Nine years after 9/11, George Packer looks at the path we've taken since:
Crazy, murderous violence hasn’t spread across the land. But unreason, cheered on by cable news, has won the day. We have undeniably gone sour on interfaith tolerance. We have turned inward in sullen exhaustion. The staggering chain of consequences and characters that followed 9/11Kabul, Tora Bora, Daniel Pearl, John Yoo, Bagram, Guantánamo, Baghdad, Sergio Vieira de Mello, Madrid, Falluja, Abu Ghraib, Nick Berg, London, Zarqawi, military commissions, Samarra, eavesdropping, Sean Hannity, the Taliban’s return, Benazir Bhutto, Mumbai, Hakimullah Mehsudseems like a fever dream of can-you-top-this atrocities from which we can’t wake up. The bill is finally coming due at home. It turned out that the Bush rhetoric of religious understanding and freedom was a lot less potent and durable than the Bush policies.
Our Wilsonian phase just took too much effort, required too much suspension of deeper, stronger feelings. And we are out of it now. In Wilsonian terms, we are around the year 1919 or 1920. The noble mission to make the world safe for democracy ended inconclusively, and its aftermath has curdled into an atmosphere more like that of the Palmer raids and the second coming of the Klan. This is why Obama seems less and less able to speak to and for our times. He’s the voice of reason incarnate, and maybe he’s too sane to be heard in either Jalalabad or Georgia. An epigraph for our times appears in Jonathan Franzen’s new novel “Freedom”: “The personality susceptible to the dream of limitless freedom is a personality also prone, should the dream ever sour, to misanthropy and rage.”
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