December 19, 2003

Freedom Tower Update The plans

Freedom Tower Update

The plans are coming together.

"At a news conference to unveil the design, Childs said the tower must be "simple and pure in its form, a memorable form that will reclaim the resilience and the spirit of our democracy."

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the tower -- to be the world's tallest -- would "dramatically reclaim a part of the New York City skyline that was lost on 9-11."

You know, I was in a taxi a few weeks back in Geneva speaking in French to a cabbie. The guy asked me what the plans were for Ground Zero when he heard I was from New York.

I basically told him that, the concept was being finalized, but that the building, when complete, would be the tallest in the world. This wasn't said in triumphalist tone. I said it in matter of fact fashion.

His reaction was quite telling. And quite revelatory of pretty common European attitudes about the American hyperpuissance.

Basically, I got the rolled eyes and "they'll never learn" vibe. The primitives have to, arrogantly, erect another big tower downtown.

You could tell, if those were ever to go down too, he'd be saying "I told you so." And that he wouldn't be too unhappy about it either.

These types of sentiments don't exist because we didn't have UNSC unanimity during the last go-arounds over Iraq at the United Nations. Or because of Kyoto or the ICC.

There are much deeper emotions at play. Mixtures of fear, resentment and envy in the face of the American behemoth.

To be sure, we should communicate our aims better in the New Year (particularly that we haven't embarked upon a revolutionary usurpation of the Achesonian post-war order, ie, the Krugman meme).

We need to reassure the world, in effect, that we remain multilateralist precisely because of 9/11. That, post 9/11, we are all multilateralists.

We need the cooperation of other countries to do the financial detective work, to share the intelligence on al-Qaeda, to ensure cohesive security risk mitigation measures are taking place across borders in coordinated fashion.

But what this European cab driver, and the many like him, don't get is simple: 9/11 was an epoch-making event. It heralded a new form of apocalyptic terror. It's not about ETA car bombs or the IRA blowing up hotels. It's a whole new degree of terror--particularly when one considers the prospects of WMD-use in future terror attacks.

So the Europeans need to meet us halfway on this too--if we are to move forward together in multilateral fashion and patch up the Iraq fracas and assorted ill feelings.

They have to emerge, pace Kagan, from their Kantian dreamscape of perpetual peace and honestly engage in a real tour d'horizon of the post 9/11 state of the world.

And if that doesn't happen--it should be made clear too that the U.S. won't succumb to meekness and cowardice because of ill-founded antipathy or irrational fears re: our objectives abroad. We will continue to protect our vital national security interests as we rationally perceive them (and, on that score, we should be careful to, going forward, not risk charges of hyping intelligence again).

And yes, we're going to build those towers even higher this time. And, especially for someone getting on a flight heading home to NYC tonight, that feels good. Real good.

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