9/11, Then and Now
After 9/11, who really believes that domestic terrorism is the greatest threat facing our nation?
I’m writing this column 21 years to the day after the most lethal attack on American soil in our nation’s history.
The day’s TV and news reports keep emphasizing that we must “never forget.” No problem. Who does not remember exactly when and where he or she learned what was happening that hellish day? Untold numbers of Americans watched on live TV as the first World Trade Center tower collapsed into a massive pile of rubble, knowing with certainty that a thousand or more of our citizens had just lost their lives. Twenty minutes later, we saw it happen again as the second tower collapsed.
So no, we will not forget 9/11. We will remember because that day we witnessed pure savagery on a scale that was unimaginable until that moment.
But the more important question is whether we have learned from that horrendous experience. Is our nation today safer than it was in September 2001?
I think not.
My pessimism on that point is rooted in concern that the central lesson of 9/11 seems to have been largely ignored. The 9/11 attack revealed our nation’s vulnerability to immensely harmful assault, one not mounted by a superpower but by a nondescript, seemingly minor player in world events — in that case, by a jihadist sect working from a remote cave in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaida’s attack on America was conceived, planned, and executed with remarkable ease. The perpetrators came to our country, were trained by Americans to fly commercial jets, traveled freely and openly, penetrated security at different airports, aroused no real suspicion — and except for the heroic resistance by passengers on UAL 93, pulled off their four simultaneous strikes without a hitch.
The word “vulnerable” seems wholly inadequate. We were sitting ducks.
The inescapable conclusion from 9/11/2001 is that attacks on our nation can come from unexpected directions in unexpected ways. It follows that in this dangerous new world, effective national defense demands rigorous preparation and constant vigilance in all respects — including but not limited to robust military capability.
Here in 2022, I’d argue that we flunk that standard in at least four distinct areas.
Military might is spotty, at best. On the plus side, our protracted conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have built a cadre of combat-experienced leaders and troops well versed in unconventional warfare. But our exit from Afghanistan was shockingly inept, and there are growing indications of an overly politicized military establishment weighed down with social engineering dictates, CRT training, a purge of “extremists,” and the like. Approximately 100,000 service members have been separated from the Armed Forces for unwillingness to undergo COVID vaccination, despite legitimate concerns and relatively modest benefit. Recruitment has fallen dramatically over the past year.
It is not clear how much of our military’s current ills are driven by political pressure from civilian overlords. But what is clear is that with winds of war gathering in Northern Europe and in the Western Pacific, we now rely on our military more than ever. We’d best get back to basics, ASAP.
Immigration and border security are huge issues of national security. In one morning in 2001, just 19 intruders managed to kill almost 3,000 Americans. In the first two years of the current administration, there have been anywhere from two to five million illegal entrants into the USA. Who are they? Where are they? Why did they come here? Surely, the overwhelming majority are simply seeking better lives. But just as surely, our porous southern border is an open invitation to terrorist intrusion.
Energy is another hugely important defense issue. Look no further than what’s happening in Western Europe today: Germany’s dependence on Russian oil and gas is crippling its economy and undermining its resolve to oppose Russia'a invasion of Ukraine.
In a dangerous and uncertain world, energy independence is imperative. We cannot protect our nation unless we can keep it running with our own fuel, power, and energy resources.
Leadership. Undermining all is that we are saddled with an administration that is more attentive to politics than to national security. In 9/11 commemoration events this week, both our president and vice president pushed the nonsensical narrative that our nation is somehow at greater risk from domestic terrorists (i.e., “white supremacists,” “insurrectionists,” “MAGA Republicans”) than from a world full of adversaries who hate America and everything it stands for.
That preposterous notion may pick up a few votes in this November’s midterm elections, but it exposes an American leadership that is willfully blind to global realities. Wake up, America, or we’re due for another rude awakening.
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