The Wall Street Journal has posted a symposium of answers provided by a panel of experts on whether the US overreacted on 9/11.  It’s worth a read.  I won’t go over all the responses, but will provide that I most agree with the following assessment:

More deliberate consideration of such factors could have limited our mission to the destruction of al Qaeda and the formation of a coalition government in Afghanistan (that alone a daunting challenge). It also could have foreclosed consideration of launching a second concurrent war in Iraq, where similar challenges were bound to emerge. Iraq posed no threat to us: The decision to invade it was inspired by quixotic zeal and towering hubris—the belief that we could easily establish there a functioning and prosperous democracy as a model to be adopted throughout the Muslim world.

This comes from Robert McFarlane, formerly the senior national security advisor to President Reagan.  Since Reagan is very nearly considered a deity amongst a certain sector of the political spectrum, I wonder, What Would Reagan Do (WWRD)?

When the Marine barracks in Beirut were attacked in 1983, Reagan decided that the cost of staying and embroiling ourselves in another of the Middle East’s many conflicts was too high, and promptly ordered the Marines home. 

I believe Reagan would have done as McFarlane advises, and limited the mission to destruction of al Qaeda and the formation, so far as it was possible, of a coalition government in Afghanistan.  Reagan would never have invaded Iraq without provocation. 

In my view, we had to answer the attacks.  We had to go after the organization that was responsible, meaning we had to make the Afghanistan Taliban understand that we would not tolerate their sponsorship of al Qaeda terrorism, and we had to inflict heavy retribution on al Qaeda itself.  Other than that, which should have taken a year or so from start to finish, and relatively very little in the way of blood and treasure, we should not have done anything.  American leadership, instead of fanning the flames of retribution, should have allowed sufficient time to pass before initiating action, giving people time to forget the attacks and get on with their lives.  No matter how terrible the Administration wanted to make things sound, the attacks posed no existential threat to the US–we could have suffered a 9/11 attack every month and not even hiccupped economically, once people got accustomed to them.  There is greater carnage on the highways every month than was experienced on 9/11, and except those immediately involved, no one misses a beat.  So it was at our leisure that retribution and revenge could be exacted, and as everyone knows, revenge is always a dish best served cold. 

There should have been virtually no domestic response.  No Patriot Act.  No Transportation Security Administration.  Some grownup leader (would we ever have had any) should have stepped forward and explained to Americans that it was impossible to live free and live without risk, and that no amount of forfeited freedoms could ever secure a future without the possibility of another successful terrorist attack.   Instead, the government, having already spent years cultivating infantilism in its populace, used the attacks to insinuate itself even more in the everyday lives of its citizens, on the illusory promise that it could prevent insanity and mayhem from ever again reaching our shores.  It can’t, but has been lucky so far that very little again has. 

In other words, the attacks on 9/11 were inconsequential, and should have mostly been ignored, except to exact the retribution necessary to dissuade further such adventures. 

But out response to the attacks altogether comprises a sad, sorry chapter in the history of the American experiment.