Home / Why America’s Sense of Unity After 9/11 Was Lost

Why America’s Sense of Unity After 9/11 Was Lost

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I read an article recently–one of many–that was lamenting the loss of national unity felt immediately after 9/11.  Given the numerous personal accounts I've read, it's pretty clear that 9/11 deeply affected Americans across the political spectrum–particularly the random subset of Americans who happened to be in the towers on that fateful day.

When the right complains about a loss of unity, they tend to blame moderates and liberals for basically veering off course, for failing to stay with the program.  They fail to acknowledge that over the last 5 years, the program has shifted from a narrow, focused response to a specific event all the way to a grand desire to spread worldview, ideology and a socio-economic system to another part of the world.

This is key to understanding why we're not "all on board."

Immediately after 9/11, America WAS unified–and still is, I'd venture to say–in a desire to see the perpetrators of that horrific tragedy brought to justice.  That means Osama Bin Laden.  Many of us still look forward to his capture and trial, and for a few months after 9/11 it looked as if we were closing in on the top guy.


But then, the mission expanded–the fight to bring Bin Laden to justice became the "War on Terror," with its first stop in Iraq.  We barely had time to accept that we'd lost Bin Laden at Tora Bora before we were talking up "Shock and Awe," and a VERY QUICK WAR, to rid the world of Saddam's WMD.  And don't be confused or think that Tora Bora was unnoticed or has been forgotten among those on the left–a post about the failure to capture Bin Laden got 172 comments this week on liberal site DailyKos.  We noticed, and we observed America's short attention span at work.  Or was that George's?

Some of us recognized before 2000 that "W" might want to get back at Saddam for trying to kill his father, and suspected that if presented with an opportunity he might try to do so.  Turns out, that was so much to the forefront of Bush's mind that he asked Rumsfeld–ON OUR NATIONAL DAY OF TRAGEDY, 9/11/01–to try to tie Saddam into the event, as well as Bin Laden who was already suspected.

So we're now three and a half years into a war that Rumsfeld dismissed as unpredictable, but estimated "It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months."  Now we hear rumors–entirely believable, given this Administration's behavior–that Rumsfeld at one point threatened to fire the next person who tried to plan for securing Iraq post-war. This, mind you, for something many of us consider a diversion from the REAL threat–namely, Osama Bin Laden!

As the Iraq situation has become more and more depressing, the mission has now grown to be even more bloated and vague–to spread democracy to the Middle East.  Many people don't believe our sons should be dying to "spread" our worldview, ideology and/or socio-economic system, or that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11, but many of these are people who DO believe chasing and capturing Bin Laden–who DID perpetrate 9/11–would have been worthwhile.  

In conclusion, the problem boils down to the Bush/Cheney expansion of the mission from a response to 9/11 to the grand spread of freedom to the Middle East.  Bush has tried to sell this as a way to combat the prevalence of terrorism, but no-one knows if it will work.  Plus, many educated individuals–Wes Clark, to name just one–believe there are other strategies we could choose instead of bombing people into democracy–tightening our borders, examining cargo from ships, and playing nicer with our neighbors is one example. 

So if Bush wanted to change the mission and maintain the sense of unity he had to begin with, he did a poor job of selling the bait-and-switch job.

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About JP

  • Bliffle

    Yes, the admin betrayed us when they morphed the pursuit of 9/11 justice into a war on Iraq. That’s enough for impeachment, IMO.

  • If we’re going after terrorism and not just getting revenge for 9/11 then the invasion of Iraq is at least relevant to that fight

    I didn’t think that at first, it was as much about getting revenge for 9/11 as it was about a) bringing the responsible parties to justice, and b) neutralizing al Qaeda and the Taliban. The reason Iraq is a betrayal, at least to me, is that we abandoned both of those purposes for the sake of a tangent.

  • dee

    How does one declare war on terror? I’m terrified of dying in a plane crash, do we destroy all airplanes? I’m terrified of drowning, do I not swim? I’m terrified of religion, do we do away with it? The religion one might not be a bad idea but you get me point. A war on terror is a joke. IRAQ IS NOT RELEVANT TO THE FIGHT. Dave you are obviously oblivious. There were no terrorists in Iraq until we invaded and occuppied. Iraq did not attack us. Saddam was not a threat. Iraq is a huge distraction now, financially and in other ways. We are in the middle of a civil war accomplishing nothing. How are people so dumb as to confuse Iraq with the so-called war on terror? Because no credibility king bush tells them so? What a joke. Iraq is only relevant due to the fact that Bush wanted revenge, oil, and they as rummy put it “had lots of targets.” Please dave come up with some of your own thoughts and conclusions rather than listening to the complete assholes that are currently in power and destroying this once great country.

