The Best Remembrance Would Be a Look At Ourselves

Five years ago this week, the US was a relatively peaceful place. The country was taking a breather after a protracted impeachment scandal, a bruising Presidential campaign, and a Supreme Court decision to settle the recent election. In his short time in office, George Bush had faced few big issues and the ones he did face - like stem cell research - he dealt with in a hesitant manner that left detractors and supporters alike feeling unsatisfied. When he appeared in public he often looked uncomfortable, like a little boy wearing his father's too-large suit. Bush was a President still in search of an agenda and it seemed as though he might just spend the rest of his term looking for one.

Then, came September 11, 2001.

His reaction to the news of the attacks was one of shock and immobility. He would say later that he hadn't immediately left the elementary school classroom he was visiting for fear of startling the children. The jokes about this reaction would last for years.

Other than some hastily-called press conferences during the trans-continental shell game to keep him safe from unknown dangers, he said little and was unconvincing in calming the nation. The nation needed a strong leader and Bush wasn't giving much of a hint that he would rise to the challenge.

But after the dust settled a bit, Bush made his way to Ground Zero. There, he climbed atop the rubble, and with flags flying and firemen cheering, gave the speech of his political life. He told the country that the death of these thousands of people would be avenged. He spoke in a manner that was both calming and unifying. In response, Americans felt a bond they'd not felt in many years. A wave of patriotism swept the country and flags sprouted like wildflowers in springtime, while people turned to family and friends for comfort. It was one of those rare moments when a true leader can seize the day and do tangible good for their countrymen.

Not long after the attacks, and based on solid intelligence, the US invaded Afghanistan. If there can be such a thing, it was the right war at the right time. Public support was solidly behind Bush and the nation looked forward to seeing their enemies vanquished and their country returned to some semblance of normalcy.

But, flush with his success in Afghanistan, Bush decided to go one further and invade Iraq. The justification was wiping out the threat of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction and a strongly implied connection between Iraq and Osama bin Laden - both misconceptions the administration continues to feed even today.

In the run-up to the war, the administration focused on dubious intelligence. They rushed along, not willing to wait for a true coalition - similar to his father's during the first Gulf War - to form. Members of the administration suggested that countries unwilling to go along were "old Europe" and implied a cowardice on their part. They accused anyone daring to question them of being treasonous. Legislators allowed themselves to be cowed by the headlong rush, signing off on the war without giving it proper examination.

The first cracks in the near-universal support in the immediate aftermath of the attacks began to appear. After a brilliantly executed invasion, Saddam was deposed, but things began to deteriorate quickly. First pot shots from insurgents were the order of the day. Then, the creation of an independent Iraqi government suffered setback after setback (as it does today). As events on the ground got worse, the administration's drumbeat of rhetoric and spin increased.

Today, we're a nation more deeply divided than we were at the end of an election many people felt had been stolen. The only thing uniting the country these days is an overwhelming desire to attack one another. We've become only a slightly more civilized version of the sectarian violence that is destroying Iraq.

Our original goal to beat back terror is heavily damaged. Afghanistan, once the bright spot in the war on terror, is now mentioned only in connection with a resurgence of the Taliban and the still missing Osama bin Laden. Much of the important work of making the nation secure is still not done. Many people believe our sideline adventure into Iraq has not only sapped our military's strength, but is creating more terror than it drives away.

We are a nation adrift without a steady hand on the rudder. Our politicians fight each other tooth and nail. Our airwaves are filled with screaming matches between irreconcilable and opposing viewpoints. We can't stop arguing long enough to accomplish the ordinary business of government because of all the rancor.

And our leaders' response is more spin, more faulting anyone who disagrees, more empty flag waving, and endless obfuscation.

In this week of remembrance for those victims of the viscous attacks, it would be instructive to look at ourselves rather than at what the victims lives might have been. If we are true in our vision, we will see we disgrace their memory. We will see we spend too much time fighting phantom enemies and amongst ourselves to do much about those who killed them. Those innocent people deserve much more than that from their countrymen. They deserve a nation that remembers them with honor and reacts with valor to the damage done to them and their families. They and their families deserve to know that they didn't die completely in vain.

I find myself sickened this week at what our proud nation has become. I'm profoundly disturbed by the changes to the country the victims left behind. I find myself wondering if they returned from the grave whether they would recognize the nation they left behind on that clear September morning. I find myself ashamed that we have cheapened their memory so easily and completely.

We still need a leader who can stand atop the pile of rubble and rally the country to the cause. A true leader who acts with the same integrity of the words he speaks.

I'm just hoping one comes along soon.

Bring it On!

The Poobah also appears at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, September 11, 2006

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