I will next argue, as I have a few times before, that our natural human understanding of the narrative of history biases us toward the belief that the world would be pretty much the same if we changed one thing, except for that one thing. We may not hold that as a theory – we may even say the opposite is more likely and the chaos of events very unpredictable. But we were not attacked, except some small incidents we got control of, so we tend to think that is pretty much how events would have unfolded. It is a natural blindness, because we have no story to fasten on that shows us what the attacks would be. How can you remember what didn’t happen? What did happen once takes on an enormous impression of inevitability that isn’t real.
I argued with my brother that worse things might have happened in the Middle East. He was aghast, thought what I was saying was insane denial. How could it be worse? Two expensive wars, American soldiers dead, countries hating us.
I don’t laugh at his POV, I think I understand it and feel it pretty strongly myself. But I also think it is a dangerous illusion that must be fought against, not an indicator of reality. This is the Middle East, after all, where amazingly bad things can get even worse quickly. That each possible scenario we can imagine is unlikely in itself does not mean that in aggregate, worse things couldn’t have happened.
Let me pause here to acknowledge that they might have been bad things that we chose to have nothing to do with, or bad things that could be more easily solved by bombing the crap out of a particular capital or port and calling it a day, or any number of other cheaper, possibly better solutions. This is in no way a positive argument that either war was the best idea – only an argument that the consensus complaint is not persuasive; and that some action which seriously discouraged an escalating trend of violence against us had to be enacted. War does that pretty well. Even badly fought, not-really-worth-it wars can do that.