  • Is that what we were after, Dave?

    I mean, is that REALLY what we were after?

    The administration sold the US on Iraq by insisting not that it was the most vulnerable, not that it was the most egregious case of state terrorism, but that it was the most serious and imminent threat to the United States.

    Enough so, apparently, that we needed to abandon our military and political work in Afghanistan, allow Osama to remain alive and in hiding, and let the Taliban regroup.

    Indeed, one might say that Iraq was only the most vulnerable until we diverted forces to it out of Afghanistan, at which point Afghanistan dropped back into the “Most Vulnerable” superlative.

  • JP

    Dave, I suppose what I’m suggesting is that The early speech about “no difference between terrorists or the states that support them” was the beginning point of the dissension, in my opinion. Since then, we should be dropping bombs on anyone who’s afraid–after all, that’s the only REAL way to remove terror.

    The Administration decided–on its own–to classify the attack as an act of war. We could have chosen to “declare war” on the perpetrators we all wanted to see rebuked: Al Qaeda, the Taliban and Afghanistan.

    By “declaring war” on something much broder than those who attacked us–forgetting those who attacked us, actually–they included a goal they’d wanted since before the election, Iraq, which was not a goal shared by all Americans. And further, Bush cannot “declare war” no matter how many times he says so–and many Americans resent him trying to usurp Congress.

    It’s gotten even worse as we observed what was sold as a war of weeks become a war of years, and observed the incompetent handling of the Bush administration (in everything except campaigning, which they’re good at). The lackadasical response to Katrina made that vividly “obvious.”

    Therefore, don’t blame Americans for not being behind the mission. Blame those who changed the mission and then proved to be incapable of executing it.

  • Lumpy

    I call bullshit on that last. Until we actually went into Iraq you’d have been hard pressed to find anyone who didn’t agree that saddam was an evil, genocidal, terror funding bastard who needed to be removed from power. They only disagreed on when and how to get rid of him. Then Bush chose a course of action and suddenly the tune changed and his sins are forgotten. Al qaeda killed 3000 people. Saddam killed hundreds of thousands.

  • dee

    Again, more neoclown spin, it doesn’t matter if saddam was a bad guy that’s not the point, talk about anything else but the issue at hand, the point is iraq did not attack us. There are plenty of bad guys out there but we don’t invade their countries. the 9.11 commission found no evidence that saddam was as lumpy says “a terror funding bastard.” But bush and cheney say it and lumpy believes them so it must be true. bush will burn in hell for his sins. I don’t believe in hell though. god the stupidity from you neoclowns hurts.

  • I don’t know anybody who’s forgotten Saddam’s sins, as you say.

  • Nancy

    What I don’t understand is why Bush #1 didn’t finish the job & take out Hussein during the first gulf war? It would have been a lot easier to do it then. Why did he quit halfway – just another instance of generic Bush incompetence, or what? I remember when GH was head of the CIA, and even then he was considered to be one of the duller knives in the drawer.

  • dee

    Nan – Actually Bush senior new the outcome if he removed Saddam. He knew it would look alot like it does right now and decided it wasn’t worth it. I can’t think of the exact quote, but he made some sort of statement along those lines. He had the foresight to see the chaos if saddam was taken out. What’s funny to me is that his son did not head this warning from dad because king bush speaks to god and he knows all…


    NALLE: “…The pursuit of 9/11 justice and the war in Iraq have only a peripheral relationship.”

    Too bad the Bush admin. didn’t tell the American public that to begin with.

    NALLE: “Bush declared war on TERROR, not on just one terrorist group.”

    Terror is a TACTIC. You can’t declare war on a tactic. This was a very large conceptual mistake that helped drag us further into this mess. Bush’s actions actually helped CREATE more terrorists than were eliminated. Thanks, George!

    NALLE: “…any nation which sponsored terrorism was a potential target, and Iraq was the soft target.”

