Melancholy Thoughts

Melancholy Thoughts

Not surprisingly, this day tends to leave us feeling more than a little melancholy.  We are told never to forget what happened on this date 22 years ago, but how, we wonder, could we?  It is etched in our memories almost like nothing else.

We recall with remarkably vivid clarity that we were all standing, huddled around one of the few TVs in our offices, which were on the top floor of the tallest building in the neighborhood, just across the street from Lafayette Square.  The TV – which happened to be located in the office of our boss, Kim Wallace – was tuned to CNN, which, like every other network, was covering the events at the World Trade Center.  Suddenly, the ticker at the bottom of the screen flashed the new news: “Smoke Reported at Pentagon.”  Almost simultaneously, black-clad men – Agents? Soldiers? Some combination thereof? – appeared, as if from nowhere, on the roof of the White House, which Kim’s office conveniently overlooked.  Kim, who is maybe 6’3” or 6’4”, stood up above the crowd, waved his hand in a circle once, and said, calmly but emphatically, “Everyone OUT!”

Napoleon, the head valet at the garage in our building’s basement, didn’t even bother with his usual pretense about how he had our cars squished away in tight spaces, from which no mere mortal could extract them.  As we approached the stand, he simply tossed us our keys and told us where to find our cars.  He and his guys had their hands full already, and they had no intention of making us all wait.  Not that day.

Fortunately, we were early.  Most of the offices in the city hadn’t yet thought to send people home.  Everyone had just gotten there, after all.  Now they were gonna turn around and send everyone back?  Well, for whatever reason, they didn’t, at least not right away.

The roads were empty.  Even the bridges were empty – which, anyone who lives, works, or visits DC can tell you, NEVER happens.  As I drove out of the city, virtually traffic-free, WMAL was noting all sorts of crazy reports.  Bombs here, smoke there, ongoing attacks of unlimited variety.  Indeed, as I drove over the Teddy Roosevelt Bridge, the station dispatched sportscaster Tim Brandt to Foggy Bottom to investigate multiple reports of explosions near the State Department.  The city was, it seemed, fully under siege.

Once I arrived back on the Virginia side of the Potomac, I felt a sense of relief, although I can’t say why, exactly.  The Pentagon was now just a couple miles south of me.  Moreover, it – and Reagan National Airport – stood directly between me and my home, meaning that there was simply no way to get from where I was to there, at least without first going west all the way to the Beltway and then circling back around south, through the Springfield Mixing Bowl and across almost to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge – a drive that, in normal traffic, would probably take two hours at least.  I made it in about 30 minutes.  Again, the roads were strangely empty, as if everyone assumed that “they’re not done yet,” and no one wanted to make the mistake of driving headlong into the next attack.

Now, given that our reader list is comprised of hundreds of people who live and work (or lived and worked) in DC and, more to the point, in New York City, we’d imagine that many of you have far more interesting and harrowing recollections of that day.  Some of you probably even have tragic memories, and for that, we are truly and heartily sorry.

In any case, we remember.  Many of you remember.  We don’t need to be reminded.  We couldn’t forget if we wanted to.

That said, we suspect that those of us who do remember are in a distinct minority in this country.  Heck, as we noted last year, the memorial video we used to post every year on this date – the original video featuring the Enya song “Only Time” – doesn’t even exist anymore.  There are dozens of others using the same song and motif, but the original is gone – and to be honest, we can’t imagine that anyone other than us cares.

For the most part, that’s OK.  If this date – like December 7, 1941 – becomes a date which will live in infamy only in history books and old people’s memories, that will be unfortunate, but it will hardly be catastrophic.  What would be catastrophic, by contrast, is forgetting the lessons that this date and especially its subsequent wars taught us.  And we fear that too is happening, at least among those who make the relevant public policy decisions.

We loved George W. Bush.  We really did.  We had our doubts early on, but the way he handled the attack and its aftermath made us fans for life.  We wouldn’t have traded him for anyone in the world.  As some of you may remember, we loved Dick Cheney too.  We were anxious to have him tell his cardiologists to buzz off and to run for president in his own right.  We even called him ‘44’ for a couple of years in print.

Unfortunately, they both lost the plot – somewhere around the time that it became clear that they weren’t going to find any serious WMDs in Iraq.

In response, the American people elected someone who they thought would bring an end to the post-9/11 adventurism and restore a more sensible foreign policy.  But Barack Obama and Joe Biden lost the plot too.  By the time they left office, American military forces had been strewn throughout the Middle East and Central Asia for a decade-and-a-half, with no serious plan for ever accomplishing their missions, largely because their missions were rarely, if ever, defined in accomplishable terms.  “Establish democracy.  In Afghanistan.  Institute respect for human rights while simultaneously enabling Sharia law.  Save the women from the radicals, but don’t impose Western values on them.  Oh, and let us know when you’re done, OK?”

Regular readers know that we don’t usually have especially nice things to say about Donald Trump these days, but we’ll give him this: when the American people elected him, they, once more, thought they were getting a president who would avoid expanding the nation’s role in foreign conflicts.  And for the most part, that’s what he gave them, at least to the point he was allowed by the Swamp to do so.

Today, under Trump’s successor, one of the men who lost the plot from 2009 to 2017, the United States is engaged in what can only be called a proxy war with the owner of the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.  The man who governs that arsenal is a brutal dictator, an aggressive imperialist, and an evil man.  He deserves both to lose his war of aggression and to be punished for it personally.  And yet the American leaders continue to function as if tactics, strategies, and goals are mere contrivances that need not be deliberated, much less codified.  They are sleepwalking into another perpetual war or worse, a global nuclear confrontation.  They have learned nothing about the foreign policy arrogance that predated the attacks of 9/11 and even less about the incoherence that followed it.  They are righteous and stupid, a frightful combination.

The other day, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted X’ded his “support” for…well…something:

Standing with our allies against Russian aggression isn’t charity. In fact – it’s a direct investment in replenishing America’s arsenal with American weapons built by American workers. Expanding our defense industrial base puts America in a stronger position to out-compete China.

What the hell are we even doing?  The Senate Minority Leader just went out and declared to the whole world that proxy wars with nuclear powers are necessary because how else are we gonna keep the Military Industrial Complex chugging along?  Seriously?  Ike wasn’t right, McConnell insists.  “Akchuyally, fighting pointless wars is good cuz it creates jobs!”  And here’s the best part: no one bothered to correct him or even criticize him.  Because why would they?

Sometimes, we think that we, as a species, might be doomed.  If Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell are the best that the “last, best hope of earth” can produce, then what hope do we have?

Or…maybe that’s just the melancholy talking.

But probably not.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.