Hard to believe it's been 10 years.
Let me start out by saying that my thoughts and prayers are with the thousands of people who still mourn the loss of loved ones that awful September morning a decade ago. Grieving is hard work, and it never ends.
On that brilliant Tuesday morning of Sept. 11, 2001, my then 9-year-old son happened to have no school because of a teachers conference. Since my wife was working full-time, I took him to work with me rather than hire a babysitter.
Between reading a book, playing a video game, watching a cartoon in the conference room, raiding the Chocolate Ministry, and charming my co-workers, I was certain he'd find enough to keep himself entertained during the day. Little did I dream what was about to unfold.
When I first heard a co-worker state that a plane had crashed into one of the World Trade Center towers, I strongly suspected something was awry. He may have specified it was a commercial airliner and I wasn't paying attention, or maybe he didn't provide that important detail.
But in my mind, I knew that with our sophisticated navigational and aeronautical technology, and generally well-trained pilots, this was not something that could have been an accident (barring some freak occurrence such as the pilot suffering a seizure or blackout).
I theorized it may have been a "lone wolf" crackpot terrorist who decided to make a statement, like the guy who crashed his plane into an IRS building in February 2010. That theory was quickly put to rest once I learned it was a passenger jet that had struck the first tower, and even more so when a second jet smashed into the other tower.
Computer technology was far enough along in 2001 so that I could watch the news coverage in my cubicle with streaming video. While co-workers gathered around the conference room TV, I sat there by myself attempting to process the horror. I remember the surreal, numb feeling as I observed only one tower standing (even though it also had been struck), and then that tower, too, began crumbling and falling to earth ensconced by a huge cloud of debris.
I didn't mean to take up that much space discussing my perspective, but it's like the question Baby Boomers and their parents often ask each other: "Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when you heard President Kennedy had been assassinated?"
Now, on to the heart of the matter: the way 9/11 changed our nation's resolve in fighting the threat of terrorism through enhanced intelligence gathering, beefed up security, and aggressive military action. Also, how these new actions and policies have played out in the political realm (not a pretty sight, for the faint-of-heart.)
We had warning signs in the years leading up to 9/11, including the World Trade Center truck bomb of 1993 and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995 — incidents that revealed how vulnerable we are. There were numerous embassy bombings in the 1990s and other acts of terrorism such as the attack on the U.S.S. Cole in October 2000. Our intelligence agencies also had bits and pieces of information that should have raised the red flag about what al Qaeda was plotting for 9/11, but there was a failure to put the pieces together.
Once 9/11 happened, there was a bipartisan effort to right the wrongs. Many Democrats voted for the U.S. PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism), which passed 98-1 in the Senate, and 357-66 in the House. They knew full well it would involve roving wiretaps, surveillance of email traffic, increased monitoring of financial institutions engaged in transactions with foreigners, and a greater frequency of officials detaining and deporting illegal aliens and other suspicious non-citizens.
In November 2002, Congress created the massive Department of Homeland Security, which made an immediate and substantial footprint on our daily lives, from establishing a color-coded terrorism alert system to implementing intrusive airport security measures to setting up "fusion centers" (information clearinghouses that synthesize the intelligence data of public and private sector security organizations and police agencies).
The invasion of Afghanistan in October 2001 resulted in the quick elimination of the Taliban regime, and put al Qaeda on the defensive, but we knew we were in for a long-term commitment. Because — and I have no qualms about using this dehumanizing analogy — al Qaeda is like cockroaches: Stamp 'em out in one place and they'll pop up somewhere else.
Meanwhile, as the 21st century began, Saddam Hussein's outlaw regime was blatantly violating 16 United Nations resolutions, sending huge cash rewards to families of Palestinian suicide bombers, shooting at U.S. and British planes in the "No-Fly Zone," playing games with U.N. weapons inspectors, and rattling sabers all over the place.
We knew for a fact that Saddam had invaded Kuwait in 1990, and had used chemical weapons on the Iranians in the 1980s and Kurds in the early 1990s. His regime had also attempted to assassinate former President George H.W. Bush when he was visiting Kuwait in 1993.
Given the aggressive nature of his vicious regime and its destructive actions during the first Gulf War (setting oil wells ablaze and dumping millions of gallons of oil into the Persian Gulf), the United States elected to place troops on the Saudi peninsula to protect the oil fields from Saddam's rampaging troops. This decision infuriated Islamic fundamentalists, who regarded the interlopers as infidels defiling the holy land. It may well have been the straw that broke the camel's back and served as an impetus for 9/11, thus illustrating how Saddam's regime indirectly led to 9/11.
In the context of the 9/11 attacks and the still unsolved anthrax-in-the-mail scare of autumn 2001, it was entirely reasonable to be leery and suspicious of Saddam and his ability to wreak havoc with weapons of mass destruction. Let us not forget that a few years earlier, Congress had passed, and President Bill Clinton signed, the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998. Many Democrats including Hillary Clinton, Al Gore, John Kerry and Nancy Pelosi, declared their concern about Saddam's weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and the threat he represented.
