The ‘new normal’ had set into America on September 11, 2001. That morning I was in my office in the New York Avenue building of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States. I saw a picture of a plane parked aloft the World Trade Center on the internet, on MSNBC’s web site. The news report said that it was a deliberate crash into the building. Soon there was another picture on the internet of a second jet ploughed into the adjacent building. Then I was asked to go home for the day. I stepped out. I could see smoke from the Pentagon on the other side of the Potomac river. Washington was peacefully evacuated as people drove home to watch the twin towers collapse, live on their television screens.
The asymmetric attack, diabolically brilliant in the world of an eye for an eye, that defeated the imagination of Hollywood, on the United States using civilian airplanes on a shoestring budget of a million dollars from the remote mountains of Afghanistan was a shock for most Americans. The attackers had breached the fortress of mutual trust in a civil society to use box cutters to commandeer and pilot planes into the very heart of global capitalism that was unsuspecting of its perceptions and consequences half a world away where the sun had set as the sun climbed up the horizon off the New York harbor. In defense of its way of life, America had succumbed to suspicion on September 12, 2001. Flight, the symbol of freedom and the greatest of all human inventions and very American, had buckled to fear. The eagle was grounded. And it has not soared since because America had failed to do the (W)right thing.
The ensuing decade, in New York and Washington, has seen resolute and escalated persistence with the ways of capitalism: the world of finance had become freer and far more free wheeling, as if thumbing its nose in the face of those who had attacked the World Trade Center and American free trade practices. Wall Street was making a point to the rest of the world, in the end to spite its face. In conjunction, even as Pentagon was rebuilding a collapsed wing of the mighty American war machine, the full force of American power had taken the war to Afghanistan, Iraq and then to every part of the world which served as a recruiting ground for Osama bin Laden. In the world of the peace makers, bin Laden’s eye for an eye genius will go down as a sign of enduring stupidity. And so will America’s eyes wide shut hubris about its ways in the world.
‘They want the same things we do because we are all the children of God’ remarked former president Bush, an evangelical Protestant Christian, ‘so we ought to liberate them’. He was correct. He knew what he was talking about. He had a ring side view of the Great Game growing up as his father’s generation worked to end the Cold War. ‘The attack was because of asymmetries’ said his lieutenant at the Pentagon, former defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was serving in that job for a second time. He was correct. The wars are still costing the United States. ‘America needs ambassadors from within the ranks of its citizens to the world beyond Europe’ pontificated Rumsfeld’s professorial deputy, Paul Wolfowitz, about the liberation of Iraq in front of the United States Congress seeing the Iraq and Afghan wars along the lines of World Wars I and II. He was also correct. But those concepts have failed the country in practice and execution.
Americans have become inured to tighter domestic security, new and ever larger government bureaucracies to protect the homeland and an intrusive and global security industrial complex, reminiscent of Hollywood’s imagination in Steven Spielberg’s film Minority Report, to preempt terrorism and crime, that is gradually replacing the military industrial complex of the Cold War in the name of defending freedoms. The ‘new normal’ said former Vice President Dick Cheney, is this, which is neither helping Israel nor will it help America (as Spielberg points out the futility of preemption at the end of the film).
The failings of the excesses of America’s economic and military reactions to 9/11 have swung the pendulum the other way since the election of President Obama in 2008. Cheney’s ‘new normal’ when looking though the eyes of China, becomes beguiling: a monitored society coexisting with an encroaching government at large. It gets even more colorful when Wolfowitz’s academic ruminations about extending America’s liberation of Europe from tyranny to the rest of the world gradually fade away in favor of the Huntingtonian notion of keeping America true to its ethnographic roots not values alone, especially as European populations are expected to diminish in numbers through 2050: monitored societies converge on Davos time at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, in a backward looking nostalgia for cultural quaintness ― to integrate economically while remaining culturally distinctive (a euphemism for social stasis, which is indeed delusionary when change, as Goethe had said, is the only constant in time) in a gabfest of minority reports of Europeans and European descendants in the global demographic order. This is another concept that is bound to fail in reality because cultural protectionism is as naive as economic and military authoritarianism.
In the end, the cost to America of the predilection of the American left for Europe and of the American right for the security industrial complex, is the loss of its soul. ‘New normalcy’ becomes the code phrase for trading away the much cherished civil liberties and constitutional rights of Americans to safeguard our way of life, materially, in body but not in spirit, in a mind numbing and inexorable march toward self-defeat by Washington’s ideological and polarizing tyranny that is increasing the distance between it and the people it is supposed to govern. Osama bin Laden, not yet captured, is winning the war even as America is winning the battles. Failure of the current regimes and the people’s protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen will only help seal that victory for bin Laden, Ayman al Zawahiri (and Sayyid Qutb) who wish to replace Christ with Mohammed, the last prophet through their lens of the Abrahamic faiths.
Americans must march at home for a return to normalcy, the normalcy being yearned for by the Tunisians, Egyptians and the Yemenis, which is the surest way for the world to converge onto American time.
Terrorism is a nuisance, as Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts had once remarked. It will go away, similar to the occasional pileups on a highway, if it is not paid attention to in favor of improving the lives of the peoples all around the world, including at home. Now that is an alternative to Davos.