9/11, Fear, and the Election

Remembering 9/11 is important for several reasons. Chief among them is to pay tribute to the immense loss of life. Not only the nearly 3,000 killed and more than 6,000 injured in New York, Washington, and Shanksville, but also the thousands killed in the Near East wars that began as a result.

Since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, 6,895 Americans have been killed, with an additional 52,473 wounded. These numbers include Operations Iraqi Freedom, New Dawn, Enduring Freedom, Inherent Resolve (ISIS), and Freedom's Sentinel. The Costs of War project at Brown University estimates that 165,000 civilians in Iraq and 31,000 in Afghanistan have been killed since the start of U.S. military operations. Several hundred thousand more have died as an indirect result of those combat operations. In addition, drone strikes have killed as many as 3,800 people in Pakistan, many of them civilians. The same can be said for drone strikes in Yemen and Somalia.

The figures above suggest another reason remembering 9/11 is important: to serve as a humble reminder of how fear pushed a nation to action with consequences we will live with for decades to come. Many remember the ease with which the Authorization for the Use of Force in Iraq Resolution of 2002 passed both houses of Congress; the final votes were 296-133-3 in favor in the House and 77-23 in favor in the Senate. Around 70 percent of Congress voted in favor of the war in Iraq. Notable "yea" votes on the Democratic side include Sec. John Kerry, Sen. Chuck Schumer, and Democratic nominee for President Hillary Clinton. Public opinion was not much better. A January 2003 poll indicated that while 63 percent of Americans favored finding a diplomatic solution, 64 percent also favored removing Saddam Hussein from power in that failed.

Was everyone duped? Clearly not. Enormous protests, like the one in New York City in February 2003, numerous warnings from experts (see here), and global criticism indicate otherwise. Despite these calls to slow down and consider the ramifications of invasion, the resolution passed handily. This was effectively accomplished via the "patriotism card"; anyone who questioned the facts feared being labeled unpatriotic or faced retribution in other ways. This is a very real possibility in the future.

Today we face similar circumstances. Not because we face the prospect of two wars, but because fear has once again reached similar levels. Globalization and free trade have made people fearful of losing their jobs. Immigration has made people fearful of losing their way of life. Systemic injustice has made people of color fearful of violence, imprisonment, and hatred. Silencing of free speech has made people fearful of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time to the wrong person. Terrorist attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, and Orlando have brought fear of terrorism back to the forefront of the national psyche.

Fear is dangerous because it can be exploited and it has time and again throughout this election.

You may have heard these arguments before, but aren't they worth repeating? Especially in remembrance of the day that sparked us to action with generational consequences? Especially in light of the current political climate and the military stances of our two presidential candidates? A Donald Trump presidency is too frightening to contemplate and will undoubtedly make us less safe. It is unclear whether he wants to force Middle Eastern allies to solve every problem or "bomb the *#%$ out of them." His unpredictability mixed with his numerous gaffes (see Quds/Kurds mix-up and "I know more than the Generals") make him the more dangerous candidate by far. But what about a Hillary Clinton presidency? Sec. Clinton claims she regrets her vote in favor of military action in Iraq. Okay, but have her opinions toward military intervention changed? Her recommendation to intervene in Libya during the Arab Spring suggests otherwise. What about her plan for Syria? In the past, she has hinted at an increase in ground forces to fight ISIS, in addition to ratcheting up the air campaign. Sec. Clinton has also been a long proponent of a no-fly zone; there are valid reasons why that is a bad idea.

On the ideological spectrum (foreign-policy wise) from isolationism on the one end and imperialism on the other, the two major political parties are quite close. While many, including myself for a time, hoped for a legitimate alternative in Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party, his recent "What is Aleppo?" gaffe takes "uninterested in global affairs" to another level entirely. Noninterventionism, while it no doubt has its limits and drawbacks, has yet to find its place in the political arena. President Obama's foreign policy can rightfully be criticized in some respects, but he has at least prevented catastrophe. That being said, his expansion of the drone wars, a trigger-happy next president, and a prolonged crisis in Syria that the world is itching to see an end to does not inspire confidence in the continuation of that trend.

I am hoping beyond hope that recent news of a U.S.-Russian deal instituting a nationwide truce will prove fruitful and lead to a long-term peace in Syria - eliminating the chance for another interventionist foray (and possible disaster) in the Middle East when the next gal (or guy) takes office. Maybe 9/11 will encourage people to remember the consequences of taking rash action when fear is everywhere. Here's to hoping we Never Forget.