I won't get into the complex saga other than to say that although WMD were not found following the Iraq invasion of March 2003, Saddam had the components and technology to quickly crank up assembly of such weapons. And it is naive to think he wouldn't have had we not invaded.
In the late fall of 2002, Congress authorized President G.W. Bush to use military force to remove Saddam (77-23 in the Senate, 297-133 in the House). There were 29 Democrat senators, and 82 Democrat House members, who voted for the Iraq War Resolution.
What transpired over the next 10 years in the war on terror was uneven, at times poorly executed, and almost always controversial. It was imperfect, but it worked. We have not been attacked on our homeland by foreigners in a decade. Depending on whose count you use, there have been at least 40 to 45 legitimate domestic terror attacks halted before they could be carried out. (Those are the ones we know about. Doubtless there are many more the authorities have not made public, for various reasons.)
Even Democrats who were briefed early on about warrantless wiretaps and enhanced interrogation techniques (i.e. waterboarding), and many of their colleagues who voted for the Patriot Act, the Homeland Security Act, and the Iraq War Resolution, decided to use the provisions of said laws as a cudgel against the presidency of George W. Bush.
"Lawless," "war criminal," "cowboy," "Nazi," and "Hitler" were some of the pejoratives the left tossed around with reckless abandon regarding our Commander-in-Chief while he attempted to wage war against the very real and lethal threat of terrorism, most often posed by Islamic extremists.
The weak-minded lackeys in the mainstream press regularly used the "T" word -- torture -- to describe waterboarding. That's one of the bigger misnomers of all time, to put it mildly. The New York Times and other organs of the left took great pleasure in publicizing U.S. tactics in the war on terror (never mind that real lives of American intelligence officers and their operatives were seriously jeopardized). The press went ballistic about the Abu Ghraib abuses, even though the perpetrators were tried and convicted, and the abuse was mild (akin to fraternity hazing) compared to what extremists under Saddam did to prisoners (acid baths, rape rooms, shredders) and compared to what al Qaeda and Sunni and Shia militias did to their prisoners.
Indeed, the New York Times singlehandedly must be responsible for massive deforestation with the amount of newsprint it used up running dozens of Abu Ghraib stories (obsession and repetition seem to be frequent tendencies of leftists).
The left was in high dudgeon about the methods we used to defend our great republic from further terror attacks, raising the bar to ludicrously high standards without regard to practicality or the realities of technology. To cite just one example, the notion of obtaining warrants to monitor wireless cell phone conversations in an age of hundreds of millions of cell phones in use around the world is, let's say, about as outmoded and impractical as a hand crank automobile ignition. It is utterly stupid, just like the thoughts of so many hard-core leftists whose lust for power and hatred of George Bush overwhelm intelligent thought.
Meanwhile, major terror attacks on western targets (trains in Spain, 2004; public transit in London, 2005; and other attacks) continued as a bloody backdrop to the nonstop Bush-bashing.
Which brings us to 2009 and the post-George Bush world. President Obama, despite his leftist background, has retained many provisions Bush used in the war on terror -- since renamed with the left's moralist pseudonym "overseas contingency operations" (anything to assuage the feelings of smug progressives).
Obama boosted troop levels in Afghanistan and signed an extension of the PATRIOT Act last spring, and his administration has opposed efforts to end roving warrantless wiretaps. He has made frequent use of Predator drones to destroy suspected terror hideouts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, even at the price of innocents dying.
The ACLU and other leftist activists have complained about Obama administration policies, but most of the raving leftists who wanted to tar and feather George W. Bush for his policies have quieted down considerably. It could be argued that enhanced interrogation techniques helped uncover the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by special forces in early May, but you'd never get the left to acknowledge that.
What we have in the wake of the tumultuous first decade of the 21st century is a nation that is far more aware of the threat of Islamic extremism, an at times overbearing Department of Homeland Security (see airport security), and a much more sophisticated approach to preventing terrorism from happening through enhanced intelligence gathering and analysis coupled with necessary military actions. We also have an overwhelmingly tolerant American public, which accepts Muslims in our society because we understand that pluralism is a big part of who and what we are.
Despite the lame efforts of reporters like Soledad O'Brien Christiane Amanpour to gin up a nonexistent "islamophobia" scare, there really isn't much prejudice against Muslims in this country. Jews are targeted far more often in hate crimes than are Muslims. Again, try getting the mainstream press to report that fact. Good luck.
President Obama, who is not far enough to the left for the likes of Dennis Kucinich, the Daily Kos, and Bernie Sanders, values getting re-elected far more than being a leftist purist. So he will undoubtedly continue to use many of the Bush anti-terror tactics he harshly criticized on the campaign trail 3 and 4 years ago. For that we can be thankful.
The way forward continues to be fraught with peril, and I believe that economic instability may well pose as great a threat to domestic tranquility as Islamofascism. But I certainly hope that the nonstop hysteria, hatred and wrongheaded views of the left have sunk in with the silent majority of reasonable Americans, and the result will be better leadership in the years to come.
God Bless America, and don't ever forget to be grateful for your freedom!