Twenty-two years ago, I walked out of the Marriott Hotel abutting the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The North Tower was already on fire. The plenary session of NABE (National Association for Business Economics) had abruptly stopped its breakfast meeting and was rapidly exiting the building onto Liberty Street. Many of my colleagues have told their stories of that morning many times. I have, too, in college forums and church gatherings and public speeches and university ceremonies. Even after the passage of 22 years, 9/11, for some of us, remains an intensely remembered experience.
Each year, my personal reflection changes. It has morphed from telling my personal story to absorbing the shock to honoring the deceased victims to supporting the firefighters who tried to save lives (and lost theirs) to broadening the support for all those in the United States who do emergency rescue work and are collectively known as the “first responders.” It now encompasses appreciating the citizens who haven’t forgotten 9/11 and applauding the historians who analyze the causes and effects of this attack on America that cost more than 3000 lives.
In the aftermath of 9/11, the US engaged in military activity and hunted down the perpetrators, including their leader, Osama Bin Laden. There were 400 on that perpetrator list, according to some historians. All were targeted. Who administered that justice? The American military forces, consisting of volunteers who have joined the different branches of the armed services to serve our country.
Now, that cohort of over a million active in service and many millions who have served their country in uniform is being disparaged and disserved by a single US senator who purports to be a senator from Alabama even though he lives in Florida. His name is Tommy Tuberville.
In my opinion, he is a shameful example of a politician in the worst form. He cannot get his residency right. He cannot get his policy right.
Why do I say that?
He is singlehandedly holding up the Senate confirmations of 300 leaders serving in our armed forces. And he is doing that for a personal political culture-war point that has nothing to do with the capability or qualifications of these 300 officers to help lead the military of the United States. This issue has been discussed widely in the press. Tuberville’s response is now to attack the military on certain television stations where he thinks doing so will help him gain support. I, for one, abhor such attacks.
How serious is the problem? Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro summed up the situation this way last week, in an interview on CNN: “I would have never imagined that … one of our own senators would actually be aiding and abetting communists and other autocratic regimes around the world.” Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall characterized the “significant damage to our national security”: “Our potential adversaries are paying attention to this…. It is affecting how they view the United States and our military capabilities and support for the military.” (“In an exclusive interview, secretaries of the U.S. Navy, U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force join The Lead to condemn Sen. Tommy Tuberville's hold on military nominations,” https://www.cnn.com/videos/tv/2023/09/05/the-lead-army-navy-air-force-secretaries.cnn)
Here we are in the 22nd anniversary year of the most recent large-scale attack on the United States. Our response was effective because of the skill and dedication of our all-volunteer U.S. armed forces. We now fly with little concern that our planes will be hijacked; and our biggest complaint is about the length of the lines at TSA. We don’t complain about foreign terrorist threats launched against us domestically – except for the home-grown versions. Many forget the 3000 American dead on 9/11. We take the US military for granted. And we tolerate this foolish senator, who, in my opinion, is a disgrace.
Will the US Senate have the courage to amend the single rule currently enabling Tuberville’s “hold” on these confirmations? The process wasn’t designed to stop the confirmations of 300 generals and admirals; it was designed to extend a senatorial courtesy to a single senator for a short time so that the senator could get back to Washington and vote on an issue. For many years, the “hold” was respected by Democrats and Republicans alike.
Tuberville has made a mockery of that courtesy and offended millions of veterans. I’m one of them. He forgets the lessons learned in the 22 years since the attack on America’s Twin Towers and Pentagon and the foiled attack that ended in a Pennsylvania field. And he disrespects the American lives lost on that tragic day.
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