More Than a Memorial Day

Why we should demand more from the political class on the anniversary of 9/11.

Twin_Towers-NYCSeptember 11 is more than a memorial day for the thousands who perished, including a friend of this writer, a passenger on American Airlines flight 77, the Pentagon plane. Potential victims might also observe what has not happened on September 11 in the following 12 years.

Given the magnitude of the attacks, American leaders would have been justified in using the anniversary to launch major strikes on terrorists and their national sponsors, a target-rich environment. While the United States held back, terrorists did not hesitate to exploit the anniversary of their greatest victory.

During 2012 Islamists prepared an attack on U.S. diplomats in Libya, where the United States had helped overthrow Muammar Qaddafi. The terrorists cleverly front-loaded a story that this was all part of widespread protests against an Internet movie trailer about Mohammed. On September 11, 2012, the Islamists attacked the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, killing four Americans, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.

No U.S. forces rushed to the rescue or mounted a retaliatory attack. Beyond that abandonment, the President of the United States, Barack Obama, the most powerful man in the world, and his entire administration, parroted the propaganda about a movie protest. Only later, when the evidence could not be denied, did the administration concede that terrorism was involved.

No president had ever done anything remotely comparable, and it emboldened terrorists worldwide. That’s why terrorists, and terrorist states such as Iran, can be expected to strike hard while this man remains in power. As Rudolf Giuliani, major of New York during 9/11, noted in recent testimony, “you can’t fight an enemy you don’t acknowledge.” For Obama, the problem does not stem from Islam but “Islamophobia,” i.e. anything that is less than worshipful of the stereotype that Islam is a “religion of peace.”

That’s why the nation stands in more peril now than it did on September 11, 2001. But potential victims should not forget the troubling realities that made the original attack possible. Consider, for example, the ease of entry for terrorists.

Not a single one of the perpetrators, Saudi nationals, should have been admitted to the United States. Aside from red flags about their backgrounds, their visa applications were “incomplete and often incomprehensible.” But 15 got their U.S. visas, including Mohamed Atta, who listed his U.S. destination as “Hotel.” Once stateside, Atta and others moved on to flight school, skipping the classes on landing.

As Lawrence Wright observed in The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, U.S. officials knew something was afoot but bureaucracies such as the CIA and FBI, always protective of their own turf, were not talking to each other. The U.S. military was not prepared to deal with attackers using commercial aircraft, and had no rules of engagement. So the terrorists were able to pull off the biggest aerial attack on the United States since Pearl Harbor. Only the heroism of passengers aboard United Airlines flight 93 prevented a direct hit on the White House or Capitol building.

The United States later made some headway against the Taliban, but did not close the deal on Bin Laden, who escaped to Pakistan. The American focus then shifted from Afghanistan to Iraq, and terrorists could not help but notice that the domestic response was highly bureaucratic.

The nation created the Department of Homeland Security, a massive new federal agency. The federal government also deployed the Transportation Security Administration, an army of new federal employees, to shake down citizens at airports and transportation hubs. Government became bigger, clumsier and more expensive, and life more unpleasant for ordinary citizens – though not necessarily more secure. The TSA could not prevent shoe and underwear bombers from boarding flights, and it was only a matter of luck that they did not succeed.

U.S. borders remain porous, and criminals land boats with human cargo on California’s central coast with the greatest of ease. And in some ways the nation is still holding the door open. The Tsarnaev brothers, for example, found it easy to gain asylum in the United States, despite warnings from Russian intelligence. For its part, the massive 16-agency U.S. “intelligence community,” with a budget of some $50 billion, could not prevent the Boston Marathon attacks.

U.S. intelligence was aware that Maj. Nidal Hasan, an open jihadist, was emailing terrorist capo Anwar al-Awlaki about killing American soldiers. But U.S. officials did nothing to prevent Hasan from killing 13 at Fort Hood, more victims than the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993. The government called this “workplace violence,” which as Rudy Giuliani testified is both preposterous and dangerous.

Absurd denial, government obesity, bureaucratic bungling and blatant passivity all make for conditions more dangerous than 2001. Those who want to be the next president should start charting the changes they would make. Whoever gains the White House in 2016 should consider making every September 11 a more pro-active day.

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