By Margaret Stock
September 11, 2016 marks the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11. For fifteen years, our nation has been at war — the longest “hot war” in our nation’s history. The post-9/11 conflicts have caused profound changes in our society, in the application of our Constitution’s principles, and in our political institutions.
Most of our wars have united Americans in a common fight against a common enemy — but the conflict since 9/11 has fueled the growing divisions in our society. The absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and the continuing turmoil in the Middle East have resulted in recriminations and blame for the instigation and conduct of the Iraq war. The continuing conflict and instability in Afghanistan have likewise called into question the lives and treasure we have expended — and continue to expend — in that country. Threats of further terror attacks have generated profound and controversial growth in the pervasiveness and cost of our national security activities.
The ongoing human and economic costs of conflict has also contributed to the growing polarization of our electorate and our political system, fueling extreme partisanship and Congressional dysfunction. Fifteen years after the terrorist attacks, the structural balance in our Constitution has been disrupted. The Executive Branch now controversially tries to fill the vacuum resulting from Congress’s refusal to perform its Constitutional duties. Congress has failed to pass timely appropriations bills, failed to authorize the use of force, and failed to fill vacancies in the federal courts and in federal agencies, among other neglected duties.
There are no quick and easy answers to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. We must resist the call to use large numbers of American ground troops while continuing to assist peace efforts where we can. Establishing peace in the region is essential to saving lives and staunching the flow of refugees worldwide.
When it comes to domestic politics, however, we are the masters of our own fate. We must change the measure of success from what most harms the opposing political party to what best advances the interests of the country. We must stop the partisan dysfunction that has disrupted the structural balance of our Constitution. We must elect individuals who will not simply follow the dictates of party leadership, but who will fully and fairly consider the full range of options; advance pragmatic, workable solutions to our problems; and consistently place the good of Alaska and the country before self or party.
The soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and Coast Guard members who have served unselfishly since September 11, 2001 deserve united leadership, not partisan dysfunction. I saw many such soldiers as they passed through the United States Military Academy at West Point where I taught Constitutional and Military Law. I was teaching there on the morning of 9/11. I can attest to their subsequent service and sacrifices. To honor their service and sacrifices, we must re-dedicate ourselves to making our system of government work again, as the framers of our Constitution intended. As we previously defeated fascism and communism, we will again prevail by strengthening our democracy; protecting our free institutions of religion, press, and speech; and supporting the basic goodness and tolerance of our society.
Margaret Stock is a retired Army Reserve officer who has taught constitutional and national security law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. She was teaching a class there on the morning of September 11, 2001, when terrorists crashed two planes into the World Trade Center in New York City. A graduate of Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard Law School, and the U.S. Army War College, she is running as an Independent in the November 2016 election for the U.S. Senate in Alaska.