Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

– George Santayana, from Volume One of The Life of Reason, 1905.

This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks that resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 Americans. This single event set off a flurry of activity within the federal government, resulting in a multitude of new policies–both foreign and domestic–that have transformed the last decade of American history: the War on Terror, the War in Afghanistan, the passage of the USA Patriot Act, the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Iraq War, and drone attacks in Pakistan. Now, ten years later, Americans must ask themselves, how many of these policies have actually made America safer?

On Thursday, the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland released the results of a survey, The American Public on the 9/11 Decade: A Study of American Opinion, that sought to address Americans’ attitudes regarding the domestic and foreign policies that were initiated as a result of the September 11 terrorist attacks, writing:

Now that a decade has passed, this is a natural time to take a retrospective look at the road the US has traveled and to consider the road ahead. The study sought to better understand public attitudes on the following points.

For ten years the United States has invested in many different kinds of security efforts, military and civilian, in an effort to deal with terrorism. How does the public view these investments? Have they been worthwhile overall? Has the US over or under invested? How have these investments affected the US economy?

There is considerable debate about whether the United States’ world power and influence has remained stable factor, or whether it is in decline. What is the public’s assessment and how does it relate to the investments the US made in the wake of 9/11?

Polling 957 adult Americans between August 19 – 25 of this year, the poll addresses American opinion regarding such issues as:

– The Response to 9/11
– Dealing with Terrorism
– The War in Afghanistan
– The Iraq War
– The Killing of Osama Bin Laden
– Muslims and Islam
– Arab Spring
– Israel

Some of the key findings of the poll:

– 71% of those polled believe that too many resources have been expended on one or more aspects of the United States’ response to September 11 terrorist attacks.
– 66% of those polled believe that US power and influence in the world have decreased in the decade since the September 11 attacks.
– 66% of those polled believe it is necessary to address the sources of hostility in the larger societies that terrorists come from and rejects an approach that relies solely on military force.
– 57% of those polled feel that the US made the right decision to go to war in Afghanistan while 38% feel it was a mistake.
– 45% of those polled feel that the US made the right decision to go to war in Iraq while 49% feel it was a mistake.

While none of the above information is particularly surprising, some of the most disturbing results of this poll concern American beliefs regarding Iraq’s relationship to Al Qaeda and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Despite the various commissions that concluded that Iraq was not providing support to Al Qaeda and did not have a WMD program, a “large and undiminishing minority of Americans continues to believe these were both the case.” Among those surveyed:

– 38% believe that the US has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda.
– 31% believe that Iraq gave substantial support to Al Qaeda but was not involved with the September attacks while an additional 15% believe that Iraq was directly involved in carrying out the September 11 attacks.
– 26% believe that Iraq had WMDs just before the Iraq War.
– 16% believe that WMDs were found in Iraq.

Additionally, among those polled, the beliefs that Iraq was connected with the 9/11 attack and that Iraq had WMDs immediately prior to the Iraq War were highly correlated with support for the Iraq War.

Additional notes: Some of you may remember an article that I posted at TMV in July 2007. In that article, I focused upon a Newsweek poll that found that 41% of Americans still believed that Saddam Hussein’s regime was directly involved in financing, planning or carrying out the terrorist attacks on 9/11, even though no evidence had surfaced to support a connection. In that same poll, a majority of Americans were unable to pick Saudi Arabia in a multiple-choice question about the country where most of the 9/11 hijackers were born, and a full 20 percent thought that most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Iraq. Going back even further, in August 2003, a Washington Post poll found that 69% of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was personally involved in the September 11 attack.

NICK RIVERA
Leave a replyComments (18)
  1. SteveK September 10, 2011 at 12:47 am

    Boy Howdy Nick, you sound more and more like a republican in every post you post.

    It would be interesting to hear your take on Hart William’s “9-11: The Battle of the Little Big Tinhorn” because it becomes boring trying to try to keep up with those who think only their position have value while refusing to comment or get involved in any way with what others think.

  2. NICK RIVERA September 10, 2011 at 1:12 am

    SteveK said:

    Boy Howdy Nick, you sound more and more like a republican in every post you post.

    I’m afraid I’m having a difficult time understanding what it is that I wrote in the above article that could have possibly led you to such a conclusion.

    Would you be so kind as to elaborate?

