- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 26, 2002

Is it a coincidence that the national agony surrounding difficult questions about September 11 breaks to the surface when the clean-up at Ground Zero has reached its conclusion?
Be that as it may, we now have opened this Pandora's box. May America's strength of character carry us through. May the families of the dead bear with us.
I believe we can get past the antics of the current Democratic leadership and of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.
We can get past the discombobulation at the White House. If there is culpability, it is shared by previous administrations and all of us.
Because, one way or another, all of us have participated in permitting the dismantling of this country's defenses. It began in the 1960s under the guise of Vietnam War protest, women's liberation, environmental awareness, dislike for Richard Nixon. It continued with open hostility first toward the CIA, then toward the FBI, university faculties crusading for unilateral disarmament, and Jimmy Carter's terminal naivety about the facts of life whether in Korea, Iran, the Panama Canal Zone or Cuba.
By the time Ronald Reagan came around, even a man of his courage and commitment found the national will depleted to the extent where the murder of nearly 300 U.S. Marines went unanswered.
After a brief interlude known as Desert Storm, cut short on the advice of our current secretary of state, the use of American power became abuse in the hands of a president who himself was an abuse of national trust.
Deep down, we all must know what would have happened under "normal" conditions. Upon receiving reports of Osama bin Laden's intentions, the already voluminous FBI file would have been updated. What file? Following the bombings of U.S. embassies and the USS Cole, every Arab enrolled in a flying school would have been under surveillance already. Now, quietly, special agents would have been assigned to monitor their every move. All airlines would have been advised to watch out for more than two Middle Eastern men on any one flight, especially if giving rise to suspicion on additional grounds.
But we have not operated under "normal" conditions for years, or the boat carrying the explosives would never have reached the USS Cole. And, with competent and focused personnel at our airline counters, the 19 men would never have been allowed to board those planes on September 11. Remember? They hardly bothered to camouflage their intentions: one-way tickets, cash, no bags. Did no one notice them, or the airline people did and elected to do nothing?
And what of intelligence reports? "We did not have specific information." How specific does it have to be? The USS Cole was attacked by men ready to die, who used the vessel as a self-propelled bomb. Those are not dots to connect, but exclamation points.
And yes, there would have been plenty of time to prevent a takeoff of those fateful flights, even after the murderers had boarded. Time, yes. Will, no.
The attack on history's most powerful Navy also went unanswered. No, conditions in America have not been "normal" for some time. And that is not the fault of George W. Bush.
It is normal for a country, even the most generous country, to be committed to self-preservation. The 1960s introduced a slow but unstoppable decomposition of that basic human instinct. National self-preservation requires border controls. National self-preservation requires competent and reliable people in important jobs, especially in jobs to do with our security. We can hire people either for "social justice," or for competence, not both.
National self-preservation requires that the government provides for the safety of Americans before it worries about a sense of comfort for everyone who comes here, whether legally or illegally, whether with legitimate intentions or employing flagrant deception. Our concern with everybody's "comfort" has acquired proportions bordering on insanity.
These are harsh sentiments. It is indeed much nicer to pull over the elderly, and babies on the arms of nursing mothers, for random security checks showing how we refuse to draw conclusions from 30 years of terrorism, even after they dared something not even Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia dared: They attacked our homeland.
Yes, it is much nicer, or is it?
Could it be a case of burying our heads in the sand?
In any event, we ought not to blame one person or administration for something we could only alter by common consent. It is difficult, because Americans genuinely want to be nice.
Hopefully, Americans also wish to stay alive.

Balint Vazsonyi, concert pianist and director of the Center for the American Founding, is a nationally syndicated columnist.


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