Twenty-one years ago, our country was changed forever. On Sept. 11, 2001, al-Qaeda militants hijacked commercial airplanes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York, killing nearly 3,000 people. As countless families still grieve their lost loved ones from that tragic day—and the country suffers the consequences of the resulting war on terror—libertarians fear too many of our countrymen still have not learned a vital lesson.
Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, then-presidential candidate and now-former Rep. Ron Paul warned Americans that the attacks were “blowback” for our government’s actions in the Middle East. It should be easy to imagine how such a remark astounded the electorate; until then, Americans had been oblivious to their government’s ventures abroad. For whatever reason, the corporate media had never covered the CIA’s arming of Osama bin Laden in the 1980s to fight communism in Afghanistan, or the fact that US soldiers massacred Iraqi civilians during the Gulf War, or the 1.5 million Iraqi civilians killed by US sanctions on milk and medicine in the 1990s.
Yet we flooded Afghanistan, a country so poor and remote that many of its citizens had no concept of New York City, skyscrapers, or even televisions—much less the events of 9/11. Less than two years later, we plundered Iraq in search of Saddam Hussein’s ever-elusive “weapons of mass destruction”; nineteen years and 4,500 dead U.S. service members later, we still have troops there.
America needed Ron Paul’s iconic, uncomfortable moment on that debate stage. The integrity to speak truth to one’s own team is rare in politics. To be seen as unpatriotic or insulting to the military has always been a political death sentence, and the years immediately following 9/11 were no exception. But the reality was as true then as it is today: There are few acts more inhumane or disrespectful to our troops than sending them to fight and die in pointless, endless wars abroad.
And many of the “sacrifices” our politicians told us would be necessary have been turned against us: the Patriot Act, NSA surveillance, and detention without due process, to name just a few. Mainstream pundits have even called for Jan. 6 protesters to be sent to Guantanamo Bay, a place designated exclusively for the most dangerous terrorists. How long until our government starts turning its critics right here at home into political prisoners?
Ron Paul warned what many of the unseen casualties of the war on terror would be: our civil liberties; our ability to engage in diplomacy; trillions upon trillions added to our national debt; and control of our federal government. We have also had more than 30,000 veteran suicides since 9/11, and an estimated 38,000 homeless veterans, many of whom suffer from traumatic brain injuries.
The people of the Middle East have paid a price no less heavy. Brown University’s Costs of War Project estimates that America’s post-9/11 wars have killed between 900,000 and 2 million people, many of them innocent women and children. The number of displaced persons is unknown, and the ensuing political instability has decimated the quality of life for millions of Middle Easterners.
In light of all this, libertarians’ message for America is simple: No more.
No more entangling alliances, no more military aid in foreign conflicts that do not serve our nation’s interests, no more grieving parents or grieving children who’ve lost their family members because of our drone strikes, no more destruction of our Constitutional rights, and no more veteran suicides or starving, homeless veterans wandering American streets.