by Austin Bay
September 10, 2003
Al Qaeda's war on America didn't start Sept. 11, 2001. However,9-11 was the day Al Qaeda's gangsters escalated their unholy jihad bycommitting mass murder in the land of the free.
Prior to 9-11, America did its usual thing. No, America wasn'tasleep, not exactly. America has more eyes and ears and brains probing andpuzzling over the planet than any other nation or organization. Information,however, does not automatically translate into an accurate understanding ofa clever enemy's plans, much less effective counteraction.
America wasn't asleep, but it was hampered by our wonderfulweaknesses. Americans don't want to be distracted from their pursuit ofhappiness. The American government is designed to react slowly. Americaseparates more than legislative, judicial and executive powers. America cutsand dices its intelligence and police forces so power is diminished.Civilian control, congressional finagling and good old bureaucratic inertiakeep the military domesticated. President George Bush's request last Sundayfor more cash to support Iraq is this system at work. Congress has thepurse. Despite the fevered prattle of conspiracy theorists, the say-so of afew doesn't take America to war and certainly doesn't keep it there.
1993's World Trade Center attack failed to sell the Americanpublic on fighting terrorism. In 1998, Bill Clinton, reacting to Al Qaeda'sdestruction of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, declared war on terror.
Clinton's "war" fizzled. Osama bin Laden, however, meant itwhen, on Feb. 23, 1998, he declared, "We -- with God's help -- call on everyMuslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God'sorder to kill the Americans and plunder their money. ..."
After perusing Congress' joint inquiry on 9-11 (852 pages inlength), I conclude the Clinton administration did put new emphasis oncounter-terror. That's a plus. It also appears that "new emphasis" was notsustained by either executive or congressional leadership. That's adevastating minus.
On the second anniversary of 9-11, let me examine what I wrotewell before the horror, when something could have been done to prevent it.In a column penned after Clinton's declaration (The San AntonioExpress-News, Aug. 27, 1998), I wrote: "The war against international terroris one of the toughest America has ever faced. ... Combating TerrorInternational is not the most threatening conflict in terms of nationalsurvival. No, it is not a war that -- as did the first days after PearlHarbor or even Iraq's attack on Kuwait -- requires decisive leadership in arapidly developing global crisis."
Sept. 11 says I got that wrong. I did consider terrorist nukes.I helped wargame a "suicide Cessna" nuclear attack in the late 1980s, butfrankly, the scenario smacked of Hollywood depravity, not defense planningguidance. We did not see the audacity of 9-11 linked to the cult ofmartyrdom. The audacity of slamming jets into skyscrapers, Al Qaeda'swell-conceived network operation, and the proliferation of nuclear andchemical weapons changed my evaluation, to make combating terror the mostimportant conflict. Sept. 11 was a window on the next escalation, a nuclearholocaust.
But here's the next paragraph from 1998: "War against terrordoes require leadership that is consistent, resolute, persevering,relentless and personally courageous. A counter-terror war, waged againstcalculating radicals such as Osama bin Laden, requires forceful and steadydiplomacy. Such a war will play out in the globe's cruelest shadows, wheretargets are poorly defined, immediate goals fuzzy and mistakes a nearcertainty."
Sept. 11 and subsequent events say that is, unfortunately, quiteright. This is also right: Sept. 11, 2001, was gut-check time. Sept. 11,2003, is also gut-check time. For everyone who values liberty, the pursuitof victory must continue to supersede the pursuit of happiness.
The "quagmirists" kvetching about Iraq's hard scrabble stillfail to appreciate the threat that emerged in 1993's World Trade Centerbombing then killed again in 1998 and 2000 (USS Cole), and on 9-11.
A "new Iraq" will dramatically improve the lives of millions inthe Middle East and seed peace. To defeat Al Qaeda and lay the groundworkfor 21st century peace requires the American people to persevere.