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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Legacy of 9/11 Zeitgeist

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In all the justifiable rage that swept America in the days after Sept. 11, 2001, we made some bad decisions. Two years later, they remain with us, like hangovers so miserable they demand we just keep drinking.

Consider the Sept. 28, 2001, op-ed column "Talk Later," in which The New York Times foreign affairs expert Thomas Friedman enthused about having President Vladimir Putin on America's side in the "war on terror" -- because now we could enlist the Russian mafia.

"If Osama bin Laden were hiding in the jungles of Colombia instead of Afghanistan, whose help would we enlist to find him? U.S. Army Special Forces? The Colombian Army? I don't think so," Friedman wrote.

"Actually, we would enlist the drug cartels. They have the three attributes we need: They know how to operate as a covert network and how to root out a competing network, such as Mr. bin Laden's. They can be bought and know how to buy others. And they understand that when we say we want someone 'dead or alive,' we mean 'dead or dead.'

"The Cali cartel doesn't operate in Afghanistan. But the Russian mafia sure does ... Something tells me Mr. Putin, the Russian president and former KGB spymaster, has the phone number of the guy in the Russian mafia who knows the guy in the Afghan cartels who knows the guy who knows the guy who knows where Mr. bin Laden is hiding."

How clever. Never mind that Putin and his Rolodex have for years been unable to find the guy who can find the guy who can find anything in Chechnya -- a patch of mud and mountains 1/33rd the size of Afghanistan.

Instead, all Putin & Co. could ever think to do was bomb, kill, bomb, kill, indiscriminately, boastfully, combatants and civilians, women and children, without one hesitant tremor of conscience.

So yes, Putin does understand that "dead or dead" can be an emotionally satisfying cry, even if "dead or alive" is smarter. What he doesn't get is this: When you, a foreign invader, kill a man's wife or rape his children, that man is ready to return the favor.

But never mind. In the "kill, kill" days of September 2001, Putin suddenly looked prescient.

Germany's Gerhard Schr?der called for "a new evaluation" of the Chechen war. Italy's Silvio Berlusconi argued, "Europe must reconstitute itself on the basis of its Christian roots. Europe must be convinced that Russia is a peaceful country."

(Translation: All the Christians must take a collective leap of faith and "be convinced" that Russia, elbow-deep in the blood of thousands, is peaceful -- because it's only killing Muslims, more or less, except for all the ethnic Russians also being killed, but what's the difference once the head's blown off? At least they're killing people.)

"We need to be really focused, really serious and just a little bit crazy," Friedman wrote. "I don't mean we should indiscriminately kill people, especially innocent Afghans" -- Heavens to Betsy, no! -- "[but] people have to see that we are focused, serious and ready to use whatever tactics will make the terrorists feel bad, not make us feel good."

It was that sort of time, when it made sense to argue we should all agree -- now -- that we unreservedly support any future military action regardless of its morality or utility.

Onward Christian soldiers! To Baghdad!

Matt Bivens, a former editor of The Moscow Times, covered the first war in Chechnya for the Los Angeles Times.