On the 18th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, Colorado leaders and more than 2,000 community members gathered in downtown Denver to honor those who lost their lives that fateful day, while foreign affairs experts warned about the global threats still facing the United States nearly two decades later.
Gov. Jared Polis and Attorney General Phil Weiser, in partnership with the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab, hosted the “Colorado Remembers 9/11” event Wednesday at the Elli Caulkins Opera House, which featured prayer, military tributes and a moment of silence.
“For all Americans, 9/11 evokes powerful and somber images,” Polis said, “a moment in history when our country, when our world changed forever.”
That world is generally safer than it was on Sept. 12, 2001, a panel of foreign affairs experts said after the tribute. The experts, including former military leaders, ambassadors and members of Congress, cited a nuclear North Korea, an increasingly hostile Iran and a combative Russia as some of the biggest threats still facing the United States.
Christopher Hill, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and a professor at the University of Denver, pointedly criticized President Donald Trump’s administration on foreign policy, specifically regarding the failed negotiations with the Taliban.
“I think we need to be a little more careful,” Hill said, regarding the president handling direct negotiations. “This is not reality TV.”
Gen. Stanley McChrystal led Joint Special Operations Command and later directed all international forces in Afghanistan. He said America is safer today against 9/11-type attacks but that the enemy has morphed into lone-wolf actors who are harder to spot. McChrystal also warned about the rise of authoritarian regimes about the world and the threat of cyber attacks that could crush global banking and security systems.
Hill, who negotiated with North Korea during his time as ambassador to South Korea, said he put nuclear weapons at the top of his worry list.
“I go to bed thinking about them,” he said. “I sometimes wake up thinking about them.”
Ed Royce, former U.S. congressman and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, stressed the need for Congress to play a larger role in foreign policy, adding that allegiances with European allies need to be maintained.
Hill laughed when moderator Tom Sanderson, co-founder of the Transnational Threats Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., asked him about the recent firing of National Security Adviser John Bolton.
“He once called me ‘Kim Jong Hill,’” said Hill, adding that he didn’t think Trump and Bolton were on the same page.
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