by Austin Bay
September 10, 2003
Al Qaeda's war on America didn't start Sept. 11, 2001. However,
9-11 was the day Al Qaeda's gangsters escalated their unholy jihad by
committing mass murder in the land of the free.
Prior to 9-11, America did its usual thing. No, America wasn't
asleep, not exactly. America has more eyes and ears and brains probing and
puzzling over the planet than any other nation or organization. Information,
however, does not automatically translate into an accurate understanding of
a clever enemy's plans, much less effective counteraction.
America wasn't asleep, but it was hampered by our wonderful
weaknesses. Americans don't want to be distracted from their pursuit of
happiness. The American government is designed to react slowly. America
separates more than legislative, judicial and executive powers. America cuts
and dices its intelligence and police forces so power is diminished.
Civilian control, congressional finagling and good old bureaucratic inertia
keep the military domesticated. President George Bush's request last Sunday
for more cash to support Iraq is this system at work. Congress has the
purse. Despite the fevered prattle of conspiracy theorists, the say-so of a
few doesn't take America to war and certainly doesn't keep it there.
1993's World Trade Center attack failed to sell the American
public on fighting terrorism. In 1998, Bill Clinton, reacting to Al Qaeda's
destruction of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, declared war on terror.
Clinton's "war" fizzled. Osama bin Laden, however, meant it
when, on Feb. 23, 1998, he declared, "We -- with God's help -- call on every
Muslim who believes in God and wishes to be rewarded to comply with God's
order to kill the Americans and plunder their money. ..."
After perusing Congress' joint inquiry on 9-11 (852 pages in
length), I conclude the Clinton administration did put new emphasis on
counter-terror. That's a plus. It also appears that "new emphasis" was not
sustained by either executive or congressional leadership. That's a
On the second anniversary of 9-11, let me examine what I wrote
well before the horror, when something could have been done to prevent it.
In a column penned after Clinton's declaration (The San Antonio
Express-News, Aug. 27, 1998), I wrote: "The war against international terror
is one of the toughest America has ever faced. ... Combating Terror
International is not the most threatening conflict in terms of national
survival. No, it is not a war that -- as did the first days after Pearl
Harbor or even Iraq's attack on Kuwait -- requires decisive leadership in a
rapidly developing global crisis."
Sept. 11 says I got that wrong. I did consider terrorist nukes.
I helped wargame a "suicide Cessna" nuclear attack in the late 1980s, but
frankly, the scenario smacked of Hollywood depravity, not defense planning
guidance. We did not see the audacity of 9-11 linked to the cult of
martyrdom. The audacity of slamming jets into skyscrapers, Al Qaeda's
well-conceived network operation, and the proliferation of nuclear and
chemical weapons changed my evaluation, to make combating terror the most
important conflict. Sept. 11 was a window on the next escalation, a nuclear
But here's the next paragraph from 1998: "War against terror
does require leadership that is consistent, resolute, persevering,
relentless and personally courageous. A counter-terror war, waged against
calculating radicals such as Osama bin Laden, requires forceful and steady
diplomacy. Such a war will play out in the globe's cruelest shadows, where
targets are poorly defined, immediate goals fuzzy and mistakes a near
Sept. 11 and subsequent events say that is, unfortunately, quite
right. This is also right: Sept. 11, 2001, was gut-check time. Sept. 11,
2003, is also gut-check time. For everyone who values liberty, the pursuit
of victory must continue to supersede the pursuit of happiness.
The "quagmirists" kvetching about Iraq's hard scrabble still
fail to appreciate the threat that emerged in 1993's World Trade Center
bombing then killed again in 1998 and 2000 (USS Cole), and on 9-11.
A "new Iraq" will dramatically improve the lives of millions in
the Middle East and seed peace. To defeat Al Qaeda and lay the groundwork
for 21st century peace requires the American people to persevere.