A mixed report
Six years have passed since 9/11. We are probably safer now than we were then, but we've also made some expensive mistakes that put us at greater risk. This is a good time to reflect on how best to prevent another assault.
We learned that we are vulnerable. For years Americans assumed Washington could intervene abroad without consequence. Now we know better.
The federal government has made some progress on border control. It still isn't satisfactory - and our confused immigration policy makes catching potential terrorists more difficult. Nevertheless, we treat the issue more seriously than in 2001.
At the same time, we sometimes fail to make crucial distinctions. For instance, tougher visa procedures are pushing Kuwaiti students into European rather than American universities. Yet those students who come here tend to become our biggest friends.
The Patriot Act also treats any armed opponent of any authoritarian government as a terrorist. As a result, Montagnards who fought with U.S. forces in the Vietnam War and ethnic Karen soldiers who more recently battled Burma's dictatorship have been refused refugee status in America.
The U.S. is doing better with port security, though the task remains daunting. Airline travel is also less vulnerable, though frequent travelers believe that is despite rather than because of the Transportation Security Administration.
The most important factor is public awareness - passengers no longer would allow a hijacking. The administration and Congress should encourage more pilots to arm themselves.
More complicated is the effect of legislation such as the Patriot Act. The right balance between liberty and security is not self-evident.
Nevertheless, the administration undercut its anti-terrorism efforts by overreaching. The problem was not always its request for new powers, but rather its persistent demand to dispense with oversight by Congress and the courts. For instance, claiming that a U.S. citizen arrested in the United States could be held without charge or trial undermined the administration's entire program.
Most problematic has been the administration's resort to military force. Overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan was necessary because Kabul hosted those who attacked America. But the most common responses to transnational terrorism are usually more like - despite the derision oft dumped on the term - law enforcement.
That is, conspirators need to be arrested. Funds need to be seized. More often than not, good intelligence, cooperation with foreign security services, and diplomatic pressure are the best tools.
In the case of Iraq, military force backfired. The administration prematurely relaxed pressure on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The ensuing conflict turned Iraq into Terrorism U.
Moreover, the war created another grievance, drawing foreigners to Iraq and encouraging homegrown terrorists elsewhere. Israeli and Saudi researchers found that Iraq radicalized Muslims with no prior jihadist connections. Antagonism toward the U.S. rose throughout the Islamic world.
In this way the Iraq war continues to make us more vulnerable to terrorism.
We've made progress since 9/11, but have made some serious missteps as well. Much remains to be done. The sooner we get started, the better.
Doug Bandow is the Robert A. Taft Fellow at the American Conservative Defense Alliance. A former special assistant to President Reagan, he is the author of Foreign Follies: America's New Global Empire.
Either we will free them, or they will kill us
No sane person can look at the last six years and see unbroken success or decisions that he or she didn't wish had been made differently.
But the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq aren't among them. Not even the Petraeus-slanderers at MoveOn.org debate the decision to topple the Taliban. But the world is also much safer today because Saddam Hussein was overthrown and his mad-as-hatter sons are dead and not in line for the throne; the U.N. oil-for-food-for-dictators-sending-money-and-arms-to-terrorists-while-corrupting-officials-in-other-governments was exposed and ended; Libya's WMD program was dismantled; scores of Al Qaeda's senior leadership are dead or imprisoned (with more ending up that way each week), the A.Q. Khan network has been cabined; and the U.S. military is embedded with new or longtime allies around the world, teaching them the basics of counter-terrorism.
The cost has been extraordinarily high, as the families of the nearly 4,000 dead soldiers, Marines, sailors and airmen -- and the thousands more wounded -- know, as well as the victims of terrorism not just of 9/11 but around the globe in Beslan, London, Madrid and a dozen other place names now synonymous with a brutal expression of the daily desires of the Islamofascist enemy.
Overreached, Doug? The dead in the London subways would like to be able to argue the point with you. The lucky non-victims in Germany and Denmark last week still could if they only knew that it was they who had been spared because of the overreaching in the global war on terror.
The difficulty that critics like you have is with the overarching truth that America has not been attacked since 9/11 by a cell organized and operated by Al Qaeda or any of its Salafist franchises. The war is being fought -- with increasing success in Iraq and with continuing success in Afghanistan -- because of the Bush administration's policies.
Have you read The Looming Tower, Doug? Or either of Robert Kaplan's books, Imperial Grunts and Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts? Have you heard Bernard Lewis make his sharp declaration again and again --Either we will free them or they will kill us?
If so, have you forgotten the central message each of these books refers to, the point that Lewis makes: We don't get to choose our enemies or the battlefield. Overreach in an era of death cults hunting for WMD? It is really not an argument we are having, but a waving across a vast continent of facts that you choose not to see and which, when they do indeed become obvious to you, will be far too late for your fellow citizens.
On 9/11, you are worried about the enrollment patterns of Kuwaitis and the immigration status of ethnic Karens? I feel for the latter and hope we can figure out an improvement in the immigration regulations and that we can entice those Kuwaitis back to our shores.
But this is what you've got? At least tell me we are breeding more terrorists than we are killing. It is an argument without data, but at least it is an argument.
Norman Podhoretz's new book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism, traces the intellectual history of the last six years in American life. Many have gone down very long roads leading far away from the central fact: There are millions of people who want the U.S. destroyed and as many Americans as possible dead, and thousands (at least) who would sacrifice themselves in suicidal acts to accomplish that goal. I'll pick up there tomorrow.
Hugh Hewitt is the executive editor of Townhall.com and a nationally syndicated talk-show host whose show can be heard in more than 100 cities across the United States. He blogs at HughHewitt.com, and his most recent book is A Mormon In The White House?: 10 Things Every American Should Know About Mitt Romney.