The Mourning After

In his will, Osama bin Laden predicted that the 9/11 attacks “will mark the beginning of the wiping out of America and the infidel West after the passing of tens of years, God willing.”
It’s been 10 years, and America is, in some important ways, weaker than we were a decade ago.  But whether, tens of years from now, we will have been wiped out depends as much on the strength of our spirit as on the strength of our economy and military.
Al-Qaeda struck at the symbols of American financial and military supremacy on 9/11.  But its attempt to destroy the heart of America’s political system was thwarted in part because of the democratic ideals it loathed and intended to destroy.
Once passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 discovered that their hijacked plane was headed for Washington, D.C., they held a vote to determine how to respond.  “Let’s roll,” one of the passengers said after a majority had voted to confront the terrorists.
The plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing everyone aboard.  But citizens exercising their freedom to vote saved the lives of all those in and around the U.S. Capitol, the hijackers’ apparent target.
The emotional aftermath of 9/11 caused a moment of national and even international unity.  France’s Le Monde ran the headline, “Nous Sommes Tous Americains.”  (We are all Americans.”)
There were conspicuous displays of faith.  Democrat and Republican members of Congress united on the steps of the Capitol, joining hands to sing “God Bless America.”  The second Sunday after the attacks, clergy from many faiths held a joint memorial ceremony in Yankee Stadium.
In the subsequent years, Iraq has been freed of its dictator, Saddam Hussein, and Osama bin Laden has been delivered his Earthly justice.
President Bush’s anti-terrorism and national security policies have proved so effective that his successor has largely (and quietly) kept them intact.  No attack on the homeland has occurred since 9/11, though many attempts have been made.
And progress has been made in quelling the bitter turf battles among U.S. intelligence agencies that allowed 9/11 to go off without detection.
It’s fashionable to say 9/11 “changed everything,” and to talk in terms of pre- and post-9/11 worlds and mentalities.  But there are important things that have scarcely changed.
Bin Ladenism is still alive.  Israel remains besieged, and Iran is still the biggest threat in the region.  Hezbollah and Hamas continue to thrive off the hatred of Jews and the West.
In many ways America is weaker than it was.  Our federal government had planned on a $155 billion surplus in 2001.  Today it has a $1.5 trillion deficit.  Back then, economists were fretting over a 4.9% unemployment rate.  Rates are nearly double that now.
We have transformed from a country unrivaled on the world stage to one whose foreign policy of appeasement and retrenchment has allowed adversaries such as Iran, Russia and China to rise to fill the void.
But perhaps America’s greatest change is a change in attitude, its biggest weakness is a weakness of the soul.  After an initial post-9/11 surge in religious participation and patriotism, many Americans promptly turned away from our Judeo-Christian values.  Religious attendance is down.  Radical secularism grows.  Last week, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg excluded prayer and religious observation from the city’s 9/11 commemoration program.
American elites continue to advocate and teach the most cynical kind of political correctness—one that blames America for the attacks and refuses to name radical Islam as our enemy.  Our public schools continue to whitewash the history of Islam in our children’s textbooks.
America has lost much of its renowned optimism.  In early September 2001, 72% of Americans felt that, all in all, things were headed in the right direction, according to a NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.  Today, those numbers are practically reversed, 19% to 73%.
Bin Laden had three goals in attacking America and luring us into Afghanistan, the country known as the “graveyard of empires.”  He hoped we would suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union a generation earlier: a decade of fighting to stalemate, then withdrawal, followed by military, economic and political collapse.
Of course, the USSR’s Afghanistan war only abetted its destruction.  Its corrupt political and economic systems, and the resolve of its adversaries, including President Reagan, made its demise inevitable.
Bin Laden may or may not achieve his first and second goals.  Whether he achieves his ultimate goal of the end of America will hinge not only on our ability to recover economically but also on our ability to rearm morally.