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The Lessons of 9/11

September 11, 2014

Three years ago, on the tenth anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks, Commentary senior editor Abe Greenwald penned an essay for Jewish Ideas Daily on the lessons of 9/11. Greenwald focuses on the realization of the world’s hatred:

[T]he Obama White House has issued “guidelines” setting a tone for the American government’s commemoration of September 11 at home and abroad.  This tone, administration officials told the New York Times, “should be shaped by a recognition that the outpouring of worldwide support for the United States in the weeks after the attacks turned to anger at some American policies adopted in the name of fighting terror—on detention, on interrogation, and the decision to invade Iraq.”  To assuage this anger, U.S. officials would emphasize America’s kinship with “all victims of terrorism, in every nation of the world, . . . whether in New York or Nairobi, Bali or Belfast, Mumbai or Manila, Lahore or London.”
But there was no “outpouring of worldwide support for America” in the wake of September 11.  A Pew Research Center poll conducted soon after the attack produced data that still shock.  Fully 70 percent of non-U.S. citizens said it was “good for the U.S. to feel vulnerable.” This sentiment did not come from Arab or Muslim countries alone: it was endorsed by 66 percent of Western Europeans, 71 percent of Latin Americans, and 76 percent of Asians.
Why did these respondents feel good about America’s trouble?  The most popular reason, given by 88 percent of those polled, was “resentment of U.S. power.”  The second most popular, given by 70 percent, was “U.S. support of Israel.”
In the decade since September 11, poll after poll has shown the combined hatred of America and Israel becoming still more widespread and intense.

But what has not been so easily realized by Americans is the intransigence of the world’s hatred. Like Israel, the U.S. must be clear-eyed about the intensity and virulence of its enemies:

The great myth about this growing hatred is that public diplomacy can fix it—that greater attention to “optics” will lead antagonists of America and Israel to rethink their prejudices.  We have now had nearly three years of an extremely optics-rich Obama foreign policy, of which the September 11 anniversary guidelines are just one example.  Yet, despite serial apologies for American power and dogged appeals for global cooperation, anti-Americanism is more intense today than it was when the President took office.
This does not stop the public diplomacy-advocates from scolding Israelis for insensitivity.  Thus, Jerusalem is expected to place security second to public relations and express regret over the problematic symbolism of security checkpoints, the West Bank wall, and the response to the Mavi Marmara flotilla.  Such counsel might be tolerable in a country like the United States, which can absorb its critics’ vitriol as one more tribute to its global supremacy.  Israel is not big enough, or safe enough, to afford the luxury of symbolism as statecraft.

More about: America, Israel, and the Middle East  • Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism  

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