In the 16-month period following Osama Bin Laden’s assassination (on 5/1/2011), national confidence increased in a way that was almost reminiscent of the pre-9/11 days. The economy was gradually coming back from the Great Recession (much as the pre-9/11 economy was recovering from the “Dot-Com Crash”) and — more importantly — there was a sense that the worst national security fears of the U.S. were behind us.
The brave U.S. special forces who killed Bin Laden brought a much needed sense of justice and closure regarding the mastermind behind the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history, and for many months President Obama was able to spin the symbolic victory into far more than what it was. But on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11, the attacks on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi claimed four American lives and shattered the false sense of security that had begun to creep back into the American psyche. Within a year of that attack, the Boston Marathon bombings killed three people and injured an estimated 264 people (last April), and the U.S. was forced to close over 20 embassies around the world because of terrorist threats (last month).
Making matters worse, the Obama administration misled the American public about 9/11/12 to preserve a presidential national security narrative that was critical to Obama’s reelection about two months later. As the Washington Times recently reported, “As President Obama ran to election victory last fall with claims that al Qaeda was ‘decimated’ and ‘on the run,’ his intelligence team was privately offering a different assessment that the terrorist movement was shifting resources and capabilities to emerging spinoff groups in Africa that posed fresh threats to American security.”
Obama’s renewed lease on power was promptly followed by a series of scandals that have yet to be fully understood or addressed: Benghazi-gate, Associated Press-gate, IRS-gate, and most recently NSA-gate. All of these have undermined the public’s trust that the U.S. government conducts itself fairly, transparently, and constitutionally.
Rather than address these issues honestly, Obama initially stonewalled and then dismissed everything with the label “phony scandals” — as if that could persuade anyone that nothing improper ever happened. As bad as each of the various scandals might have been in isolation, they are collectively far more ruinous because each one independently suggests the same thing: an administration that has breached the public trust, violated constitutional values, and abused its power – particularly when that power might have been checked by the will of the people at elections. And instead of reassuring the public, when each scandal broke, that his top priority was to investigate and address each issue, Obama looked like any other politician clinging to power however he can, volunteering nothing until compelled to do so.
And so the public was left to draw the inevitable conclusions: that the Obama administration was so determined to win reelection that it whitewashed the September 11 attacks in Benghazi, used the IRS to weaken political opponents, and penalized the Associated Press for issuing a May 7, 2012 report that undermined Obama’s we-beat-terrorism election campaign narrative.
Much is still unknown about the latest breach of trust with the American public — the National Security Agency’s domestic spying program. But the Guardian recently reported that the NSA worked with U.S. tech giants to defeat whatever privacy and encryption technologies Americans thought were in place to ensure that “their communications, online banking and medical records would be indecipherable to criminals or governments.” As if to grant the NSA’s greatest wish, Apple’s new iPhones feature a biometric fingerprint scan that replaces password-based security (and Apple competitors will undoubtedly start offering the same feature), so potentially hundreds of millions of people will soon be giving their fingerprints to the U.S. government.
Still not bothered? The New York Times just reported that the U.S. government also “uses border crossings to seize and examine travelers’ electronic devices instead of obtaining a search warrant to gain access to the data.”
The biggest loser from so much abuse of power and deception is the American electorate. Voters wanted to believe that Obama was somehow different: more grounded, more ethical, more committed to some lofty ideal that had eluded prior politicians. The audacity of disappointment involves cultivating a cult of personality with soaring oratory and then letting down all of those faithful voters with politics as usual.
And now, the alarming reality of post-9/11/13 is arguably more unsettling than that of post-9/11/1. Twelve years ago, the main concern was Al-Queda in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now that threat has metastasized and — partly thanks to Obama’s feckless Mideast and Africa strategy — has proliferated to many more places, including Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Iraq, the Egyptian Sinai, and Syria. More importantly, Obama’s policies have eroded U.S. deterrence and emboldened some of the world’s most dangerous regimes — which can cause far more harm than non-state actors can.
Twelve years after 9/11, the U.S. president has misled the public about its security, abused power in ways that are still not fully understood, and failed to provide strategic leadership in a world that gets more dangerous by the day. Iranian nukes are around the corner, Syria could explode in countless different ways, and Obama seems ill-prepared to handle any of this. But Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are watching opportunistically for the next U.S. misstep, and the consequences could extend well beyond Obama’s second term.
How many more 9/11 anniversaries are needed before Americans can once again trust their government and feel truly safe from security threats?
Noah Beck is the author of The Last Israelis, an apocalyptic novel about Iranian nukes and other geopolitical issues in the Middle East.