DANIEL VAUGHAN: 9/11 is a time for reflection, not scoring political points

September 14, 2018

If you’re like most people, September 11 is a day for reflection and remembrance. We take time on this day to acknowledge those lost in the terrorist attacks that occurred on that date in 2001, and also to remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who subsequently went to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But if you’re not like most people, 9/11 provides you a different venue: a time to spread your unnecessary punditry and connect that to a day of memorial.

The worst part is: the people using 9/11 for personal gain and pet political causes aren’t fringe groups. They’re mainstream journalists, U.S. senators, and pundits.

Sen. Agnus King (I-ME) spent part of his campaign time this past week comparing the terrorists who flew planes into various buildings to Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“They used airplanes into towers,” Mr. King said of the 9/11 hijackers. “Now people can use the click of a computer key in St. Petersburg, Russia, to attack… It’s the same kind of attack today that occurred in 2001.”

I get that Russian meddling in the 2016 election is especially dangerous — there’s no denying that. But you can trace Russian and Soviet espionage on the United States back to the 1920s. And more recently, Vladimir Putin’s Russia has meddled with U.S. affairs on a near constant basis.

But — and I can’t believe I have to say this — the actions Russia took in 2016 pale in comparison to the attacks that occurred on 9/11, which led to two wars, one of which is 17 years old this year.

Meanwhile, America is not going to declare war on Russia.

Cyberwarfare is a real threat that deserves serious counter-intelligence efforts. But it is not 9/11.

Perhaps even more prominent and ridiculous than Sen. King’s remarks were those of TV show host and MSNBC pundit Joe Scarborough, who wrote a column in the Washington Post titled: “Trump is harming the dream of America more than any foreign adversary ever could.

You can’t make these people up.

Scarborough’s argument on Trump isn’t even coherent. He spends the majority of the column waxing nostalgically about a “9/10 world” in which America stood ahead of all other nations. He then blames all the foreign policy failures America has endured since 9/11 on the two presidents of that period, George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

I may disagree with on his analysis on those two presidents, but we still haven’t gotten to the part that describes how any of this makes President Donald Trump and alleged Russian interference a more significant threat than we faced on 9/11.

Scarborough’s proof that Trump is that threat? One paragraph, the second to last one in his column:

For those of us still believing that Islamic extremists hate America because of the freedoms we guarantee to all people, the gravest threat Trump poses to our national security is the damage done daily to America’s image. As the New York Times’s Roger Cohen wrote the month after Trump’s election, “America is an idea. Strip freedom, human rights, democracy and the rule of law from what the United States represents to the world and America itself is gutted.”

First: exactly how is America’s image hurt right now? Or at least, how is America’s image injured more than where we were after the Bush and Obama administrations?

After the Bush administration, you could argue that overexerting American resources across two other countries hurt America’s standing in the world, especially in the wake of the Great Recession. Two wars and a global recession will damage the reputation of any country or president.

In the case of Bush though, people believed him when he said he’d take action against a foreign enemy. The world no longer has to deal with a Sadaam Hussein, who was once considered to be on par with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Obama, on the other hand, was effectively paralyzed by any and all potential decisions. He did take out Libyan dictator Muammar Al Gathafi, but his refusal to do anything else in the region allowed groups like ISIS to metastasize and spread. And his refusal to acknowledge the naivety and failure of his Russian reset enabled a resurgent Russia to start pushing America around — and encouraged the meddling in the 2016 election.

So far, all Donald Trump has done is drop a few bombs, commit a few air strikes, and hold summits. I don’t especially like how he’s handled North Korea or Russia so far. But it’s still early on in his presidency.

And as for the ideas that make up the America that Scarborough references, Trump hasn’t destroyed those ideas. They still form the basis of our foundation and institutions. The Rule of Law is still going strong. The Trump administration has nominated numerous judges who hold to those very ideas.

In the aftermath of 9/11, you can make an argument that our country went too far in foreign policy or new defense laws like the Patriot Act. You could make a similar argument that the litany of regulation passed in the wake of the Great Recession went too far, too.

But to argue that Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, ISIS, or any other foreign power is less of a threat than President Trump is tone deaf to the extreme.

The prescription I’d offer for Sen. King and Joe Scarborough is easy: get off Twitter and leave your D.C. media bubble. The world is far better than your bleak view. And our country is still thriving, even with all its problems, after that fateful day 17 years ago.

Next year, spend more time reflecting on lives lost than using them for scoring political points.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.