  3. SteveK September 10, 2011 at 1:28 am

    Only to suggest that you look back at your last four or five posts.

    It’s the weekend and us progressives tend to treat them as such. :)

  4. NICK RIVERA September 10, 2011 at 1:39 am

    Only to suggest that you look back at your last four or five posts… It’s the weekend and us progressives treat them as such.

    I’m glad to hear that you’ve read several of my previous posts, but what does that have to do with this post?

    Why, after I’ve posted an article in which I point out the “disturbing” number of people who believe that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 or that Iraq had WMDs, would you argue that I sound “more and more like a republican?”

  5. JSpencer September 10, 2011 at 7:44 am

    It doesn’t matter how often, how conclusively, and how completely the Iraq/9-11 connection is debunked, there will still be a ridiculously large portion of the electorate who thinks otherwise. The simple reason for this is that we have a stupid, stupid, stupid (and hopelessly loyal to tribal BS) segment of the citizenry in this country. What is more, they seem determined to continue being stupid, no matter what.

  6. DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist September 10, 2011 at 11:14 am

    I “dunno” but I don’t think Nick supports the nonsense that there was clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda; nor that he supports the even bigger nonsense that Iraq had WMDs just before the Iraq invasion; nor that he supports the tragedy that was the Iraq war.

    I could be wrong, but if he did he would not be publishing statistics and polls reflecting that:

    A majority of Americans feel it was a mistake to go to war against Iraq.

    A bigger majority of Americans do not believe that the US has found clear evidence in Iraq that Saddam Hussein was working closely with Al Qaeda.

    An even bigger majority of Americans do not believe that Iraq gave substantial support to Al Qaeda

    An even bigger majority of Americans do not believe that Iraq had WMDs just before the Iraq War.

    A huge majority of Americans believe that no WMDs were found in Iraq.

    An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that Al Qaeda was not directly involved in carrying out the September 11 attacks.

    Finally, I believe that Nick threw in the 2007 Newsweek poll results and, going back even farther, the 2003 Washington Post poll on similar issues just for historical reference

  7. NICK RIVERA September 10, 2011 at 12:04 pm

    Dorian said:

    I “dunno” but I don’t think Nick supports the nonsense that there was clear evidence that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Al Qaeda; nor that he supports the even bigger nonsense that Iraq had WMDs just before the Iraq invasion; nor that he supports the tragedy that was the Iraq war.

    I could be wrong, but if he did he would not be publishing statistics and polls reflecting that…

    Exactly right. That’s why I was so perplexed by SteveK’s comments above.

  8. SteveK September 10, 2011 at 12:57 pm

    Sorry Nick, I misread your post.

    It had been a long day and I’d just gotten in from a 500 mile drive. In the future I’ll rest and recuperate before jumping in. :)

  9. EEllis September 10, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    Actually WMD’s were found in Iraq. Over 500 chemical and nerve gas warheads, shells and other munitions were recovered. Of course all are believed to be pre gulf war but technically we did find WMD’s.

    As to the Question are we safer. I think the answer is easy. Yes, we are safer, but at a cost. We are not as free as we used to be.

  10. HART WILLIAMS, Guest Voice Columnist September 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Actually, I think that what these statistics point to is the old computer concept of GIGO: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

    Once a first impression has been made, it is very difficult to “correct” that impression when new information contradicts the original facts.

    We see the same phenomenon in the “birther” movement, which has a certain number of hard-core supporters who simply refuse to believe any new factual information that comes to light.

    A certain number of people believed intensely that Saddam Hussein A) had Weapons of Mass Destruction and B) materially assisted in 9-11.

    As new facts came to light, they were either ignored or discounted, because that first impression had become the operant “fact” in their processing.

    Another example: the “Mugshot Saloon” in “downtown” Wasilla, Alaska, which the Mudflats blog, and CNN, ABC, NBC, CBS, etc. claimed was representative of “backwoods” Wasilla.

    To this day, nobody has shown the long strip malls on either side, nor the incredible “box store” development on all sides of the supposedly hardscrabble “small town” bar that has nothing whatsoever to do with any typical Wasilla scene.

    The “first impression” remains the only impression, even though it is clearly a false impression. And that’s three years later.

    GIGO is a real phenomenon, and it isn’t cynical to note that some political operatives make great use of the long-lasting effects of a false first impression.

