After 9/11: Have We Come A Long Way, Baby?

In a few weeks, we will be marking the 10th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorist attacks on the United States. The retrospectives have already begun, including one triumphalist piece I glanced in the Huffington Post this morning that suggested that Al-Queda is essentially collapsing. While I think the latter might be stretching things a bit, there is little question that we are on the verge of a milestone if not a point in what used to be called the Global War on Terror, and has since been renamed The Long War: the great bogeyman is dead, the U.S. is leaving Iraq, and attention is shifting back to southern Asia.

There are still unforeseen challenges and incidents ahead of us: whatever we have accomplished in the past decade, the level of discontent in what Thomas P.M. Barnett calls “the non-integrating gap” running from Northern Africa across to Eastern Indonesia remains high. Those regions are bound to produce individuals and groups who believe that their only course of action is to foment death and destruction.

For that reason, a retrospective at this point is fitting, and the RAND Corporation has crafted one in The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism. The book probes how the U.S. as a government and as a nation responded to 9/11, and the effects that has had on the country and, to a lesser extent, the world. The essays in the book cover everything from military readiness to economic policy to health care implications of terrorism, and significantly warns against the government’s tendency to think too short-term.

They authors take especial aim at the government’s obsession with airline security, and note that the problem is not the increase in security, but the belief that better security (or even better intelligence) will stop the attacks. The aim must continue to be addressing terrorism at its roots, not at its fruits.

This is an essential read for anyone interested in U.S. domestic politics or international relations. While we are preoccupied these days by such mind-numbing sideshows as the budget crisis and the coming election, it is also time to hold up a mirror and look at what has happened to the country as a result of the attacks of September 11.

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