September 15, 2023 | FEATURES | By Hannah Smith

At 8:46 a.m. on Sep. 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 hit the World Trade Center’s North tower. United Airlines Flight 175n then hit the South Tower just 17 minutes later, with two other planes crashing in Washington and Pennsylvania within the next hour. 

Although those planes crashed 22 years ago, to many the reverberations of 9/11 are felt just as harrowing today – which is why Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, and Denver Mayor Mike Johnston invited guest speakers such as Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice as part of a 9/11 remembrance in Denver on Sep. 11, 2023.  

Polis and Johnston hosted a commemoration and national security forum at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Denver Performing Arts Center. Rice, the 66th United States Secretary of State, along with former North Atlantic Treaty Organization Supreme Commander Admiral James Stavridis, were moderated by CNN Security Analyst Peter Bergen. They recounted memories and near-death experiences on 9/11 and discussed National Security concerns facing the U.S. today.

Polis and Johnston recognized first responders and civilians who lost their lives on Sep. 11 2001, along with the police, servicemen and firefighters who contributed to rescue and rehabilitation efforts.

“9/11 reminded us what ordinary human beings could do. To respond in the most remarkable and selfless ways,” Polis said in his opening speech.

Starvridis, working in the Pentagon on the day of 9/11, recounted his near-death experience when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed less than a football field from him. According to Starvridis, in his 37 years of intensive military work, that day was the closest he had been to death.

“I was 150 feet from the west side [upon] the strike, I actually glimpsed the airline [crash],” Admiral Starvridis recounted at the event. “I thought, ‘this can’t be happening, everything is going to change.’”

For Rice on the day of the attack, she was evacuated swiftly from the White House into a bunker when the South Tower was hit. According to Rice, the Bush administration had thought the first plane was an accident – they were horrified when the South Tower was also struck down.

“I was handed a note saying that another plane had hit and at that point, I knew it was a terrorist attack,” Rice said at the event. “Over the next few days, every possible threat was on the president’s desk. It was just a blur, every day you think ‘what attack could happen now?’ That consumed us for several years.”

Bergen, Rice and Starvridis segued into a conversation regarding national security, and how 9/11 has heightened U.S. alarm of global national security threats today. Major topics included the threat of Vladimir Putin’s attempted control of Ukraine, the threat of the rise of artificial intelligence and China as a rising hegemonic, global power.

Following 9/11, al-Qaeda was a major threat to our country. As noted by Rice and Starvridis, today it is the countries China and Russia who are among the greatest potential threats to the U.S.

Rice criticized Putin’s leadership, noting that “Putin is surrounded by idiocy, his army has major moral problems.” Knowing Putin personally, describing the Russian President as a “bully” and an “idiot” who is leading Russia “back into the dark ages.”

In regard to China, both Rice and Starvridis believe that China’s rising aggression toward the U.S. and increased relations with Russia – as well as its considerable technological and economic power – mark it as a current threat to the country.

“There is one thing bipartisan in Washington, and that is to be tough on China,” Rice said.

According to Starvridis regarding China, he said “We are in real danger, China is playing a very dangerous game.”

Although Russia, China, and other foreign powers are rising threats to U.S. security on the global stage, both Rice and Starvridis concluded that the largest threat facing the U.S. is the U.S. itself in its intensive, growing political divide.  

“Our biggest challenges are not outside our shores, they are the [partisan] divisions in our country,” Starvridis stated.

Rice mentioned despite unhealthy civil discourse and a widening partisan rift, 9/11 demonstrated the great unity within the U.S.; a unity Rice foresees as possible again in the future.

“What would Benjamin Franklin think of a black woman from Birmingham being sworn in by a Jewish judge, Ruth Bader Ginsburg? He would have never imagined it. Our country is capable of anything,” Rice said, eventually in the U.S. “find[ing] again the kind of confidence that led us to come together.”

Leave a Reply