With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaching, it's safe to say that Al-Qaeda has lost the war on terror--after all, Bin Laden is dead and much of their leadership and global influence has all but disappeared. But the real question is, who won? New York magazine columnist Frank Rich argues that America is suffering from a number of problems today that can be traced directly to our government's response to 9/11. And if you can look past a few of Rich's more partisan comments, I feel that overall he makes a good point. It could be that the war on terror, like Vietnam and WWI before it, has been a conflict with no real winner.
9/11 had the potential to unite us, and for a short while it did. But eventually, as Bush started using it as an excuse to invade Iraq, the unity died. Instead, one was either with the White House or with the terrorists. Many have accused the mainstream media of cheerleading the war and not providing a balanced analysis of the rationale for the invasion. People who criticized the president or the Iraq War were attacked as "unpatriotic." Instead of unifying us, the Iraq invasion and its aftermath seems to have ignited the bitter partisanship that now seems to pervade Washington. Before Iraq, Democrats and Republicans could actually work together. Now, any politicians who attempt to compromise are viewed by their base as "surrendering." Bashing the president was not nearly as popular in the media before 2003 as it has been in the past eight years, no matter which party has controlled the White House. Trust in government has plummeted to all-time lows.
Perhaps a bigger problem was, as Rich puts it, the war was fought by a "largely out-of-sight, out-of-mind" army and paid for by a "magic credit card." As support for the war waned, the military resorted to widespread dishonest recruiting and unprecedented use of stop-loss policies to keep up troop levels. Washington also thought that they could pay for the war almost entirely through deficit spending. Taken together, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the continuation of the Bush tax cuts, and the Medicare prescription drug entitlement are responsible for the majority of our national debt at this point, and played a huge role in the S&P credit downgrade.
The war on terror has clearly been a defeat for Al-Qaeda. But with bitter partisan divisions, massive debts, and a seemingly endless conflict in Afghanistan--all a result of the war on terror--can we really say that we have won?