Why is America in trouble? September 11 was a traumatic event that shook the nation to its core. But it would not have changed the course of history for the worse if President Bush had not responded as he did. Declaring war on terrorism was understandable, perhaps even appropriate, as a figure of speech. The problem is that President Bush meant it literally.
I believe there is a direct connection between this and the abuse of detainees by US soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison. What happened at Abu Ghraib was not a case of a few bad apples, but a pattern tolerated and even encouraged by American authorities. For example, the Judge Advocate General Corps routinely observes military interrogations from behind a two-way mirror; that practice was discontinued in Afghanistan and Iraq. The International Red Cross and others started complaining about abuses as early as December 2002.
It is easy to see how terrorism can lead to torture. Last summer, I took an informal poll at a meeting of Wall Street investors to find out whether they would condone the use of torture to prevent a terrorist attack. The consensus was that they hoped somebody would do it without their knowing about it.
Americans, sadly, are now victims who have turned into perpetrators. Indeed, since September 2001, the war on terror has claimed more innocent victims than those terrorist attacks. This fact is unrecognized at home because the victims of the war on terror are not Americans. But the rest of the world does not draw the same distinction, and world opinion has turned against America.