The attacks on September 11th, 2001 are worth remembering. But what history will judge more significant than the attacks themselves--which did little long-term damage to the nation as a whole--is the reaction to those attacks.
There are those
who categorize US Foreign Policy into a handful of schools. Frequently, they are referred to by various commentators by the names of presidents associated with them.
Jeffersonian isolationism was discarded as unworkable by Jefferson himself when he sat down and looked at the amount of money being paid as tribute to the Barbary pirate states--in the first War on Terror
, he decided that violating his espoused principles by building a navy and sending it to do as much damage as possible to terrorist states was better than sending them money, as the modern Democratic Party prefers to do.
When it comes to war-fighting, there are pretty much two schools of thought. Wilsonian and Jacksonian. The Democratic Party is neither, preferring abject surrender. The real debate in the country--between adults, that is--over foreign policy is between the Jacksonian and Wilsonian wings of the Republican Party.
Anyone alive 6 years ago was aware of what some folks had been saying for years--that the United States was at war with a portion of the Islamic world, a portion which supports terrorism using the ancient justification first elucidated to an American envoy by Tripoli's ruler.
"[I]t was …written in the Koran, that all Nations who should not have acknowledged their [the Muslims'] authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon whoever they could be found, and to make Slaves of all they could take as prisoners, and that every Mussulman who should be slain in battle was sure to go to Paradise." (From Jefferson's report to Congress).
Now, there is no question as to what the problem is. The problem, for America and the rest of the world, is that the Islamic World is a mess, is run by corrupt autocrats, and which seems to breed this form of Islam like a open cesspool breeds flies.
There is universal agreement on this point among people who aren't mentally ill. MoveOn.org seems to be in this category.
There are two ways to address this problem.
The Jacksonian method is very, very simple. Trash the system. Blow away every single Muslim state that supports or supported this ideology and groups which espouse it. Raise large armies to build pyramids of skulls, or simply nuke major population centers. Most of the oil is in places that will not be affected by the detonation of nuclear weapons over the big cities. Screw it, right? Even if you keep it non-nuclear, the Jacksonian method is the method used in WWII to reduce the Japanese, Italian, and German totalitarian regimes to non-existence. Jacksonian methodology drove Sherman's March to the Sea, and many of the Indian Wars.
This is not in keeping with modern counter-insurgency theory. Jacksonians fight dirty, messy counter-insurgency campaigns that suck for the local population, something like the Second Boer War
Now, a Wilsonian looks at the problem from a different point of view. A Wilsonian (erm, neo-conservative) looks at folks and sees, pretty much, just folks. He says to himself, "I don't imagine Yusuf al-Muslim is that different from you and I. Given a chance at peace, good representative government, and a decent job, maybe he'll stop frothing at the mouth and settle down to raise his 6.5 kids in a nice house with a mud-brick fence and a donkey."
Wilsonians are damned cheerful and optimistic. It is worth noting that this is a traditionally liberal viewpoint which has been appropriated by the neo-cons. Such Democrats as bother to think on foreign policy generally don't seem to disagree with this premise, they just believe they can execute it better than George Bush can. Or at least, I can't find many Democrats who don't believe either this, or something along the lines of "If we leave the Islamic World alone, maybe they'll ignore us." Those who believe the latter are not really adults, mentally, and are not worth discussing.
Anyway, Wilsonians and Jacksonians agreed on trashing Afghanistan. Near as I can tell, everyone agreed on trashing Afghanistan. It was a cesspool of the worst degree. Sucks much.
Iraq, that was a Wilsonian idea. Basically, the idea was that the United States would take down another cesspool, strategically located and which had been (de facto) at war with the United States and the United Nations as a whole since 1990. Had we gone anywhere else in the Middle East, Saddam would have taken the opportunity to make trouble, and he was well located and had the resources and the prestige to make lots of trouble. I'm with the Wilsonians thus far.
A Jacksonian president would have perhaps done thing differently. Perhaps he would have chased the Taliban into Pakistan, telling the Pakistanis that they could either agree to it or get their nation shot up also. Perhaps he would have gone after Saudi Arabia. Regardless, once Iraq and Iran got up to trouble-making, this hypothetical Jacksonian President, discovering the limits to conventional military power, would simply have made those countries go away in an atomic fireball.
But that's the past. The present is this--that the Republic of Iraq is the primary theater in which the "War on Terror" is being fought today. It is being fought in accordance with Wilsonian principles and counter-insurgency theory, which place a high emphasis on building coalitions of local allies and permitting them to assume self-government as soon as is possible and sometimes sooner. It's a slow, messy process. It's expensive. It is a threat to al-Qaeda in as much as a policy of putting insecticide in pools of stagnant water is a threat to mosquitoes. It reduces their ability to perpetuate their ideology. By violently opposing US forces in Iraq with all of their ability to do so, al-Qaeda has validated Bush's Wilsonian ideas at least to a point. They have staked their continued existence on their ability to defeat US forces in a struggle for control over Iraq.
If we fail in our efforts, al-Qaeda will be immeasurably emboldened and empowered. Our Middle Eastern allies will fall away instantly, unifying between the only power shown to be able to stick to their guns in the Middle East. Congratulations to Osama bin-Laden. Congratulations to horsemen of apocalypse as well, as plague, famine, war, and death will tear through the Middle East in the process of reordering that part of the world in accordance with an interpretation of the Koran which does not admit of any possibility of compromise.
However, then they will come back after us. Of course, the Democrats will enjoy a period of electoral success--which they will use to slash military budgets and reduce the conventional defenses of the United States even further. I'm not looking forward to serving in that Army.
But when the wolf is at the door, Americans very rarely trust Democrats. At this point, they won't be trusting any Wilsonian idealists either as this plan will have been discredited.
Answer: Jacksonian men using Jacksonian methods to do Jacksonian things.
In simple terms: Big bad boom. Middle East becomes overlapping craters.
You know, we win either way. bin Laden and his coterie are not going to conquer the United States, no matter how happy that would make all those idiots over at the DailyKos. We will come out on top. The question is what will it cost, not merely in money and lives, but in damage to our souls?