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One attack was enough

Matt Zalaznick

The political jeering Democrats have directed toward President Bush for sitting in a Florida classroom reading “My Pet Goat” for several minutes after the attack on the World Trade Center smothers any true debate about what America should have learned from Sept. 11. In the same way, the president’s relentless invocations of that terrible day and his subsequent visit to Ground Zero do nothing to support the critical work that has to be done to prevent a second major attack. Because the blame goes beyond the Bush administration, which did not have a lot of time to do anything about a plot that was well on its way to execution on Inauguration Day 2001. The blame goes beyond the Clinton administration, which, though it had eight years and launched a handful of cruise missiles at Osama bin Laden, probably lost the political flexibility to send U.S. troops into harm’s way in Afghanistan to Monica Lewinsky and Kenneth Starr. Perhaps neither administration, without a Sept. 11, could have mobilized the support of the world to smoke the Taliban and al-Qaida out of their holes. But then neither administration retaliated for the murder of American sailors on the U.S.S. Cole, an act of war by any standard. The blame goes beyond Bush’s father and beyond Reagan, who didn’t launch a sustained military response to the deaths of more than 200 U.S. Marines’ in their barracks in Beirut. Perhaps that was the time to invade Iran, Libya or Syria. The blame could go all the way back to the allies who, after World War I, haphazardly redrew the map of the Middle East with the geopolitical precision of an Etch-A-Sketch. The 9/11 Commission’s final report found vast failures across a government bureaucracy that seemed better organized not to uncover the vicious suicide-hijacking plot hatched by Khalid Sheik Muhammad. There were failures of policy that dissuaded various law enforcement and intelligence agencies from sharing information that may have put authorities on the flight-training trail of at least a few of the Sept. 11 hijackers and their backers. There were failures of management that didn’t encourage the exchange of information that could and should have been shared. There were failures of imagination that, although a few in government had envisioned planes being flown into Americans buildings, continued to try to defeat attacks that already had happened, such as the planting of a bomb on Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Many of those whose responsibility it was to protect the homeland also assumed terrorists would hijacked a plane to negotiate the released of imprisoned comrades. Allowing the focus on stopping another 19 fanatics with box cutters to obscure the ability to envision and thus defeat the next nefarious plot would be the true failure of the American people and succeeding administrations after Sept. 11.Allowing outdated, government regulations and institutional turf wars to stifle the exchange of intelligence and tactics would be a true failure. Allowing any allies to prevent the U.S. military from taking necessary action to eliminate terrorist regimes would be a true failure. And allowing repression and poverty in vast swathes of the Middle East to breed more young men willing to die to terrify, intimate and annihilate thousands of Americans would be a true failure. Thousands have died in terrorist attacks since 2001. The United States has not been attacked for three years now, but three years in a jihad bent on wiping out the progress of Western civilization isn’t very long. Undoubtably there are plots afoot now. Whether Bush is re-elected or Kerry replaces him, neither would be forgiven for a second major attack on American soil. Vail, Colorado


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