September 11, Five Years On

The big news story of the day (the week, really) is, of course, the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attacks. The second biggest story, a spin-off from the first, is ABC’s docudrama The Path to 9/11, and the efforts by Democrats to block it.

Emotional tributes to the victims of the attacks are certainly in order today, as are resolutions to continue the battle against the terrorists. Such tributes and resolutions are not my forte, however. There are many good ones around the web. Michelle Malkin has lots of good stuff, and Pajamas Media has more.

The main thing that strikes me on this occasion is that we seem to be living in a world turned upside down. It is obvious that the administration has done an excellent job of combatting the terrorist threat over the last five years, as is demonstrated by the fact that there have been many terrorist attacks since then, but no successful ones in this country. Vice-President Cheney put the case rather modestly on Meet the Press last Sunday:

We have spent billions on homeland security. You can always find more you can spend funds on, but the fact of the matter is, I think we have done a pretty good job. And I don’t know how you can explain five years of no attacks, five years of successful disruption of attacks, five years of defeating the efforts of al Qaeda to come back and kill more Americans. You have got to give some credence to the notion that maybe somebody did something right. I think we did. I think we did a lot right.

And I think part of what we did right was to take the fight to the enemy, to treat this as a war, not a law enforcement problem, which is the way these kinds of things had been treated before we arrived. To actively and aggressively go after the state sponsors of terror, as we did, for example, in Afghanistan and Iraq. To aggressively go after those places where the terrorists might be able to lay their hands on that deadly technology they’d like to use in that next attack.

I think we got it right. I can’t say it’s perfect. Obviously, you can always look back and find things you’d like to do differently or do better. But on the broad overall strategic sweep of what we did, what we set out as our objectives, the strategy we pursued to get there, I think we have done a pretty good job.

I don’t really see how anyone can argue with that assessment. Normally, when people set out to “defend” their policies–as countless newspaper headlines described Cheney’s remarks–they are defending a record that is at least arguably one of failure. But the administration’s record in protecting the U.S. against terrorism, post-9/11, is one of unquestionable success.

Which is why it seems to me that we are living in a world turned upside-down. In many precincts, it is an article of faith that the Bush administration’s policies have made the U.S less safe. But if that is true, why have there been successful terrorist attacks in at least twenty countries (not counting Iraq and Afghanistan) in the last five years, but not here?

It also seems clear that one important reason for the administration’s success is the very anti-terror programs now under attack by the New York Times and the Democratic Party. In particular, the administration’s policy of tough interrogation of high-value detainees, as President Bush said recently, was a factor in every capture of a high-ranking al Qaeda member over the last five years. It seems obvious that we will not be able to extract information from terrorists by saying “pretty please,” as the Democrats seem to think. Likewise, the NSA’s international terrorist surveillance program has been a factor in disrupting a number of plots, including the recent London scheme that was aimed mostly at American airplanes and American citizens.

The Democrats probably know this, but they nevertheless are campaigning on a platform of returning to the anti-terror policies of the Clinton administration: no tough interrogations; no intercepting of the most dangerous terrorist communications of all, those that include someone inside the United States; appeasement and neglect rather than an aggressive campaign of taking the battle to the terrorists and those who support them.

Which is where The Path to 9/11 comes in. I have no idea whether the scenes featuring Madeline Albright and Sandy Berger are accurate or not; it is certainly regrettable if they aren’t. But they are at most an incidental aspect of the series. The real reason the Democrats don’t want people to see it is that it reveals the utter failure of the Clinton approach to terrorism. Clinton’s policies failed, and the failure didn’t begin on 9/11. Over the course of the Clinton administration, there were dozens of successful attacks and near-misses, many of them directed against American interests both here and abroad. All the while, the terrorist movement grew stronger. This is certainly not a template to which we should want to return.

On this fifth anniversary, along with appropriate grief and condolence, we should be seeing a celebration and appreciation of the fact that the Bush administration has done an excellent job of fighting the terrorists, and keeping us safe here at home, over the last five years. But the Democrats’ control over the media culture is so complete that this message is, as far as I have seen, completely unheard.

UPDATE: President Bush delivered another terrific speech tonight. I was on an airplane and couldn’t see it, but if you missed it, you can read it here. A few excerpts:

Our nation is being tested in a way that we have not been since the start of the Cold War. We saw what a handful of our enemies can do with box-cutters and plane tickets. We hear their threats to launch even more terrible attacks on our people. And we know that if they were able to get their hands on weapons of mass destruction, they would use them against us. We face an enemy determined to bring death and suffering into our homes. America did not ask for this war, and every American wishes it were over. So do I. But the war is not over — and it will not be over until either we or the extremists emerge victorious. If we do not defeat these enemies now, we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. We are in a war that will set the course for this new century — and determine the destiny of millions across the world.

We also honor those who toil day and night to keep our homeland safe, and we are giving them the tools they need to protect our people. We’ve created the Department of Homeland Security. We have torn down the wall that kept law enforcement and intelligence from sharing information. We’ve tightened security at our airports and seaports and borders, and we’ve created new programs to monitor enemy bank records and phone calls. Thanks to the hard work of our law enforcement and intelligence professionals, we have broken up terrorist cells in our midst and saved American lives.

Five years after 9/11, our enemies have not succeeded in launching another attack on our soil, but they’ve not been idle. Al Qaeda and those inspired by its hateful ideology have carried out terrorist attacks in more than two dozen nations. And just last month, they were foiled in a plot to blow up passenger planes headed for the United States. They remain determined to attack America and kill our citizens — and we are determined to stop them. We’ll continue to give the men and women who protect us every resource and legal authority they need to do their jobs.

We will continue, that is, as long as the President’s party controls Congress.

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