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September 9, 2005

A Referendum on Post 9/11 Planning

“These are the times that try men’s souls.” –Thomas Paine

This Sunday will mark four years since the catastrophic attack on our nation, Tuesday, 11 September, 2001. The events of that day seem far removed amid the images of death, human suffering and catastrophic destruction this past two weeks – the result of the most devastating natural disaster in our nation’s history.

Focus, if you will, on the haunting images of four years ago. Through smoke and tears, we beheld that morning’s mayhem, its mass murder, moment by moment. Our memories of that soft September day are crisp. …The New York skyline rendered dark, smudged, forever changed. …The Pentagon, both central to and symbolic of our nation’s military might, broken and smoldering. …A riven green field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a jetliner-turned-missile was drilled into the ground in the first battle of the Long War. …A cross fashioned from the serendipitous fall of WTC girders, where rescuers found brief solace in prayer. … Tattered U.S. flags still flying proudly, defiantly, amid the rubble. …And the grim resolve etched across the faces of firefighters and their countrymen as they turned again and again to dig through the debris.

We now know the details. We now know how survival on 9/11 depended on minutes and inches – and how incalculable loss and unqualified heroism played out together. We now place the death toll in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia at [2,973|].

Between 0846, when the first plane hit the WTC North Tower, and 1028, when it joined the South Tower in a pile of 500,000 tons of steel and concrete – and 225 tons of human remains – we Americans were finally forced to confront the truth: We were at war with a willful and fanatical enemy.

On the morning of 9/11, only the most fringe media and political elements failed to join the national consensus of condemnation for the enemy that undertook this attack. As New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani took command of response and recovery operations in his city, an as-yet untested President George W. Bush embraced his role as Commander in Chief and took measured and appropriate action against our attackers. Additionally, President Bush made the bold but necessary decision to take pre-emptive military action against our enemies, subsequently tagged, “The Bush Doctrine.” He also enacted massive restructuring of government agencies in order both to protect from and respond to future attacks.

Prior to 9/11, Western democracies, particularly those beacons of liberty (the U.S. and our allies), had been engaged in a war for at least two decades with an enemy that was only marginally organized. But by 1998, that enemy had coalesced into a formidable adversary most aptly deemed “Jihadistan” – a borderless nation of Islamic fascists comprising al-Qa'ida and other Islamist terrorist groups.

“Borderless nation”? The “Islamic World” of the Quran recognizes no political borders. Though orthodox Muslims (those who subscribe to the teachings of the “pre-Medina” Quran) do not support acts of terrorism or mass murder, very large sects within the Islamic world subscribe to the “post-Mecca” Quran and Hadiths (Mohammed’s teachings). It is this latter group of death-worshipping sects that calls for jihad, or “holy war,” against all “the enemies of God” (those enemies would include all non-Muslims). They constitute a borderless nation of “holy” warriors – Jihadistan, whose adherents are characterized by the poisonous Wahhabism of Osama bin Laden and his heretical ilk who would remake the Muslim world in their own image of twisted hate and deathly obsession.

Indeed, al-Qa'ida’s murderous leader reminded Americans shortly after 9/11: “We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us.” Until 9/11, the West treated most of Jihadi attacks as isolated acts of terrorism. But in the post-9/11 world, we know the Jihadi threat is part of a worldwide network – including sleeper cells in U.S. suburbs, cells now lying low only because of heightened vigilance and increased domestic law-enforcement pressure.

This week, Yossef Bodansky, former director of the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, issued an analytical report citing a communication between Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and Osama bin Laden in which al-Zarqawi promises a “Great Ramadan Offensive” against the U.S. and our Allies, especially Israel. According to al-Zarqawi, the attacks are to coincide with the observance of the Islamic holy season beginning 4 October.

