We see them in traffic quite frequently here in Baton Rouge — star-spangled bumper stickers, sometimes a little faded, with the simple message, “Never forget.”
That admonition, of course, refers to the events of Sept. 11, 2001, in which terrorists connected with the Al-Qaida network headed by Osama bin Laden hijacked passenger airliners and crashed them into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. Passengers aboard a fourth hijacked plane foiled their captors, forcing the plane to crash in rural Pennsylvania before reaching its intended target, possibly the White House. Thousands of Americans died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, including U.S. Navy Lt. Michael Scott Lamana of Baton Rouge, who was on duty at the Pentagon when the hijacked airliner struck the building.
Much has happened since those fateful attacks, which occurred 11 years ago today. An American invasion of Iraq launched after the attacks led to a protracted war in that country that has finally concluded. George W. Bush, who was president at the time of the attacks, argued for invading Iraq because of suspicions that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration also attempted to connect Hussein with Al-Qaida, an assertion that was tenuous at best. Subsequent investigations revealed no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and American policy shifted to a new rationale for the war: the establishment of peaceful representative government in Iraq. Hussein, removed from power and executed by his own people, is no longer a menace to the Middle East. Iraq’s fledgling government continues to be plagued by terrorist insurgents.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, U.S. forces also invaded Afghanistan to displace the Taliban, a group of Islamic fundamentalists who provided safe harbor to Al-Qaida. The war in Afghanistan continues, with its new U.S.-supported government still struggling to assert its legitimacy amid widespread corruption and continuing Taliban insurgency.
Bin Laden died at the hands of U.S. commandos in Pakistan, where he was hiding in plain sight of a Pakistani government that is supposed to be a U.S. ally.
Such problems underscore the deeply complex challenges that continue to confront the U.S. war on terrorism abroad.
The good news is that Al-Qaida seems significantly weakened since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The removal of Saddam Hussein in Iraq has also built momentum for representative government in other parts of the Middle East. A popular uprising drove Hosni Mubarak from power in Egypt after he had virtually established himself as that country’s leader for life. A bloody, ongoing revolution in Syria seems to have numbered the days in office for that country’s ruthless dictator, Bashar al-Assad.
The prospects for true democracy in Egypt remain uncertain, and Syria’s crisis shows no signs of quick resolution.
On this solemn anniversary, we remember those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, and also the members of the American military who have been killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. We hope the memory of these losses lends urgency to the cause of building a safer, more peaceful world.
On today’s anniversary, we also remember that after the attacks, Americans temporarily put party politics aside and focused on those things that unite our nation in common purpose.
America could use a bit more of that philosophy in this heated election year.