Each Sept. 11 for the past dozen years since the fateful day of 2001, we ask ourselves the same question: Are we safer now than we were then?
It’s a trick question of sorts because there is no way to really know until another attack either occurs or is prevented by measures put in place to do so.
And “safe” is a relative term anyway. What constitutes a successful or unsuccessful terrorist incursion? Only a few casualties? Only a mild uptick in our national angst, or a small blip in the financial markets?
All of that was easy to gauge after 9/11. Wall Street shut down for nearly a week and crashed hard when it reopened. Airlines were grounded for several days. Business in New York and Washington ground to a halt in a nation, and a world, in deep shock.
And yes, more than 3,000 lives were lost.
Yet it is not the killings themselves terrorists value most, though they clearly don’t respect life at all. Their greater goal is the debilitating effect their violent acts have on the living. These barbarians are bent on returning society to the dark ages to fit their twisted vision of faith, so any disruption they can cause in the normal flow of commerce and our daily lives is a win for them.
It’s not hard to imagine the followers of Osama bin Laden celebrating the impact of his handiwork years ago as the “infidels” they sought to disrupt created new cabinet departments and began frisking all air travelers, security measures that continue to this day.
Now, 13 years later, we face a new threat, much less clandestine than the hijackers who crashed U.S. passenger jets into the World Trade Centers, Pentagon and a Pennsylvania field. Rather than sneaking aboard planes with phony IDs, these brazen jihadists are waging open war throughout Syria and Iraq, overrunning cities and killing captured American journalists, then posting video of their murders on the Internet.
If al-Qaida is the furtive face of terror sneaking around in the shadows, the Islamic State is that same grim specter standing in the spotlight and daring us to stop it.
Can we? Yes. But will we?
President Barack Obama ordered airstrikes against the Islamic State forces last month, which slowed its advance in Iraq and freed some captured residents. The terror group’s leaders vowed revenge and promised to attack the U.S. on our own soil, as their predecessors did in 2001.
So far, the American public’s response has been horror, but not on the scale seen on 9/11. Perhaps the last dozen years have thickened our hides to the dangers that still lurk. If our world was seen as innocent on Sept. 10, 2001, and our guard down, that surely isn’t the case today.
It’s nonetheless maddening to many that the president has seemingly failed to channel the nation’s outrage at the Islamic State’s grisly displays. Said the president: “Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget ... that our reach is long and that justice will be served.”
These aren’t just criminals who broke a law; they are enemy combatants, and should be treated as such: Without mercy.
His predecessor, George W. Bush, more ably tapped into the country’s collective mood after the 9/11 attacks and rallied the nation to respond. Recently, Vice President Joe Biden, often a punch line on late night TV, delivered a more impassioned and appropriate response than his boss when he said the U.S. would pursue the killers “to the gates of hell. ... As a nation, we are united, and when people harm Americans, we don’t retreat, we don’t forget.”
Obama’s sanguine approach may be calming at times but he seems out of touch, especially coupled with his inaction and admitted lack of strategy over this and other threats to global peace.
He can’t blame the other party for getting in his way this time. Friday, GOP leaders in Congress proposed to bill that would authorize the president to take further military action in the region as needed, so there is no partisan divide on this issue.
Some slammed Obama for taking his August vacation during the bloodshed, a criticism most presidents face when they take a break. In reality, the White House follows the president wherever he travels, even on the golf course. His vacation only became an issue because of his slow response and unclear objectives over the civil war in Syria, to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Israel’s battle with Gaza and now renewed threats in Iraq.
It points out why voters should consider a specific skill set when electing the next president. In the past six elections, Americans have chosen or re-elected presidents who came into office with little or no foreign policy experience. Yet handling world affairs and national security is perhaps the most important part of the job. Whatever economic or domestic challenges a president may face, keeping the world from bursting into flames by taking on long-term threats should be Job No. 1 for any commander in chief.
Now the safer world we seek seems to be headed in the other direction. The U.S. can either stick its head in a sand trap or take bolder action to stop terrorist groups at the source, rob them of funding and weapons and defang them before they can carry out their sinister plots here or elsewhere.
It’s not about vengeance. It’s about ridding the world of a dangerous scourge that, despite more than a decade of warfare in the Middle East following the 2001 attacks, refuses to climb back into its cave and stay there.