Rubel: This September 11th, let's take a moment to re-evaluate

Sep 11, 2019

Commentary: I believe that the greatest moment of his presidency came when George W. Bush put his arm around a firefighter standing on the rubble of what was the World Trade Center and announced through a bullhorn that, “the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.”

It was something the nation needed to hear, even though we knew it wasn’t true.

The people who knocked those buildings down did so in a suicide mission. It’s not like they made a clever getaway. As much as we desperately wanted to track them down, drag them through the streets and bring them to justice, we knew that would never happen.

And so, the best we could do was go after others who were tangentially involved.

Not the Saudis, of course. Even though 15 of the 19 terrorists were Saudis and there is evidence of support by the Saudi government, the Bush family ties to the Saudi royal family meant we would have to look elsewhere.

And, not Osama bin Laden who, for some reason, never seemed to be a priority for Bush.

That left the Taliban. They didn’t plan, fund or execute the attack, but they provided safe harbor in Afghanistan for those who did. And that was enough for most Americans at the time, myself included.

My hope was that we would strike hard and fast, sending a clear message to the world that there would be a heavy price to pay for aiding terrorists. And then we would return home.

Instead, we tried to do what nobody has been able to do throughout the centuries - control Afghanistan and remake it in our image.

We’re still trying, but we don’t appear to be any closer to achieving that goal. And the costs keep going up.

I wrote a column early in the first term of the Obama administration saying my fear was that if we leave, the Taliban will regain control as soon as we’re gone, all of our sacrifices will have been for naught and it will be horrible for those left behind, especially the women. My greater fear was that will be true whether we leave today or 10 years from now.

Here we are 10 years later.

As we approach the 18th annual remembrance of that horrible day, I find myself in the awkward position of agreeing with President Donald Trump … at least with his instincts, which are to pull our troops out of Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, his plan to accomplish that was to invite the Taliban to Camp David on the week of 9-11. What could go wrong?

The meeting is now off. It was both announced and cancelled in the same tweet.

The reason for the cancellation, we’re told, was a car bomb that took the life of a U.S.  service member. But, he was the fourth American killed in Afghanistan in the last two weeks, leading one to believe that it wasn’t the death that upset President Trump as much as the Taliban’s gloating about it on social media.

The plan had been to draw down to 8.600 troops, with further withdrawls as the Taliban showed its commitment to preventing al Quaida training camps.

That’s now been rejected, and I don’t think there is a new plan. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went on the Sunday morning shows and bragged about how many Taliban we are killing. He made no mention of how many we have left to go.

It has been the deadliest year in Afghanistan since 2014.

Walter Rubel can be reached at