Note in particular the Bin Laden quote from October 2004:
We are continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy ... as for the economic deficit, it has reached astronomical numbers estimated to total more than a trillion dollars. The real loser is you. The American people and their economy.
Think about where we are now: deficts as far as the eye can see -- deficits that the very people who used to wear 9/11 around their necks as "wingnut whistles" until a black Democratic president succeeded where THEIR guy failed (or didn't even try, as he ADMITTED barely six months after the attacks, when a visit to lower Manhattan still resulted in burning eyes) now insist have to be paid on the backs of the old and the poor. Think about the cost of two wars, one of which was sold to Americans as being for their safety when it had nothing to do with that. Think about the money shoveled into the pockets of Halliburton executives (including those of the then-Vice President) and other contractors -- unaccountable money resulting from no-bid contracts. Think about the spending for security theatre; for beefed-up patrols, for x-ray scanners at airports designed to make Americans accept being treated like criminals so that they can "feel safe." Think of the society we live in now as a result of a few hundred thousand dollars of expense by a guy who's essentially no different from Paris Hilton, except Paris Hilton buys chihuahuas and lends her name to perfume and likes to go to parties instead of pretending to be a holy man while living in a mansion and cynically recruiting the phony tough and the crazy brave to kill themselves for Allah.
Soon after the 9/11 attacks, Bill Maher was fired from his Politically Incorrect show on ABC for straying from the "terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center are cowards" line, pointing out that to take control of a jet you don't know how to fly and steer it into a skyscraper is many things, all of them horrible, but one thing it is NOT is cowardly. What IS cowardly is sitting in a Pakistan mansion, or even in an Afghan cave, knowing you can GO TO a mansion any time you want to and take a nice shower and have a good meal, knowing you have millions of dollars at your disposal, and let other people do your dirty work.
George W. Bush decided it was Saddam Hussein who was worth the effort, not Osama Bin Laden. Six months after the attacks, Bush had lost interest in the bright shiny object he'd vowed to "smoke out" "dead or alive" barely six months earlier. That Bin Laden was living in comfort in Pakistan ought perhaps to begin questioning again just what DID happen in Tora Bora, and whether Osama was really the black sheep of the Bin Laden family (which has become more difficult to believe, now that we know that HE was the one they all relied on for money), and why he was able to (or allowed to) escape.
Most of us felt after the 9/11 attacks that Afghanistan was a "just war" designed to bring the mastermind and financier of the attacks to justice one way or another. Over time, as we've installed a corrupt puppet in Hamid Karzai, and wandered in the desert for the last ten years, even that war has become just another American misadventure that is bankrupting us just as surely as the Soviets were bankrupted in Afghanistan in the 1980s -- while fighting Osama Bin Laden's minions, who were called mujahadeen then, and also called "our allies".
Many of us who weren't in thrall to the tough talk of the whiny little faux cowboy in the White House knew that Iraq was NOT a just war, that it was unnecessary, and that it was related to either oil (which has turned out to be true) or to George W. Bush's psychosexual issues with his father.
One war that may have started out just and has turned into a quagmire and another that never should have been fought in the first place. Both are wars from which we seem unable to extricate ourselves. Between the wounded and the dead, the body count of American servicepeople is approaching Vietnam levels. And that is the second great tragedy of 9/11 and what Osama Bin Laden and George W. Bush have wrought (and what Barack Obama seems bound and determined to continue).
Captain Shannon P. Meehan writes in the New York Times what it's like to be a veteran of these wars:
As I sifted through the responses of my friends on social networks, I read comments like, “Great news. If only we hadn’t gotten off course with Iraq for so long.” Or things like, “Could have gotten him earlier if we hadn’t wasted our time in the illegal war in Iraq.”
All this made me realize just how disconnected I am from the killing of Bin Laden. The more I reflect upon it, the less I feel a part of it, and the less I feel that I was ever any part of our war against terrorism, in the public’s eye at least.
My war — the Iraq war — is being remembered as quite a different war than the “war on terror.” Its narrative, shaped by the media and the general public, breaks dramatically from that of the war in Afghanistan and the pursuit of terrorists around the globe. The Iraq war has become the “mistake war,” one so many critics feel we should have never been a part of.
I have come to realize that, regardless of my own personal beliefs and opinions, this is how the Iraq war will be remembered. And this brings me to question myself, my efforts and my own worth. How will our achievements and sacrifices in Iraq be remembered? Will all that I did while I served be nothing more than a mistake?
The more I travel and speak about my personal experiences, the more I feel the shifting cultural memory of this war. I’ve felt it devolve over time in those moments when I am thanked not for keeping us safe from terror, but rather shown appreciation mixed with pity for having had to fight in this “illegal”war.
I fear now that we soldiers will be remembered for being in the wrong war, fighting to bring the wrong man, Saddam Hussein, to justice. Consider the difference between the public reception of the killing of Bin Laden and the trial and execution of Hussein, a man responsible for the deaths of U.S. soldiers as well as years of oppression and systematic degradation of a land. The latter was met with questions and controversy. But the death of Bin Laden, a man who dared to bring horrific violence onto the shores of our country, has been met only with approval. Those differences are telling.
So, as much as I want to feel a part of this moment, to feel some sense that I contributed to it, I do not. As a veteran of the Iraq war, I do not feel entitled to any sort of meaningful connection to this achievement. Years of political and public criticism of the Iraq war has pushed me to believe that I did not fight terror, but rather a phantom.
After Vietnam, we hoped that this country would learn from that mistake and not enter into unnecessary wars ever again. We can still argue about Afghanistan, but as much as we recognize the honor the service and the self-sacrifice of Captain Meehan and others, we cannot face our feelings and our guilt about his feelings by recasting Iraq as some kind of noble cause when it so clearly was not. What we DO owe this man is again, a promise (this time to be kept) that we will not put his successors into a war without reason again, no matter how raw we are emotionally.
Such is the legacy of Osama Bin Laden: His enemy nation is on its knees, wracked by debt and declining standards of living and corporate greed and inequality. A nation whose citizens jump at the mere mention of Al Qaeda to the point that we have become willing to give up all of our privacy just to be able to believe, however falsely, that it won't happen again. A nation in which a Congressman can call McCarthyesque hearings demanding that people who are members of the religion Bin Laden professed to practice to somehow "prove" their loyalty to this country. A nation in which a President whose name is associated with Islam is hounded about what constitutes a valid birth certificate by people with no knowledge of legal documentation.
The demonstration in the street show that while George W. Bush wasn't "all that concerned" with Osama Bin Laden, Americans clearly were. We may be uncomfortable with the precedent of assassination (which may at some point in the future be used indiscriminately by another George Bush trying to prove his manhood to his father), and this does not mean the end of Al Qaeda or even of terrorism coming from the Middle East (as opposed to the terrorism brewing in our own heartland). But if we do not take time out from the celebrations and look at what we have allowed Osama Bin Laden to do to our country, not a decade ago, but in the decade since, then we deserve to continue our slow slog into oblivion.
More from Ezra Klein.