    Using that rationale, we could easily have invaded Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, N. Korea, Iran, Egypt, et al.

    NALLE: “If we’re going after terrorism… then the invasion of Iraq is at least relevant to that fight, so it’s not really a distraction or divergence from the course. This ought to be obvious.”

    Dave, seriously, JUST STOP. It’s pathetic.


    JP, yer article states it nicely.

    Just to add a a few things to your list of THINGS LOST:

    I think you’d agree that — aside from the loss of American “unity” — & the many Americans killed and wounded in Iraq — the greatest TRAGEDY of the BUSHIAN RESPONSE to 9/11, ie the Iraqi “war” would be:

    > the loss of American’s sense of being willing to make sacrifices
    > the loss of the worldwide sympathy felt for Americans
    > the loss of potential bi-partisan solutions to many other foreign and domestic problems
    > the loss of America’s right to stake out “moral” high ground (see Abu Ghraib, etc)
    > the loss of future administrations’ ability to Cry Wolf about WMDs, etc.
    > the loss of whatever smidgen of integrity the Congress had relative to the tasks of overseeing/reigning in the Executive Branch
    > the increase in paranoia in America — as well as the increase in some remarkable similarities to the early days of the McCarthy era


    Oh, forgot to mention: to fritter away such things — some of the very few “POSITIVE”, direct results from 9/11 — makes George W. Bush one of the worst, most evil and/or stupid MOTHERFUCKERS in American history. He indirectly blasphemed the memory of almost 3000 Americans who died in the Twin Towers.

    From a historical/conceptual view, IT’S ALMOST CRIMINAL.

  • JP

    Shark, thanks! I was trying to zero in on a specific point that’s been brought up frequently, however I’m sure I’ve made some of your other points (#14) at other times.

    That said, I’d qualify your comment about Congress by observing that Congress went along wtih Karl ‘666’ Rove and voluntarily gave up its own oversight responsibilities. Or to be more blunt, members of the Republican Congress failed to live up to their PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY to do their goddamn jobs.

    At least a couple of them (McCain, Specter) show signs of recognizing how humped this whole situation has become.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem


    Sounds to me like you’re gumming it. Well, here I am, the ever helpful Jew-boy from the mountains of Israel, with a tooth sharpening device for you. I’m guessing that your country has lost 7,500 lives fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the attack on the World Trade Center in New York. This over the course of five years, an average of 1,500 lives a year. Now, I’d be willing to bet the last shekel (all of 22½ cents) in my nearly empty pocket that more Americans died in one year from auto accidents.

    I don’t want you to get the wrong idea here. Based on a jubilee of time begininig in 2001, almost 40,000 lives have been caused never to have exist because of the criminally poor judgment of the American government. I’m not trying to minimize the very real loss – both over the last five years in emotional pain and over the next 45 years in potential creativity and joy.


    But you are exaggerating more than a little bit when you say, that this past five years “has caused the loss of American’s sense of being willing to make sacrifices the loss of the worldwide sympathy felt for Americans the loss of potential bi-partisan solutions to many other foreign and domestic problems the loss of America’s right to stake out “moral” high ground (see Abu Ghraib, etc) the loss of future administrations’ ability to Cry Wolf about WMDs, etc. the loss of whatever smidgen of integrity the Congress had relative to the tasks of overseeing/reigning in the Executive Branch the increase in paranoia in America — as well as the increase in some remarkable similarities to the early days of the McCarthy era”


    Yes, you are fighting the wrong war in the wrong country. And therefore your leaders are criminally liable fo the waste of the greatest treasure you have – in Iraq. Your leaders are misleading you, just as our leaders in Israel are misleading us. But your sense of unity has been lost becuse of indistinct messages (what the fuck is Islamo-fascism?! – Gimme a break! The Wahhabi want us all dead – end of discussion! The Wahhabi run this, that and the other thing. You want to end Moslem terrorism – destroy the Saudi control of Arabia, take over the oil fields and cut the head of the snake off the snake! The madrassas will teach what the money bag tells them to) and the simple fact that George Bush’s patriotism does not reach as far as his wallet.

  • Seriously?

    I’m sick of all of this “blame the other side” crap. You fail to see fellow Americans, disregarding political affiliation, as your national brothers. Pointing fingers and ranting about problems won’t build our nation any stronger. It will tear it down.