Staying Vigilant Eight Years Later
Wednesday - September 16, 2009
I pen this column on 9-9-09, two days before the eighth anniversary of 9-11-01, the day of the radical Islamic terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. Our secretary, who habitually arose earlier than we in order to get kids off to school, called us around 6:30 that morning: “Jerry, are you guys watching TV?”
“No, we’re not even up yet.”
“There’s some really bad s-t goin’ on! You better check it out. I may be late getting in this morning.”
We immediately switched on the bedroom TV bringing the Trade Center inferno right into the room. It took close to an hour or so to digest the commentary and images flashing into the room, from the replays of commercial airliners slicing into skyscrapers, towers crumbling down in dense clouds of smoke and dust only a couple of blocks from Wall Street, to the flaming gash in the south side of the “E Ring” of the Pentagon, and the tense radar tracking of UA flight 93’s turn back toward its still unknown target in Washington, D.C., and to really fathom what we were seeing.
Although we have other TV options in the house, we hardly left the bedroom that morning, as if missing the next calamitous event in real time would be unforgivable. By noon, surrounded by empty coffee mugs and messy cereal bowls, the reality of the thousands of casualties began to sink in. Simply stated, this changed everything.
I’m sure my immediate thoughts that day were much the same as yours: about the ramifications of this event for our family, our children and grandchildren. How would it change our daily lives, our economy? What if the terrorists had had nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction? If they could pull this off, how long before something even more horrendous? How do we stop them? How do we fight them? We felt naked.
As we began to learn more about our attackers and their motives, the conclusions were not comforting. How do we fight an enemy who loves death more than life? How do we fight a fanatical enemy on a single-minded, uncompromising mission: to convert us to Islam or to kill us? No negotiation.
Well, we did figure it out and took action. Early intelligence failures notwithstanding, we scoped out al Qaida, their MO, their leadership and their location in Afghanistan hosted by the Taliban. When the Taliban refused to turn over al Qaida leadership to us, we mobilized our military - much of it still in the Middle East from the earlier Gulf War - unilaterally invaded Afghanistan, driving both al Qaida and the Taliban deep into the mountains on the Pakistani border, at the same time liberating mostly grateful Afghans from the brutal repression of the Taliban’s Sharia law.
We passed the Patriot Act, instituting domestic security policies that were both constitutional and effective. We have thwarted more potential domestic terrorist plots in their nas-cent stages than we are able to know. Presently, as an effective terrorist organization, al Qaida and Osama bin Laden are impotent. Yes, there are still problems with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but they are solvable, just as they turned out to be solvable in Iraq.
That we have not suffered another major 9-11-01 scale attack these past eight years is directly attributable to the fact that we have fought fanatical Islamic terrorism tactically (short term) and strategically (long term) here at home, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. Yes, we’ve made many mistakes and probably spent more money than was necessary, but at least we have ultimately erred on the safe side. Our military men and women have performed everything that has been asked of them - superbly! To borrow the words of Winston Churchill in his praise of the RAF’s defense of England in World War II: “Never have so many owed so much to so few!”
The day after 9-11-01 I wrote, “The only way we may be able to measure victory in this new kind of asymmetrical warfare is by the lengths of time between such attacks.” By that criteria - and I can’t think of any other - we have been successful.
But this is a war without an end, in the classical sense of a defining victory or defeat. We must remain vigilant that our successful strategy is not diluted or undone by new leadership simply in the name of “change”; change we cannot live with.
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