lead our nation and our western allies in any way except one that leads to more danger.
The Democrats have withdrawn combat troops from Iraq, but it remains an American protectorate, and there is no plan for further withdrawal. The current president is making the same error in Afghanistan that Lyndon Johnson made in Viet-Nam, persisting in an unwinnable war so that history will not record that he is the one who lost it. But either this president or the next one will lose in Afghanistan, just as the west has always lost there and will every time it returns.
Although Republican policy intentions are carefully concealed, such things as the ‘Ryan Plan’ and the statements of candidates like Joe Miller of Alaska suggest their intention is to vastly expand the American military presence abroad, and to pay for it by eliminating social programs at home such as Medicare and Social Security, leaving millions of Americans to face an old age of poverty and limited access to medicine, while the freedom-crushing juggernaut of our staggeringly expensive empire continues to endanger us.
Our objectives should always be the same: the freedom of the American people and the resolute support of other nations who share our ideals, the institutionally free societies of the west. We should do all we can to withdraw from the rest of the world, including reviving our own manufacturing base and using our genius for innovation to make ourselves as independent as humanly possible of need for the resources of the failed world external to our civilization.
We must rekindle our respect for what we have accomplished. The Enlightenment and the republican revolutions that followed it created the most intellectually robust, the most culturally enriching and the most economically successful societies the world has ever known. We need to value this culture and to realize that others may think differently, and accept that they will go their way.
Had the European empires been supported properly after the war, they could have been transformed from the exploitative systems that so horrified Roosevelt into systems of coherent and viable states, that might have extended western freedoms, prosperity and ideals into the rest of the world. It did not happen and now what we must do is to repair the past as best we can by accepting that, from the day those empires collapsed, it was already too late to build the alliance of free and prosperous nations that might indeed afford us the protection that we are seeking.
We need to retrench, to look to our own nation and our own freedoms, for if a policy doesn’t protect them–and our empire is certainly a very costly challenge to them–then of what value is it?
So on this ninth and most angry anniversary of 911, we need to look deeply into the most fundamental nature of the way our country approaches the world and finds its place among nations. But we need to look not outward but inward. How can we safely regain the freedoms we gave up because of the attack? What can we do that will really protect us, and give our children the chance to taste the freedoms we knew when we were young?
There is another way, so far completely ignored by our political parties, but it is also the only way to the survival of our freedom and the continued ability of individual Americans to engage in the personal journey that is implied by the promise that we may be able to pursue happiness.
We must protect ourselves by remembering that home comes first. Military withdrawal is the only thing that will protect us, in the end, by denying our enemies a reason to fight.
The freedom of the west and the freedom of the United States are the most important of all human accomplishments, and those peoples who are not ready to dare freedom with us or are institutionally incapable of doing so, must be left to the past into which, inevitably, they will recede and be forgotten.
It’s time to let them go their way and survive or be damned on their own. It’s time to come home.
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