Sunday, September 11, 2011

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Remembering 9/11

Ten years ago today, four passenger jets were hijacked by Al Qaeda terrorists. Two were flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, one was flown into the Pentagon, and the fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania when its passengers, realizing what was going on, fought the highjackers for control of the plane.

Ten years ago today, over three thousand men and women died in the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil (and arguably the deadliest terrorist attack anywhere).

Today, news commentators, pundits, and bloggers such as myself comment on this tragedy. Some seek meaning; others seek to prove some larger point. I will do neither.

What I know of 9/11 is this: I know that at least one person whom I knew personally, albeit not closely, was in the World Trade Center that day and died. I know that my neighbor's grandson some years later served in Afghanistan--and because he is serving was not able to make her memorial service when my neighbor passed away last year. I know that, living close to a major airport, the lack of airplane noises because all aircraft are grounded is a silence that is far past eerie. I know that, after 9/11, several aspects of my work and my business as an IT consultant were changed--how to sustain computer networks after terrorist attacks became a disturbing and pressing reality.

What I do not know of 9/11 is whether the act itself "proved" anything. If it "proved" some weakness of the United States, why have there been no similarly successful attacks since then? If it "proved" the strength of Al Qaeda, why did Osama bin Laden spend the rest of his life in hiding?

Nor do I know if 9/11 means anything at all. Three thousand people died because some twenty or so terrorists chose to kill them, in a burst of hatred and violence that is quite beyond my understanding. I do not know why Al Qaeda and its supporters feel such hatred for the US. I do not know why terrorists feel that an orgy of violence is necessary to advance their cause. I do not know, and I do not understand. In all honesty, I do not want to understand--who would want to fathom the minds of murderers?

But I remember something else of that day. I remember that the sun rose, and the sun set. I remember that I got up, exercised, showered, and went off to work. I remember that I came home to a hot meal and a soft bed. I remember that, while three thousand did die tragic deaths, life itself continued.

Today the sun rises just as it did ten years ago. It will set just at it did ten years ago. Come the evening, I will again enjoy a hot meal and a soft bed, and I will again think upon those people who will never again enjoy either. Life itself will continue.

That is how I choose to remember 9/11. That, despite death and destruction, in spite of terror and tragedy, life itself continues--as it always has, and as it always will. Whatever successes Al Qaeda may have had that day, defeating life in all its inevitability is not among them.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

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Libya: Mission (not yet) accomplished?

This week's award for the most ironic journalistic paragraph goes to Ben Smith of Politico, who opened his 22 August 2011 piece on the Libyan civil war thusly:
The fall of Tripoli is a foreign policy triumph for which President Barack Obama won’t hold a ticker-tape parade: no flight suit, no chest-thumping, no “Mission Accomplished” banner.
While the sentiment would have been ironic regardless of events within Libya (not to mention a tad hypocritical, declaring a "foreign policy triumph" for Barack Obama while delivering yet another implied rebuke of President Bush's theatrics when declaring the end of "major military operations" in Iraq), the irony was compounded by the fact that Tripoli had indeed fallen--but fallen into chaos, confusion, and a very messy urban brawl, as Gadhafi loyalists mounted a counter-attack and retook several portions of the city.

The rebel hand was further weakened when Seif al-Islam el-Gadhafi, the Gadhafi son reported captured by the rebels, hours later made a television appearance to taunt the rebels.

Far from being a "foreign policy triumph", Obama's strategy of "leading from behind" has produced yet another grim reminder that, even in the 21st century, war is a bloody, brutal, murderous undertaking--General Sherman's analysis remains correct, war is still hell. The strategy is serving to remind the world that, while Gadhafi is known to one and all as a thoroughly evil man, the rebel leadership is not really known at all, and that their leadership of the Libyan uprising has been fractious and uneven at best; it offers few, if any, real assurances of a government more enlightened that Gadhafi's. Far from being a "foreign policy triumph", Obama's handling of Libya is still at risk of being an expenditure of American treasure (thankfully, not American blood--yet) with nothing more accomplished than replacing one brutal autocrat with another.

Gadhafi's days of power may be over, but the days of democratic government in Libya are still a long way off. And that is nobody's "foreign policy triumph."