There are some similarities between 9/11 and the cataclysmic events of the last two weeks. Prior to 9/11, we had been lulled into complacency despite advance warnings, as was the case with Hurricane Katrina. (We Americans seem somehow determined to hold on to those delusions that comfort us most.) In addition, the human suffering and the immediate outreach of the American people have been strikingly similar.

There are major differences. Katrina’s attack on the Gulf Coast took days to unfold, and the death toll may well exceed that of 9/11. Virtually all of New Orleans 1.4 million residents had to evacuate, and most of the city, almost 180 square miles, was swamped by Lake Pontchartrain. There were far fewer refugees – those left only with the shirts on their backs – after 9/11. The cost of hurricane damage and recovery may exceed $200 billion, a price tag far above the recovery costs of 9/11. (For reference, the material losses from Hurricane Andrew in 1992 totaled $12.5 billion.)

Though most of the media and political attention have been focused on hurricane refugees in New Orleans, those who suffered tragic losses elsewhere in the region are far outnumbered by relatives, friends and strangers who have taken them in. These folks have opened their churches, homes and businesses to provide shelter for refugees. They have donated time, material goods, services and money. Thousands of Americans from around the nation – professionals and laborers alike with expertise necessary for recovery efforts – have left their homes and families in order to volunteer their assistance.

Now that the remaining displaced persons have been evacuated from New Orleans, the neediest of them – the elderly and infirm – are being taken in by communities in all Southern states. As each day has passed, the ranks of those stepping forward to help their displaced countrymen have grown exponentially. On top of that, countless millions of Americans from coast to coast are offering daily prayer for victims.

This is the real face of America, but not the face of liberal political leaders and their media trucklings.

Four years ago, responsibility for the devastation of 9/11 was appropriately laid at the feet of Islamist terrorists and their state sponsors, who planned, funded and carried out the attack on our nation. It is, after all, in our nature to identify the offender and seek justice for injustice – to reconcile the account.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, liberal politicians and media pundits are, again, busy seeking justice – but for an act of nature. There is no “enemy,” but they are determined to attach blame for this tragedy on George W. Bush. Their politicization of the human suffering in Katrina’s wake is beneath disgraceful, especially because we know after 9/11 that a unified response to catastrophe is critical to success.

The national response and recovery efforts after Katrina are, in some important respects, a referendum on the effectiveness of post 9/11 homeland-security planning. That having been said, every war strategist knows that the best-laid plans often go in the trash soon after the first shot is fired. In other words, circumstances change so quickly that response has to be fluid – because stubbornly sticking to a plan can get you killed. Likewise, response to a natural disaster must be fluid – because the disaster itself is fluid, and because critical decisions must be made quickly and under duress. Additionally, it is well worth noting that the logistical burden created by Katrina far exceeds that of 9/11: One event destroyed a few city blocks; the other destroyed the coastal communities of two states.

Of course, as this column has noted before, individual preparedness is the front line of national preparedness. Local, state and federal government agencies could not begin to pre-position emergency-relief inventories for every contingency plan across the nation. Government agencies will likely not be able to meet even minimal needs for days or even weeks, depending on the nature of the catastrophe, and only then after the surge of response and recovery efforts is sufficient.

Inevitably, in the Katrina after-action report, serious errors at the local, state and national level of government will be discovered, and emergency plans will be revised accordingly. Indeed, Democrats may get their “inquisition commission,” hoping for colorful headlines protesting “Republican failures” in the upcoming election year, but they had best take care what they ask for, lest they get it. Inquiring too deeply into factual communication, material distribution and evacuation failures after Katrina will likely yield answers that sink Louisiana Democrats – from New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin to Governor Kathleen Blanco. Oh, and if Louisiana voters ever hold Sen. Mary Landrieu accountable for diverting Corps of Engineer funding from NOLA levees to her pet projects, well, she just might need to pack her bags. In the end, if Mayor Giuliani set the standard for local leadership in response to a catastrophe, Louisiana’s leading Democrats were miserably ill-suited to the challenge.

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