While we are engaged in the typical American habit of self-flagellation and assignment of blame for the attacks of 9-11-01, I am reminded of an only partly facetious rule of thumb from the private sector in the form of the “five stages of a project”: (1) excitement and euphoria, (2) disenchantment, (3) search for the guilty, (4) punishment of the innocent, and (5) distinction for the uninvolved. Not a pure analogy, but close. Actually, prior to the prostitution of almost everyone involved in the ongoing pandering to the duplicity of former anti-terrorism “czar” Richard Clarke, there was some hope of productive work from the Commission, but the expectation that we can “get to the bottom of it” with conversation about what we knew and when we knew it is hopelessly misguided. The “bottom of it” is that there are two types of thinking about the War on Terror—pre-9-11 and post-9-11—and there is absolutely no objective way to put ourselves back in the pre-9-11 thought box, because everything, and I mean everything, changed on that day. Why can’t we understand this? When will we grasp the fact that we must have a new way of thinking about U. S. engagement in the world, new ways of thinking about pre-emption and just war theory, about whether or not there must be an identified nation-state as the enemy in a state of war, about our long-standing relationships with our Middle Eastern “friends”, about the degree to which we must merge domestic law enforcement and intelligence, about how much legal “due process” is owed those who intend harm to Americans, indeed, about whether or not the U. S. Constitution is being treated, as some have suggested, as tantamount to a suicide pact? (For an instructive view of the pre-9-11 mindset, I recommend Richard H. Shultz’s article in the January 26, 2004 issue of The Weekly Standard, wherein he outlines nine reasons why, for example, a “seek and destroy” mission against al Qaeda prior to that day was considered strategically unthinkable and politically unpalatable.)Even more importantly, we must think seriously about why we can’t openly discuss these issues in an atmosphere of presumed good intentions. Have we lost this capacity for intellectually honest introspection? Have we become so cynical and so acclimated to the presumption of bad faith that we cannot expect integrity? For example, am I in the minority in being disturbed by the apparent fact that a large number of people actually believe that the Iraq war was “a scheme hatched by Bush down in Texas for political purposes”, that the war is mainly about control of Iraq’s oil and war profiteering by Bush/Cheney’s corporate friends, or that Osama bin Laden has already been captured and Bush is merely waiting for the politically opportune time to announce it? I am reminded of the late Christopher Lasch’s 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism, in which he laments “American life in an age of diminishing expectations”, and I fear that the most devastating loss of expectation is that of the capacity for mature republican citizenship in the face of a significant challenge to our civilization.
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