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
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.