The horror that came from out of the skies on 9/11 targeted our military nerve center, our political nerve center and our financial nerve center. Al-Qaeda, the malefactor behind this ghastly assault, might have thought such severe nerve damage would prevent a muscular response. But as Ken Silber documents in this month’s cover story, the speed of our recovery reflected reservoirs of inner strength. Having taken the battle to our enemy, even finishing off Osama bin Laden, is it not ironic that America finds herself far weaker now than after 9/11?
Today our economic woes grow more dismal by the day as if the ratings bomb dropped by S&P had more impact than al-Qaeda’s suicide planes. Why should a financial crisis be able to do to us what devastatingly effective terrorists could not?
The question really answers itself. Al-Qaeda can’t destroy America; only Americans can do that. Just as the Barbarian Odoacer’s deposing of Romulus Augustus had less to do with the fall of Rome than the moral decay of Roman society which preceded it, it is our self-inflicted wounds that make us vulnerable to enemy attack.
There should be no qualms with the normal and healthy give and take between the two political parties. That is America’s strength. But the expansion of non-discretionary entitlements is the economic equivalent of strapping a suicide belt on our economy. Its end is bankruptcy and a loss of freedom in the very real sense that we will no longer be able to make the defining budgetary choices that have shaped our nation for over two centuries. Nothing gives greater cheer to our enemies than our own self-destructive behavior.
Comparing the decline of America with the fall of Rome was convenient, but misleading. For all its military and cultural prowess, Rome’s passing was less consequential. America, though, is truly special. While there are other democracies today, their liberties are often just skin deep. But the freedoms Americans enjoy, our legal and social equality, are without parallel. Roman legions spread Rome’s dominion over distant lands, but America has been a democratizing and liberalizing influence whose diminution the world would come to lament.