RSS
Did the post-9/11 decade make us stronger?
The U.S. has spent trillions to prevent more terrorist attacks, but some critics charge that we're barely any safer as a result
Construction workers look up at the rising One World Trade Center tower, lighted in red, white, and blue in honor of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Construction workers look up at the rising One World Trade Center tower, lighted in red, white, and blue in honor of the tenth anniversary of 9/11.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
I

n the 10 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. has taken giant steps to protect the nation from terrorists. We have largely driven al Qaeda out of Afghanistan and killed Osama bin Laden — the mastermind behind the destruction of the World Trade Center's twin towers. The federal government has put into place sweeping changes in the ways we secure our airports and borders, following many of the policies proposed by the bipartisan 9/11 Commission intended to make the nation "safer, stronger, wiser." Are we indeed stronger as a result?

No doubt about it — we are stronger: On 9/11, "the enemy hit us in our own front yard," says Mark Thompson at TIME, "and on 9/12, most Americans were petrified" that another wave of attacks was coming. But it didn't happen, largely because in the years since the U.S. military has become bigger — we've doubled spending on it, to $700 billion a year — and better at hunting down and destroying a new kind of enemy. "You can't argue with success."
"Taking stock: The U.S. military a decade after 9/11"

Actually, our wasteful response made us weaker: Osama bin Laden talked about "bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy," says John Stossel at Fox News, and our response to 9/11 has played right into his hands. We've thrown nearly $8 trillion at the terrorism problem. Many expenditures have been terribly misguided. Homeland Security "spent billions on things like special boats to protect a lake in Nebraska," and airport screeners still miss explosives planted under their noses. Big Government failed to protect us on 9/11, and we rewarded it by making it even bigger.
"Has our security since 9/11 been worth $8 trillion?"

The real test is how we handle the next decade: "The excesses of America's response to Sept. 11 can be excused," says Romesh Ratnesar at Bloomberg Businessweek. To a traumatized nation, "any expenditure in the name of fighting terrorism was justified." But since 2001 we have doubled the national debt and our economic growth has been the slowest since the 1930s. The challenge now is to "stop obsessing" about another attack and get back on a path we can sustain — "otherwise, the terrorists will have won."
"It's time to rethink counterterrorism spending"

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week