As the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks approaches, it is impossible to ignore the deep contrasts between the America of 2001 and the nation we inhabit today.
Twenty years ago, we were a global superpower. Our leaders were determined to act as a force for good on an international scale. Our military was feared, and our diplomatic weight was immense.
When the terror attacks occurred two decades ago, Americans came together as never before. We were utterly fearless and resolute as we sought to right the wrongs that were done to us, and we reminded the world that we take care of our own.
Unfortunately, those days are gone.
But, I remember them well. They are part of the reason I chose a career in public service; I saw the power of effective leadership and wanted to be one of the people advancing the good work being done to protect and serve our homeland. I wanted to add my voice to the discourse, stand with my brothers and sisters, and do my duty to keep America strong.
In recent weeks, however, we saw a nation in retreat. Having secured some semblance of order in Afghanistan under the prior administration, our president chose to ignore growing political instability, failed to hold Afghani leaders accountable, and opted to flee the nation. He knowingly left American civilians and allies behind to suffer at the hands of the Taliban, and behaved with indignity—even rudeness—as our honored dead servicemen were brought home.
All, it is said, so he could secure the photo op he wanted on the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
For me, this year’s remembrance of the 9/11 attacks will be characterized by its contrasts. In just two decades, we have gone from a global superpower to an internationally recognized buffoon. We are weak. Apologetic. Determined to wrest defeat from the jaws of victory.
It would have been easy to do the right thing – to ensure the stability of the Afghan government before we chose to leave and to ensure the safety of each and every American and ally. Instead, we ran. It was an unprecedented action in the history of our great nation—never have we left one of our own behind—until now.
Where our nation’s leaders gave up, civilian heroes have stepped in. American nonprofits are still at work getting our nation’s citizens and allies out of danger, and they are succeeding. It makes one wonder, if a handful of people with solid will and a couple of airplanes can deliver Americans to safety, how could our well-equipped military and diplomatic leaders be so dramatically unsuccessful?
I think it comes down to this: presidential leadership, or a lack thereof. True leaders are able to stand firm and be consistent with their words and actions. Leadership is about following through when it’s necessary and showing the rest of the world that we are a land of power and might. Our leaders must act with honor, resolution, and decisiveness in every situation, no matter how difficult. We’re not checking our watches. We’re acting to make a difference… Every. Single. Time.
Today, the fireworks and gunshots of the celebrating Taliban are chasing Americans back home, and we don’t even have the benefit of knowing we did the right thing. We have, rather, emboldened our enemy and it’s fair to say we can expect that enemy—or one like it—to visit our shores with terror again in the future. After all, we’re a nation led by people who are willing to cut and run when it suits them. We’re even willing to leave our own people behind.
As we commemorate this year’s anniversary of 9/11, I will be thinking of all these contrasts. I am more determined than ever to follow through on my commitment to do good in memory of those who lost their lives on that day, and to ensure nothing like it can ever happen again.
And I’ll be working to support leaders who agree.
Meghan Reckling is chair of the Livingston County Republican Party.