  11. DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist September 10, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    No problem, Steve (at least not with me).

    I have often written a post too “subtle,” or too “nuanced,” or with so much satire (and I am not saying this is the case here) that they have often been misunderstood :)

  12. HART WILLIAMS, Guest Voice Columnist September 10, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    EEllis provides a perfect example of how effective this nonsense is. Fox News reported his “facts” on June 22, 2006.

    Their “facts” were immediately debunked by June 23, 2006, but the initial impression, having been reinforced, remains EEllis’ mindset. (Qualifications notwithstanding.) Mere semantic parsing to “recover” the debunked facts shows how tenaciously the first impression can be latched onto.

    Fox News “story” 6-22-06:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,200499,00.html

    Fact check 6-23-06:
    http://mediamatters.org/research/200606230005

  13. JSpencer September 10, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    “GIGO is a real phenomenon, and it isn’t cynical to note that some political operatives make great use of the long-lasting effects of a false first impression.”

    Even news organizations make great use of the phenomenon, FOX is the obvious one that comes to mind.

  14. HART WILLIAMS, Guest Voice Columnist September 10, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    When I used “political operatives” Fox News was one of those I meant. 😉

  15. NICK RIVERA September 10, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    Regarding the WMDs found in Iraq…

    Back in the spring of 2004, FoxNews repeatedly declared that the discovery of sarin nerve agent and mustard gas vindicated the Bush administration’s claims that Saddam Hussein had WMDs. And as recently as 2006, then-Senator Rick Santorum cited a two-month old military intelligence report describing the existence of old munition shells as proof that WMDs had been found.

    These were not the WMD that the United States government went to war for in 2003–they were pre-1991 munition shells of degraded mustard and sarin gas. Despite Senator Santorum’s comments to the contrary, these degraded chemical weapons were not found anytime in 2006 but were discovered back in 2004, and the Iraq Survey Group already acknowledged their existence in their final report:

    ISG assesses that Iraq and Coalition Forces will continue to discover small numbers of degraded chemical weapons, which the former Regime mislaid or improperly destroyed prior to 1991. ISG believes the bulk of these weapons were likely abandoned, forgotten and lost during the Iran-Iraq war because tens of thousands of CW munitions were forward deployed along frequently and rapidly shifting battlefronts . . . As the Coalition destroys the thousands of conventional munitions at depots around the country the possibility exists that pre-1991 vintage chemical rounds could be found mixed in with conventional munitions at these locations.

    After Senator Santorum made his claims about the discovery of these 500 degraded chemical weapons (which he conveniently neglected to mention were used before 1991, MSNBC contacted David Kay (the Former Chief UN Weapons Inspector & Former Iraq Survey Group Chief), and this is what Mr. Kay had to say regarding Senator Santorum’s claims:

    [Senator Santorum’s comments] are wrong as to the facts and exaggerated beyond all reason as to the interpretation of the “facts”. There is no surprise that very small numbers of chemical canisters from the Iran-Iraq War have been found. The ISG found them and in my testimony in 2004 I said that I expected that we would continue to find them for a very long time. These are in very small numbers and are scattered. The nerve agents have long since degraded to the point that they no longer pose any substantial threat. In most cases the mustard agent has substantially degraded, but will burn you if skin comes in contact with it.

  16. DORIAN DE WIND, Military Affairs Columnist September 10, 2011 at 5:24 pm

    Nick,

    Thanks for(once more) debunking some of those persistent, “technical” claims, distortions, exaggerations and innuendoes

  17. EEllis September 13, 2011 at 12:36 am

    EEllis provides a perfect example of how effective this nonsense is. Fox News reported his “facts” on June 22, 2006.

    Hey did you not read my entire post?
    ” Of course all are believed to be pre gulf war but technically we did find WMD’s.”

    the initial impression, having been reinforced, remains EEllis’ mindset.

    Don’t tell me my mindset. I know exactly what weapons were found and what they represent. I also understand there was no evidence of any effective or substantial WMD projects at all. That does not effect the fact that WMD’s were found. I am someone who like precision in statements. If Nick had said “or that Iraq had active WMD programs” then I would have said nothing as that would have been an accurate statement where as Iraq did have left over WMD’s from before the Gulf war.