Mark Danner

Taking Stock of the Forever War

Multiple Authors

Mark Danner’s article was brilliant, devastating (Sept. 11). It reminded me of several great articles in the 60’s and 70’s that had national implications. I hope this does also.


It was one thing to run an article about Osama bin Laden; it was quite another to put his picture on the cover of your magazine on the fourth anniversary of the day our country was attacked and thousands of lives were lost and millions changed forever. This man is the essence of evil, and the picture was almost Christ-like, suggesting that he is the victor. I shuddered to think that the wives and children of my friends who lost their lives that day will have to see that picture on their kitchen tables.


Danner provided scathing criticism of the U.S. attempt to fight the war on terror and its prosecution of the war in Iraq. But he never said how the Bush administration should have conducted itself after 9/11, except to give the reader a vague, isolationist sense that the United States ought to have closed up shop and avoided falling into bin Laden’s trap.

As long as the left continues to offer only criticism of the Bush administration’s actions (and there is much to criticize, as Danner proved), teh neoconservative stranglehold over the war of ideas about how America should conduct its 21st-century foreign policy will continue.

AARON FAUST, Cambridge, Mass.

Danner’s article was thought-provoking. Pakistan’s backing of Taliban and Qaeda remnants in Pakistan and Afghanistan has profound significance for the war on terror. Pakistan’s implicit complicity in letting bin Laden operate from an unknown hideout and the 51 percent approval rating of bin Laden among Pakistan’s masses have serious political and strategic ramifications for the broader Middle East. Qaeda-inspired Islamist groups are potential future claimants to power in Saudi Arabia, the land of the two holiest Muslim cities, Mecca and Medina. If these Qaeda-affiliated political groups come to power in Saudi Arabia, they will be beholden to Pakistan’s energy-poor and nuclear-rich military. Imagine the reach of bin Ladenism in such a situation: it is probably the worst-case scenario for the free world.

ARUN KHANA, Indianapolis

The whole word empathized with the United States on Sept. 11, 2001; good will toward America was at its zenith in the weeks following the attacks. But U.S. credibility evaporated when we launched a war of choice against Iraq, diverting attention, resources and troops from Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden. Unlike bin Laden and his imitators, American recruitment officers are having trouble meeting their quotas of new recruits. American youths are not soft or unwilling to fight, but perhaps they are unwilling to die for nonexistent weapons of mass destruction, domino theory, war profiteers, a neoliberal free-market economy in Iraq, Israel, oil, and empire.

Danner asks if bin Laden is winning. The questions should be, what exactly are we fighting for?

S. JAFAR, Greenwich, Conn.

While I greatly respect Mark Danner’s thorough analysis, I’d like to point out that many soldiers and marines returning from Iraq are positive about the difference they are making and the support among the average people there. Not all, but an overwhelming majority of the vets I’ve spoken to or read online have much to say, with specifics, about the desire for democracy on a very local, basic level. The sense is not quite parades and flowers, but still a recollection of much appreciation and support, punctuated by some very bad guys (often from out of the country) with bombs.

JEFF GILL, Granville, Ohio

In his long list of cities afflicted by terrorist attacks since 9/11, Danner curiously mentions no Israeli cities, like Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. On the other hand, he labels Manachem Begin as someone who “used terror with great success,” noting that Begin’s Irgun bombed the King David Hotel, killing 91 people, “most of them civilians.” For the record, the King David was serving primarily as the command center of the British Mandatory Government in Israel. The Irgun alerted the British authorities to the pending explosion and urged that the building be evacuated.

YAACOV M. GROSS, Lawrence, N.Y.

Like Mark Danner, I remember the feeling of ”unimaginability” immediately after Sept. 11. After Katrina, however, the loss of the towers and 3,000 people that day is not the same tragedy it was. However uncomfortable it may make some feel, the hurricane connects us to the rest of the world (we have become the third world and refugees), whereas Sept. 11 isolated us. What seems unimaginable now about 9/11 is not the carnage, the shock and the enormous destruction of that day, but only our response.This ”forever war” was not inevitable. It was a terrible, terrible choice.

MARY MURRELL, Oakland, Calif.



Danner’s fundamental premise – that the Bush administration’s war on terror has only provided a huge public-relations-cum-recruiting bonanza for Islamic terrorists – is contradicted by a recently released Pew Global Attitudes Project survey that found that “support for terrorism, including suicide bombings, has declined substantially in several Muslim countries in the past two years…including Turkey, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Morocco” (The New York Times, July 15, 2005).



That was a brave choice to use Mark Danner’s article as your cover article on Sept. 11. It was exhilarating to read something so clearheaded and unsentimental on the anniversary. But you are making consistently brave decisions at the magazine. And you are combining courage with rigor: Peter Maass’s article on oil comes to mind, and Jeffrey Rosen’s about the next set of questions the Supreme Court will face. These articles, and Danner’s, share a boldness, a willingness to imagine the future not purely as a continuation of the present. Bravo!

CHARLIE VARON, San Francisco