Obama Between the Lines: Time to Move Past 9/11
Between the lines of a spirited State of the Union address, President Obama was saying to the American people: It's time for us to get over 9/11.
Rebuilding means more than the new Freedom Tower, standing 1776 stories tall, where the World Trade Center towers once stood. It's true; we can't let that day dominate our national narrative anymore.
President George W. Bush created the behemoth Homeland Security agency and we haven't felt safe since. How lucky to escape blame for not preventing a simple plan of attack on his watch. His administration started two wars of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq.
We need to rebuild a forward-leaning, optimistic, can-do country that resembles the America we were 15 years ago. A climate at home of peace and prosperity worked pretty well.
If the early 21st century were a Broadway show, nobody would come.
Gently, Obama declared we are all better off now "looking to the future instead of the past. Making sure we match our power with diplomacy, and use force wisely." It's a rebuke to the wars we've waged.
The ruins of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were devastating and cost us more dearly than necessary. We didn't need an army to kill Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.
President Bush was the mirror opposite of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's calm on Dec. 7, 1941. When calamity hit Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt's rousing voice picked up shattered spirits and brought out the best in our character. In the Depression's depths, he reassured us that the only thing we had to fear was fear. FDR knew how scary fear is. Everyone felt part of the World War II effort, even children collecting scraps.
Seven decades later, President Bush made the people fear the future — even the next day. That is not the American way. To console us, he suggested we go shopping even as the Pentagon's fifth side smoldered. He did not bring out the best in us, but rather stoked our fears and ballooned the national security state.
The spectre of terrorism haunted our government, economy and society. The war on terror became a boomtown for military contractors, one of few in a parched economy. Public spaces, especially airports and federal buildings, used to say, "Come in." Now they say, "Keep out." You can't even walk up the Supreme Court's gleaming steps — and the Capitol now has a bunker for visitors. No longer is it transparent and inviting. How free are we?
Hit dramas about terrorism have been television's best friend. Also close to home: militaristic weapons and tanks that permeate police forces. Down to our library books, civilians are being controlled and watched. The military, depleted by the long Iraq War, let millions slip away into the desert dust without accounting.
On his political stage, Obama smartly distanced himself from a failed foreign policy of starting wars on false grounds in Iraq and Afghanistan. There we made new enemies and lost old friends among our allies. History will not look kindly on that briar patch, when Secretary of State Colin Powell wrongly told the world community that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Between that and the blind island jail in Guantanamo, where scores of terrorism detainees were tortured, the United States of America lost its standing as a beacon to the world. Drones have not done wonders either.
Since Obama inherited these "missions" and closed out the $4 trillion wars, he had the right to speak the truth, like a gentleman. I believe he meant we let ourselves down, too. As a citizenry, have we been docile as the nation veered in the wrong direction? I think we felt powerless as Congress passed the Patriot Act in 2001 with a few lone dissenters.
The president was too kind to say it, but the economy is doing better because the wars are not killing it anymore. "The shadow of crisis has passed," he told the packed chamber.
Obama hit one note flat: "As Americans, we cherish our civil liberties." Yet under him, the National Security Agency vastly expanded domestic surveillance on Americans. Is that a price we are willing to pay?
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.
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