- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010


On Oct. 20, 2001, a concert was held in Madison Square Garden to benefit the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Onstage were some of the biggest names in show business. In the audience were first responders who had been working around the clock at ground zero.

To those watching on television, the most memorable thing about the evening was not the performers onstage. It was the faces of those in the crowd. The firemen. The paramedics. The police officers. They were smiling. They were laughing. Some of them were in tears. For the first time in weeks, it seemed, they had set aside their anguish and were having a good time.

By far, though, the emotional high point of the evening came when the Who took the stage toward the end of the night. After opening with “Who Are You” and following that with “Baba O’Riley,” the band played “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” At that moment, a different mood seemed to take hold across the room. The anguish turned to anger, and the remorse turned to resolve. Then, as Roger Daltrey let out a guttural scream to conclude the song, the crowd, as if one, raised their fists in the air and let out a scream of their own:

“We won’t get fooled again!”

At that same moment, one could almost picture President George W. Bush watching from the residence at the White House and doing the same thing. After all, he had by all accounts been briefed less than two months earlier that terrorists were planning an attack on the United States using airliners as missiles. If anyone was fooled before Sept. 11, it most assuredly was him. And if anyone had reason to vow never to let something like that happen again, it was the one person who had taken an oath to keep this nation secure.

Three years later, the Brooks & Dunn anthem “Only in America” often would be cited as the unofficial song of the 2004 Bush re-election campaign. Yet looking back on it now, one could argue that a more appropriate song for the Bush administration was the anthem the Who played that October Saturday night. The song not only defined Mr. Bush’s time in office in the years following Sept. 11, but also provided a lens through which nearly every policy decision could be viewed.

The decision to invade Iraq is a good example. The wisdom of invading that country is still being debated, but the rationale behind the decision is clear: Saddam Hussein claimed he had weapons of mass destruction, and most of the world’s leading intelligence agencies claimed he had them as well. In light of the fact that he had ignored intelligence reports before Sept. 11, it is understandable that Mr. Bush did not want to make the same mistake again.

Critics say he overreacted, and in hindsight, they are correct. But as Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently stated, “I’d rather, in the interest of protecting people, overreact rather than underreact.” Mrs. Feinstein’s statement is notable not because it was aimed at Mr. Bush, but because it was aimed at President Obama. Specifically, it was aimed at the underwhelming response of the Obama administration to the failed attempt to blow up a U.S. passenger jet on Christmas Day. It also points to a larger problem facing the president as he begins his second year in office - namely, that the failures of Sept. 11 seem to have been forgotten by his administration and his allies on Capitol Hill.

First, members of the U.S. Intelligence Community failed to connect the dots that would have flagged the young Nigerian bomber suspect on that jet as a potential terrorist and prevented him from getting on the plane. Then, federal law enforcement officials decided to treat the bomber as a common criminal instead of an enemy combatant, giving greater priority to getting him a lawyer instead of getting to the bottom of a plot that put at least 253 lives at risk. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. also has announced plans to prosecute Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in a federal court in New York City, although he appears to be retreating from those plans in the face of protests by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other local officials.

To make matters worse, it’s not just the Obama administration that is failing to heed the lessons of Sept. 11. The Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill also appears to have forgotten the failures of that day. For example, one of the recommendations of the Sept. 11 Commission was for Congress to streamline committee oversight with regard to homeland security. The reason is simple - in 2007 and 2008, officials from the Homeland Security Department appeared at more than 370 hearings and gave more than 5,000 briefings to staffers and members from 108 committees. Despite this jurisdictional nightmare, the leadership remains resistant to reform.

Hopefully, it won’t take another Sept. 11 for the president and his allies to regain their sense of urgency and prepare for another attack. We know it’s coming. According to Dennis Blair, the director of national intelligence, an attack could come in the next six months. Security is being heightened at numerous public events as a result. That includes this weekend’s Super Bowl, where the Who will be performing at halftime.

Mr. Obama no doubt will be watching the game. When the Who takes the stage, if he is watching the performance, let’s hope he hears the same message first responders heard at Madison Square Garden in 2001.

Let’s hope we don’t get fooled again.

Lou Zickar is the editor of the Ripon Forum, a centrist journal of thought and opinion that is published by the Ripon Society.

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