The Washington Times
The year came to an end substantially closer to our fondest wishes than to our worst fears, and there’s much to be grateful for in that. But this is no time to start slipping back into a Sept. 10 frame of mind. For all Americans, from the president on down, the proper New Year’s resolution this year is: Be resolute.
A brief review of what happened and what didn’t happen in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks: First, the United States government rallied to the challenge. This was most visibly true in the case of George W. Bush, nothing in whose background and brief years of public service prepared him for this, and about whom people were accordingly uncertain. He emerged as man who, for the first time in his life, believed he understood why God put him on Earth. Meanwhile, those in his government charged with dealing with our problem internationally were likewise superb. Fears of divisive internecine warfare within the administration were grossly exaggerated. Congress, too, closed ranks behind the president on the war effort, in an impressive display of bipartisanship.
Then there was the mayor of New York. Rudy Giuliani had already established himself as a great mayor, with an out-sized personality (flaws and all) to match the task. He now looks like the greatest mayor New York has ever had, a man in full, a politician in the best sense of the word: a man who understands the people, who knows what they want, and who has the courage to tell them what they can and cannot have.
What can one say about the U.S. military? Simply that it is consistently underestimated even by those who think the most of it. Ten years of post-Cold War drawdown, countless news reports about declining readiness and morale, dire warnings about the inability to refight the Gulf War – and it turns out that what the military itself was spending its time doing during this period was learning how to fight better than ever.
Our allies stuck with us, Britain most of all. The imperative of maintaining an “anti-terror coalition,” some had fretted, would lead to a least-common-denominator approach to the problem. It did not. Our success drew out more support from our friends and silenced our critics.
And then there was the “culture.” A generation’s worth of triviality, sometimes verging on inanity, went out the window as people came to terms with the magnitude of the threat and the value of what was threatened. The worst we’ve seen are a few left-wing professors wallowing in the self-pity of their own marginality. They don’t get it and they never will, but more to the point, they don’t matter. Even their students, rather than absorbing the propaganda, disdain it as they contemplate careers in the Foreign Service or the CIA.
Now, about the enemy. Well, Osama bin Laden truly is an evil man. In the early going, some insisted that our military efforts would be futile in the absence of addressing the “root causes” of terrorism. What was clear on videotape from the merriment Osama was taking at his success in New York was how utterly irrelevant root causes are to the problem he poses. And everyone seems to understand this.
What’s also clear is that al Qaeda and its brethren are not invincible, either. Of course, they are now up to something. But one can say now that September 11 was not the first in a carefully orchestrated series of blows of the sort that might hold out for terrorists the promise of ripping this country apart. It is perhaps not unreasonable to conclude that while the United States is hardly untouchable, neither is it so easy to pull off an operation on the scale in question, or even a much lesser scale.
Meanwhile, the price of doing business with terrorists abroad has now been demonstrated to be quite high. “Regime change” is the term of art for what rulers face if they allow terrorists to operate. The fate of the Taliban government, it seems fair to say, is much on the minds of those who once found some measure or other of cooperation with terrorist groups to be the easiest course.
All in all, not bad. But we are hardly finished. I have no idea what the Middle East and Central Asia are going to look like a dozen years from now. I do think, though, that if we continue to apply ourselves as diligently to the task at hand as we have since September 11, the result will be a world in which our enemies are a lot more afraid of us than we are of them.