During the Vice Presidential debate both Vice President Cheney and Senator Edwards agreed on was that everything changed after September 11, 2001. No doubt that is true from the perspective of the American people. While the World Trade Center had been attacked before no terrorist attack in history had proven so effective or deadly.
Nevertheless, I beg to disagree with both of them. Nothing really changed except the perceptions of the American people.
The original attack on the WTC was reasonably effective, but killed few and the buildings were swiftly repaired. The difference is more of scale rather than fact. America had been attacked, on our soil, before September 11. Americans had been terrorist targets for over two decades when the planes slammed home. Terrorist had killed hundreds of people before 9/11, though most of the dead, and the victims had been in Europe. It is possible to argue that Europe has suffered from terrorism far more than America.
When you read the literature on terrorism it is a given that the terrorists primary goal is to scare people, to make them change their lives. September 11 did change everything in that suddenly America made security its primary concern, rather than business or other foreign policy issues. The attack on the World Trade Center killed thousands, but in no way does it compare in scale or deadliness to any of the major bombing raids of World War II. No factories were leveled. No refineries were disabled. The core of the American economy remained largely unaffected.
What was affected was our confidence. But really, September 11 represented less a shock than the newest crest of a rising trend. Al Quaeda was out to get America. No matter how effective our security apparatus, they would have succeeded sooner or later. No matter how effective America draws its security blanket, we will be hit again. Nothing on God’s Green Earth can prevent this! Sure we may prevent this or that attack, but it is, and always will be impossible to defend all things all of the time.
Terrorists will strike again. They will bring about a tragedy. But that’s all they will accomplish.
Understand this, terrorism is a weapon of the weak. Terrrorists are too weak to fight a guerilla war, because if they had such strength they would be guerrillas. Guerrillas are less than conventional soldiers, because at the end of the day a conventional army is required to win a real decision on the battlefield. It was so in Vietnam. It was so during the American revolution.
Al Quaeda can kill Americans and destroy buildings but at the end of the day it poses no real threat to American history, power, or our ability to rule ourselves. What danger it poses is strictly to our psyche. After the attack, we passed the Patriot Act, which distinctly cut into the legal protections provided by the Bill of Rights. We began to turn away Muslim students even though the vast majority return to their home countries bringing back good news about America. We started a war with Iraq to supposedly ‘hit the terrorists where they live' even though everyone (except the Bush Administration) now agrees the terrorists were somewhere else. We sainted George W. Bush, because we wanted a leader in these troubled times.
The terrorism literature is unanimous on this point: Don"t panic. Don’t change who you are in response to terrorism. You don’t want to manufacture new recruits to the terrorists bloody cause. Since the Iraq war began, the ranks of al Quaeda have tripled as the shame the Islamic world felt at 9/11 was replaced with anger brought on by the war, and pride in the efforts of the Iraqi resistance.
When George Kennan wrote his famous “Mister X" article in Foreign Affairs magazine, laying out the philosophies and strategies of the Cold War, he called for a “patient and determined containment” of Soviet power. It took forty years, but patience worked. The Soviet Union fell. The Iron Curtain came down. A true threat to Western democracy disappeared
Patient determination is the key to victory over terrorism. Not panic, not aggressive wars, but self defense, determination, patience and sound judgment. September 11 hurt only our psyche. America must and can return to its calm center to prevail.