- - Thursday, September 10, 2015


Where are we, 14 years after Sept. 11? The future looks dark and grim. Fourteen years after the American people rallied with one voice to demand retribution and an assurance that this would never happen again, confusion and indecision have replaced the spirit of the America that can do anything and everything. A timid president, as if content to be the reluctant quarterback of the junior varsity, wants to “lead from behind.”

The determination of George W. Bush, who set out to destroy the sanctuary of evil men from which any such future attack might come, ended in two contentious, indecisive wars with the sacrifice of blood and bone unredeemed.

Another such attack seems not only possible, but inevitable, given the continuing metastasis of an elusive terrorist movement, now employing novel techniques for making the new kind of war, for which America and the West seem to have no appetite. The mobilization for a long, complex and necessary war against Islamic extremism is beset with contradictory and failing effort, beginning with the failure to identify and recognize the enemy. This absence of an intellectual mobilization parallel to the arms buildup to fight and win the Cold War, is most perilous of all.

The critics of current policies, or lack of policies, suggest inadequate remedies, such as the idea of Gen. David Petraeus to play one Islamic terrorist faction against another. This idea is based on intelligence and Machiavellian skill that President Obama does not have, nor wish to cultivate.

This failure to deal with the continuing threat to the United States, and the determination to withdraw from leadership of the West whenever and wherever possible, has inevitably led to a breakdown of political structures throughout the Middle East. This is what has led to the flood of refugees seeking refuge in Europe. Taking in this flood, however justified on humanitarian and economic grounds, together with the dramatic decline in Western birth rates and its labor force, is fraught with peril, too. It’s not at all clear that Europe will withstand the erosion of its democratic values and traditions in the face of the Muslim invasion.

It’s possible that the 2016 elections will inspire a reversal of course, replacing a leader who doesn’t want to lead with a man (or woman) who does. The public understands how crucial this is, even if the conventional politicians don’t. This is the lesson of the remarkable phenomenon of Donald Trump.

We’ve been here before. America was mired in a similar slough of despond, suffering what Jimmy Carter famously called “malaise,” bordering on despair, and Providence (and the voters) answered with Ronald Reagan. He was what the doctor ordered, arriving with psychological and emotional resources together with economic and political strategies. He rallied a nation eager to be rallied, and the American spirit prevailed. The good news is that the exceptional nation can prevail again with right leadership.

The United States continues to be the superpower above all others, with abundant resources and the ability to make technological breakthroughs to lead the struggle against Islamic terrorism. “Leading from behind” will not do it. The losses incurred over the past decade will not be resolved quickly. If there is a Ronald Reagan out there to lead the revival of the American spirit, he is not yet visible.

In the wake of 9/11, there were eloquent comparisons of the attack on the twin towers to the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. On that earlier date “that will live in infamy,” Winston Churchill reassured his nation under siege that America would always do the right thing, after exhausting all the others, “but the United States is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it, there is no limit to the power it can generate.” On this dark and grim anniversary, it’s a needed reassurance for ourselves as well.

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