Thursday, September 05, 2002

Why It Happened

Richard Cohen is still furious about September 11. He wants the attackers killed and wants an accounting of why our government could not see this coming. I understand his anger at both. I do think a reckoning must be made as to why we did not rouse ourselves from our complacency and fight this threat before September 11. As much as I respect Cohen (even as I disagree with much—but not all—of what he writes), I don’t know what he expects could have been done.

Really, look at the complaints that relatively minor restrictions on civil rights have prompted? Look at the outrage in some quarters that we are actually holding enemy combatants without Mirandizing them? I’m willing to examine the errors of this administration and the past one in confronting the terrorism issue, but what could we have done? Absent a mass murder, could the President really have roused us and the world to launch a full court press offensive against al Qaeda? Sadly, the knowledge of what we faced was out there. I certainly expected a major terrorist attack against us at some point—with nukes if they could get them. But I have difficulty in mustering righteous indignation at the failure to target bin Laden and his brethren in a major way. There simply would have been no fortitude for such a struggle. All the current crop of people complaining about what we are doing after September 11 would have been even louder in their hysterics about us over-reacting to a hypothetical threat.

Sure, inquire about what we failed to do, but remember that we could have changed what we did only at the margins. Even nabbing bin Laden in 1996 wouldn’t have stopped an eventual attack. Suffering some type of major terrorism attack was inevitable, in my opinion.

Let’s just make sure we get them now. Killing them now isn’t over-reacting, right? We do all agree they are willing and eager to kill us, don’t we?