After the first two shots of the War on Terror on September 11, 2001, the first major battle of the war occurred, and was lost, on October 26, 2001. This was the day the PATRIOT Act was signed into law by President Bush. When your enemy doesn't care what happens on the battlefield, the real fights happen in your deep underbelly, where you make your laws. In this case, the terrorists, by killing 3,000 people in a spectacular fashion, goaded the United States into compromising its values and betraying its citizens.
As a followup, the terrorists won another victory with the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security on November 25, 2002. This department gives a much more menacing facade to the federal government and proved to be the moment when American citizens got the idea that they were viewed as the enemy by their own government. Thankfully, our nation's soul was not entirely obliterated. We have also enjoyed victories in the War on Terror, such as the failing of the Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003 (nicknamed the "PATRIOT II Act").
Unfortunately, however, the defeats continued with the establishment of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), representing an increase in funding for an already bloated (and misnamed) Department of Defense. By this point, the American idea was on life support with little hope of reversal. The final blow that rang the bell of defeat for our nation was PRISM. Although PRISM began in 2007, we have only recently learned of its existence thanks to Edward Snowden. To be fair, however, since the PATRIOT Act, we always knew that something like PRISM was possible and legal. But it was only when we learned that it actually did exist that we realized how much we've lost, as a country. PRISM is especially detrimental to our country because it's been defended by William Hague as being of no concern to innocent Americans. This tipping of the scales against U.S. citizens and in favor if their government should be of concern to all.
This article, from the American Spectator, argues that the terrorists may have won not because the United States responded too rashly to 9/11, but because we haven't responded strongly enough. The author seems to argue that we bend over backwards to try to understand the terrorist's way of thinking too much, but in fact the opposite is true. We don't understand religious fundamentalism and we don't understand why we are the target of hate. Once we do, and we let go of our paranoia, we can begin to act responsibly on the world stage again. The author completely ignores the vast and meaningful internal changes that have made our state more oppressive to all its citizenry.
The defeat of America in the War on Terror provides an excellent explanation for the resurgence of libertarian politics at home. It is a natural reaction, when one no longer trusts the government, to demand the right to keep and use arms and to demand that the government extract itself from most if not all aspects of our lives. Unfortunately, however, this reaction goes a bit overboard. Instead of rejecting the state wholesale and assuming that everything it touches turns to dirt, we must engage with the state even more and demand measured changes that reflect our priorities and desires. This is a job for domestic politics even though we've been led to believe that the War on Terror is happening half a world away.
We don't only have to look internally to see that the terrorists have won. Al-Qaeda has not gone away and has not been obliterated. In this grand game of whack-a-mole, the moles see our weakening resolve to preserve ourselves and are encouraged by it. The passage of these laws must be seen as propagandistic victories to the terrorists and undoubtedly help in their recruitment. We must rediscover the American idea and begin living by it once again. This would be the best way to turn the tide on the War on Terror.