Imagine Being Nostalgic About the "Post 9-11" Era

In the news today has been the media frenzy over the "revelation" that the U.S. government may have known Osama bin Laden was planning to hijack some airplane, somewhere in the world, at sometime in the future. Other pundits discovered that people at FBI and CIA had read the same thriller novels you and I have, and ran "scenarios" in which terrorists fly a loaded commercial airplane into a high-value target. The inevitable smarmy, sophomoric follow-up question: "All the clues were there for us to see, why didn't the government connect the dots?"

Opposition party leaders, the very ones who complained bitterly when pundits raised these questions about the previous administration, have no problem suggesting this administration should be investigated.

The bad news is, its far too easy to blame Bush, or Clinton, for missing this. we're all responsible, because prior to 9-11, we all seriously believed it could never happen. Those few Cassandras among us were unable to elude Apollo's curse.

The "good" news is, we have another chance, and this time, we should listen to the seers. On May 5, 2002, one of them spoke with the Associated Press:

"We're going to have something in the way of a major nuclear event in this country," said Buffett, the firm's chief operating officer. "It will happen. Whether it will happen in 10 years or 10 minutes, or 50 years ... it's virtually a certainty."
How does the world's second-wealthiest person (as of 2001, pretend to know this? The "firm" is Berkshire Hathaway, one of its main businesses is re-insurance, in other words, providing insurance to the world's insurance companies. In the insurance business, this is the big leagues. Re-insurance companies suffer huge financial consequences when they guess wrong, while the CIA and the FBI fail miserably and get huge budget increases. Buffet fully expects the world markets to hold him accountable for his statement; he repeated it in his official address to Berkshire Hathaway's annual meeting.

But even without the benefit of legions of researchers and actuaries, it isn't hard to imagine Osama (or his rivals) doing everything they can to prove Buffett right. They could probably convince themselves it would be an even greater validation if the US follows the "dictates" of MAD and retaliates. Like adolescents testing their limits, nuclear terror must appear the ultimate forbidden fruit.

Imagine if the phrase "post-9-11" came to represent bitter nostalgia for a time when terrorism only meant a few thousand dead, when fallout could be avoided with water and a cheap facemask.

Of course, nothing is inevitable unless we make it so. While some may argue that we begat Osama, its debatable if we should, or can act in loco parentis. But we can certainly stop living in the past and start organizing our institutions to detect and prevent nuclear terror. We cannot afford this blame game, lest we be left with nothing but the words of another seer:

Desine fata deum flecti sperare precando.