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Dunsmore: Thoughts on 9/11

09/09/11 7:55AM By Barrie Dunsmore
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(HOST) In the years since the tragedy of 9/11, the United States has not had another major terrorist attack. But as commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells is this morning , the efforts to achieve greater security have come with many significant and not always obvious costs.

(DUNSMORE) Haunting Legacy: Vietnam and the American Presidency from Ford to Obama, is a new book by Marvin Kalb and his daughter Deborah. It thoughtfully explores in depth the degree to which the legacy of Vietnam has hamstrung seven American presidents over 35 years, largely because Vietnam was the first and only war the United States had ever lost.

The 9/11 assault was also a unique historical event, by far the most deadly attack ever on the continental United States. And as its tenth anniversary approaches, its powerful legacy is well upon us.

In foreign policy, the invasion of Iraq and the debacle that followed was a major strategic blunder. Evil though he was, Iraq's Saddam Hussein was the only obstacle to Iran taking control over the Persian Gulf. So with Shiites now running the show in both Baghdad and Tehran, Iran has become the superior power in the region that produces most of the world's oil.

President George W. Bush's War on Terror and his ultimatum to the world that countries were either with America or against it, created resentments that continue today including among major allies. And being bogged down for a decade in two unwinnable wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been a huge drain on this country's human and financial resources - and has transformed America's image of super power to that of a power that's not so super.

In terms of defense policy, in the past decade the U.S. military has been significantly privatized, meaning that in today 's war zones there are sometimes as many civilian security contractors on the ground as G.I.s, which has literally changed the American face of war.

But for me, the impact of 9/11 here at home may be the more troubling legacy. The Patriot Act led to warrantless eavesdropping by super government computers of literally billions of Internet and cell phone communications every day. Meantime billions of dollars has gone to create a giant, new National Security apparatus, mostly in the Washington area, involving acres of expensive real estate and thousands of new spies. This bears far greater attention but because it's all so secret there is virtually no congressional or media oversight.

Finally, Americans are apparently more afraid than they were a decade ago, and much of that fear is directed toward Muslims. The irrational and racially toned debate over an Islamic Center to be located a few blocks from Ground Zero is perhaps the worst example of the 9/11 legacy of fear, but probably not the last.

Haviland Smith is a retired senior CIA specialist in counter-terrorism, now a Vermonter and a fellow columnist. In his recent analysis on the legacy of 9/11, Smith wrote that while terrorists want to spread fear and anxiety, they depend equally on the reactions of the targeted populations and governments to achieve their goals. In Smiths words, "America has reacted in ways that have haunted us and will continue to haunt us for decades. Al- Qaida could not have wished for more." I agree.



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