Afghanistan wasn't enough because the first part of the war on the Taliban was easy to win. Perhaps Afghanistan would have been enough if Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri had been captured. But, instead, the wound continued to bleed. For America, the tragedy is that both al-Qaida leaders escaped capture.
But what if the rich Saudi Arabian and his lieutenant, the Egyptian surgeon, had been killed or imprisoned? Such "what if" questions are popular in America; they're flights of fancy that have the advantage of easily transcending the logic of reality. And history could have always turned out differently. But how?
Nobody argues that this would have prevented the war in Iraq. But, at the same time, there is no doubt that the ability of these two top al-Qaida operatives to elude their pursuers accelerated preparations for the war on Baghdad.
In the end, since the good war in Afghanistan was not enough, America fought a bad war against Saddam Hussein. Viewed from that perspective, all this talk about weapons of mass destruction is really nothing more than smoke and mirrors, backed up by the administration's manipulation of CIA intelligence to justify the war. The ideological rhetoric of the "end of tyranny" and "stamping out evil in the world" is cast in a new light, as merely neoconservative hot air. America had been humiliated; now others had to be humiliated, too.
The Cheney Legacy
Humiliation can be an overwhelming impulse when 3,000 people die. Humiliation cries out for revenge, for retaliation. But, then, a country like the United States allowed itself to have totalitarian islands within its legal system, such as the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, where torture was practiced. This cannot simply be swept under the rug. This wound, too, is bleeding. Obama will presumably not be able to avoid having criminal charges pressed against some of those found responsible. And, often enough, the chain of command ended with Dick Cheney.
The war on terror was the consequence of 9/11; it shaped America's foreign policy after that point. It is based on the fear that history will repeat itself. But even if dictatorships can be permanently ruled by fear, democracies cannot. Democracies are based on optimism, on the hope that -- despite all the crises -- things will get better. And they're also based on the expectation that measures can be taken to counter threats like terrorism, even if a high risk remains.
True democracies can only be temporarily ruled by fear and humiliation. And they learn from their mistakes. But this is precisely where Cheney has failed. His theory is based on a "what if" question looking toward the future. What if, he asks, terrorists attack with the bomb?
But the fact is that every government in every country must take precautions, and then it's up to institutions -- such as the police, customs agents, border guards, the coast guard and, above all, the intelligence agencies -- to enforce these measures. Following the general state of cluelessness that reigned before 9/11, it would have made sense to shake up these government agencies, to reorganize them and to prepare them for all contingencies.
The bureaucratic structures of power are the right place to take the measures that the attacks from eight years ago made necessary. This is where the fear of history's repeating itself should lead to enhanced efficiency -- within the scope of the rule of law.
In his memoirs, Cheney defends his creation. But, in the real world, it has crumbled. We know what began after 9/11. But the real question is, where will it end -- for America, for the world and for Dick Cheney?
Translated from the German by Paul Cohen
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