America’s 9/11 Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Continues With ISIS

Thirteen years after the obviously unforgettable tragedy of 9/11/2001, we still continue to suffer from the effects of that traumatic event. We are told to “never forget” as if we ever would, but we never much reflect beyond that tired refrain. While we hoped President Obama would not continue to steer us along this ineffective yet resolved path, a road paved by the hope that we as a nation will feel safer at some undetermined end point, instead this president is leading us into yet another war against a terrorist group (ISIS). But why is the president doing this?

He is doing this because it is the expected response, even in a war-weary nation. He is doing this because we fear the beheadings and violence in the Middle East will soon find its way to America. He is doing this because, as David Rothkopf writes, we still have not gotten over the effects of our collective 9/11 post-traumatic stress disorder.

Obama’s presidency is largely a product of a moment in history that likely will be seen someday as an aberration — the decade after 9/11, during which a stunned, angry, and disoriented America was sent spinning into a kind of national PTSD. Call it an age of fear, one in which the country and its leaders were forced to grapple with a sense of vulnerability to which they were unaccustomed. The response of George W. Bush’s administration — entering into the long, costly wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, remaking U.S. national security policy around the terrorism threat — led to a backlash that ushered Obama into office with a perceived mandate to undo what his predecessor had done and avoid making similar mistakes.

What we failed to realize along our misguided path is that we were not leading, we were being led by the enemy. There’s a reason al-Qaeda and now ISIS use videos, particularly videos that depict horrendous and violent acts (beheadings) against Americans, and that is to draw us into their territory. While a lone wolf is always a problem, and incredibly difficult to secure against, the risk of a terrorist armed force infiltrating the American mainland is quite low. But we see these videos and we fear for our safety, and that provokes us to respond, because after all, when America is (or feels) threatened, we must respond, no matter how predictable or ineffective the response.

So what does it mean to respond?

Do we drop bombs, and if so where? Do we put troops on the ground? There doesn’t seem to be much appetite for that. Do we ever consider that our effort to defeat a state-less enemy only results in a continuing cycle of conflict that has no end game? I know that sounds like a defeatist attitude to some, particularly the neocon pro-war crowd, but it is stupid to react with violence just to make sure the enemy is aware we have the capability. Unless we have a plan to kill everyone that threatens us, and do so in short order, I fail to see how any response by America breaks this cycle. We start bombing, the next generation of terrorists are born with America in their sights.

The problem is that in seeking to sidestep the pitfalls that plagued Bush, Obama has inadvertently created his own. Yet unlike Bush, whose flaw-riddled first-term foreign policy was followed by important and not fully appreciated second-term course corrections, Obama seems steadfast in his resistance both to learning from his past errors and to managing his team so that future errors are prevented. It is hard to think of a recent president who has grown so little in office.

I will give Bush a tiny bit of credit in that he somewhat departed from the hard-lined Cheney-esque rhetoric and foreign policy during his second term. But we suffered a huge toll in terms of military casualties and debt just so Bush could offer us a slight alteration to a doomed foreign policy “strategy.” And unfortunately, as much as Obama’s rhetoric is more moderate, with less warmongering, the results as recorded by the historians are (and will be) pretty much the same.

Obama became president because he opposed Bush’s approach to foreign policy and because he was against the Iraq war and sought to end the Afghanistan war. But in 2014, and nearly six years into his presidency, Obama still presides over a 13 year-long war in Afghanistan (yes folks, we are still there), and while he ended the war in Iraq, he is now starting a new borderless war against ISIS.

Because after all, and I think we can all agree, that thirteen years of war against al-Qaeda as proven to be so spectacularly successful.

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#al-Qaeda#fear#ISIS#Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder#President Bush#President Obama#PTSD#terrorism#terrorist#war