Author's note: I've been dealing with flood relief the last two weeks, but had to make sure to write a memorial on this anniversary.
With all of the grandstanding and hadwringing that accompany any anniversary of the September 11th atrocities, it's easy to become upset with the swamp of self-loathing that half of this country is constantly spouting. But let's take a step back and look at the actual effects of what the United States and its allies have done since that tragic day-- and how bin Laden's vision has been crippled, and shown to be as hollow as the hole in his head.
When George W. Bush took office in January 2001, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda had just gone through a massive building period. During the 1990s, bin Laden had been hosted by the Sudan and the Taliban-- and the Taliban had successfully taken over the majority of Afghanistan. They had a completely reactionary sharia state with a foreign policy so odoriferous that only three other countries even recognized their authority. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other Mujahadeen, had successfully defeated the Soviet Union (with Western and Pakistani support) and during the 1990s trained approximately 70,000 Islamists in Afghanistan. Furthermore, al Qaeda had franchises or allied groups in Indonesia (Jamiyah Islamiyah), the Philippines (Abu Sayyaf), Egypt (Egyptian Islamic Jihad), Algeria, Chechnya, Saudi Arabia, and a smaller presence in dozens of other countries.
When bin Laden gave the order to launch the attacks the United States' intelligence and defense spending and size had been downsized during the Clinton years. American intelligence agencies could not communicate effectively and the only US terror plot busted recently was by luck (the 2000 LAX bombing plot). Bin Laden believed that he struck out of strength. After the 1993 World Trade Center bombing came little response (true, Ramzi Youssef was captured, but not a widescale attack on al Qaeda or its facilitators), North Korea got nuclear capability with little response, and Iraq flouted (and kicked out) weapons inspectors with little response. Bin Laden believed (or must have) that the attacks on America would push it into a cycle of withdrawal and self-blame.
That day came and the United States rallied. Think of that horrible day-- and if anyone told you the following, would you have believed them.
Ten years on:
Osama bin Laden would be dead. His networks in almost every country would be either reduced or in some countries (Indonesia, the Philippines, Chechnya) would be nearly decimated. The Taliban would be largely damaged and if not for a porous, indefensible border with Pakistan, completely sidelined. Afghanistan has a corrupt, but somewhat functional government. Al Qaeda by the end of 2011 faces a structural crippling-- its leaders and financial networks have been largely severed.
Saddam Hussein would be overthrown in a very public invasion and placed on trial by a democratic, somewhat secular government. The new Iraqi government declared war on al Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and at least one prominent member of Parliament suggested an alliance with not only the United States, but Israel (Mithal al-Alusi). Al Qaeda attempted to take over Iraq and instead, an eventual alliance of Arabs, Kurds, Britons, and Americans defeated them in one of the centers of the Arab and Muslim world. Al Qaeda's leader there would be killed and the group which in 2001 called for the end of "American imperialism" there saw its fortune turn sour there with the aid of US servicemen. Iraq served as the very visible defeat of al Qaeda in as a fighting force and an ideology.
Muammar Qaddafi would be overthrown and replaced with a government that wants open relations with Israel. In fact, using the inspiration of the fall of the unsinkable dictator Hussein, there have been revolutions against Arab dictatorships. Iran's own revolution of 2009 and perhaps Syria's of 2011 died from America turning its eyes away. Of course, the revolutions could take a very bad (and Islamist) turn-- but remember that if Syria and Iran fall, there will be no overtly anti-US regimes in the Middle East.
The United States hadn't been hit by a large-scale attack since. American civil rights were not curtailed-- not signed away by a stroke of President Bush's pen. The new intelligence service works so well that there hasn't been a major scandal and there are attacks that have been prevented that we have no inkling of. The worst "crime" of the "Bush regime" in its "shredding of the Constitution" was the waterboarding of three al Qaeda leaders. Americans caught involved with al Qaeda or sting operations have been placed on trial, open for the public.
Overall-- if you told me these things on the morning of September 12, 2001, I wouldn't have believed most of them. It would have also been both surprising and not so that there would be so many blame-America-first, fair weather patriots that claim that this terrible country has suffered more at its own hands than has helped itself over the last decade. For all of the hysterical wailing, information is more free than it was then (think of the proliferation of web media and the amount of false horseshit on so many sites). People that "doubt" the official story of that day are not killed by government agents or "disappear", but are well-known and rarely challenged members of pop culture.
So in many ways, we've won. Al Qaeda is near defeat-- its potential allies are on the ropes. True, the so-called Arab Spring may turn very bad very quickly, but considering, they've failed to incite a pan-Muslim jihad on the West. Instead, in a lot of ways, they've forced the Muslim world to hate them and many in the West to sympathize or make excuses for them (think of all of the Europeans that say that American policy caused their "legitimate grievances").
Despite all of the self-promotion and whining, this country has survived and is in many ways stronger. Bin Laden must have been suffering the last months of his life knowing that he lived long enough to see his vision fail.