It was only a month after 9/11 that the Enron scandal erupted, kicking off a larger narrative that would persist for the rest of the decade. The Houston energy company was a corporate Ponzi scheme that anticipated the antics at financial institutions, mortgage mills, and credit-rating agencies during the subprime scam. Enron had also been the biggest patron of Bush’s political career, and so the president dutifully promised a crackdown, with a new “financial crimes SWAT team” and “tough new criminal penalties for corporate fraud.” But this propaganda campaign was no more reality-based than the one that would promote Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. Once the Enron collapse became old news, federal regulatory agencies and law enforcement were encouraged to go fishing as the housing bubble inflated and banks manufactured toxic paper that would send America and the world into a ruinous dive rivaling bin Laden’s cruelest fantasies.
It is that America—the country where rampaging greed usurped the common good in wartime, the country that crashed just as Bush fled the White House—that we live in today. It has little or no resemblance to the generous and heroic America we glimpsed on 9/11 and the days that followed. Our economy and our politics are broken. We remain in hock to jihadist oil producers as well as to China. Our longest war stretches into an infinite horizon. After watching huge expenditures of American blood and treasure install an Iran-allied “democracy” in a still-fratricidal Iraq, Americans have understandably resumed their holiday from history where it left off, turning their backs on the Arab Spring.
Thanks to the killing of the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks and the scattering of Al Qaeda, at least no one can say, ten years later, that the terrorists won. But if there’s anything certain about the new decade ahead, it’s that sooner or later we will have to address the question of exactly who did.