- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2001

Could we stop calling this a "tragedy"? The hijacking of planes from American and United Airlines by terrorists, who crashed them into the two World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, represent an act of war. It's that simple. Yesterday's carnage may not have been preceded by a hand-delivered notice and a finely worded declaration of war, but such formalities are not the nature of warfare in the 21st century. Come to think of it, no formalities were observed at Pearl Harbor either, which caught the U.S. government equally unprepared. Yesterday was a "day of infamy" no less than Dec. 7, 1941.
Still, as in the war with Japan 60 years ago, it is not as though we have not been put on notice over the past decade. For years, Islamic terrorists have considered themselves at war with the United States and its ally Israel, whose vulnerability to suicide bombings ought to be especially appreciated by Americans today. What we felt here yesterday, from astonishment to helplessness to absolute outrage, is what the Israelis have to live with every single day.
Our recent experience with Islamic terrorism ought to have placed the country on high alert. The World Trade Center bombing of 1993 was a warning. So, too, was the bombing of two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998. So was the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in October of last year.
Forces of darkness are indeed conspiring against us, people who act in ways that we consider neither rational nor intelligible. They do have a sick logic of their own, however. Saudi fundamentalist terrorist leader Osama bin Laden has been fingered as a prime suspect in the coordinated embassy bombings in Africa, and he has reportedly bragged about the attack on the USS Cole. Reports of an imminent and massive attack on the United States have apparently been around for the past several weeks.
So, it surely is not unfair to ask why the U.S. security services were asleep again. As an outraged Rep. Curt Weldon fumed yesterday on CNN, "the first priority of the U.S. government is not education, it is not health care, it is the defense and protection of U.S. citizens." Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is very reasonably demanding accountability among high-level intelligence officials. An operation of this magnitude and level of precise coordination should have been picked up by the CIA or the FBI. Whether the reason is complacency, a lack of funding or a lack of human assets in countries that harbor and nourish terrorists, it is totally incomprehensible and unforgivable that the United States was caught off-guard again.
President Bush preserved calm during one of the worst days a U.S. president could have imagined. Calm is good. But if anything, one would have liked the president to have spoken more in anger than in sadness, which seemed to be his prevailing mode. "Make no mistake," Mr. Bush stated, "the United States will hunt down and punish those responsible for these cowardly acts." Acknowledging that "[t]he resolve of our great nation is being tested," Mr. Bush promised, "We will show the world that we will pass this test." He had better follow through on that. The actions of Mr. Bush — and of every country that wishes to be called a friend of the United States — will be carefully watched by the enemy. This is not a time to urge caution. We have to respond with massive retaliation or expect more American lives to be lost in the future.
Somewhat encouragingly, it seems that this is also the expectation felt abroad. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was among the first to deplore the action, looking severely shaken. Perhaps he could inform his people that their dancing in the streets of the West Bank and handing out candy in celebration does not exactly back up his regrets. Meanwhile, Islamic Jihad in Gaza issued a statement blaming U.S. Middle East policy, but renouncing any responsibility. Even the odious Taleban in Afghanistan held a press conference to let it be know that they didn't do it. Nor did they think that Osama bin Laden did, by the way.
It is certainly true that an open society cannot protect itself against every lunatic who thinks he has a cause and a grievance. Necessary precautions must not be allowed to change the nature of this country from what makes it great and strong — its free people whose democratic and enterprising spirit has brought the United States to an apex of power. If Adolf Hitler could not bomb Britain into submission with the Blitz of London, which likewise targeted the civilian population, surely the actions of the terrorists yesterday ought only to strengthen American resolve against the evil forces they represent.
Americans, bless their hearts, have a way of rising to the occasion. Now the Bush administration has to do the same.


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