Words not spoken
I listened carefully to the president’s commemorative speech and many of the other public statements from our elected officials. This year’s anniversary marked a somewhat new tone, tentative, near apologetic — as if the Ground Zero and Pentagon attacks were wholly tragic rather than solely due to the premeditated murdering of radical Islamic zealots.
We’ve come a way from the resolute pact with the departed that resonated from Ground Zero, when George Bush, in his finest moment, put his arm around retired firefighter Bob Beckwith, and announced to the world, “ I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon.” As the national hysteria of 2008 wears off, I think some Americans will miss that, and come to see that the reductionist “fighting them over there rather than here,” “playing offense rather than defense” had something to it.
In contrast, even today December 7 brings up more Day of Infamy resoluteness than a sense of equivocation, as something inevitable or a lesson about America’s tolerance. Even Howard Zinn did not succeed in convincing America that we needed to pause and renew our allegiance to tolerance to avoid another 12/7.
No doubt this year’s hesitancy and gloom were brought on by the controversy over the so-called Ground Zero mosque, and the combined lunatic statements from the book-burning Pastor Jones, and the now veiled warnings about Islamic payback for our supposed illiberality from the omnipresent Imam Rauf (as he finagles to get his $100 million Islamic headquarters built at the only place he can continue to bask in the limelight of controversy).
Nine years after the mass murders, where do we stand?
On the plus side, the protocols put in place — Guantanamo, tribunals, renditions, Predators, wiretapping, intercepts, the Patriot Act, the offensive operations in Afghanistan and (yes) in Iraq — have decimated al-Qaeda and prevented another 9/11 at home … so far. Iraqis worry about us leaving rather than staying. So do most Afghans.
I know all that because the left is suddenly quiet about the previously supposed Constitution shredding — a trope to destroy George Bush, rather than worry about forgetting the Founders. Obama has adopted or expanded all these measures. Iraq is now dubbed by the vice president as one of the administration’s “greatest achievements” and by the president himself as “a remarkable chapter” in our history. The surge is as appreciated and taken for granted as its reference is taboo. The MoveOn.org discounted New York Times ad — “General Betray Us” — never existed.
Some will come to remember that the U.S. went into the heart of the ancient caliphate and did not destroy Iraq, but liberated it, and in the end was helped by the Sunni Arabs of Anbar province. The al-Qaeda videos, the beheadings, the Abu Ghraib propaganda, the war is “lost” defeatism at home, and the snuff Bush novels and films did not prevail over the U.S. military.
Yes, we forget, and yet were not reminded this year, how far we have come. Bin Laden is an outcast, his polls low, his followers in caves. Thousands of murderous jihadists have been killed in both Afghanistan and Iraq. There is no more WMD in Libya. Dr. Khan is in retirement. Syria is out of Lebanon; we are out of Saudi Arabia.
I could go on, but none of this was sure after 9/11. I am surprised that our leaders do not, at least briefly, evoke it — at least to balance the constant refrain that we are tolerant, not at war with Islam, and all the understandable outreach that we heard this week. How odd that the most liberal people in the world are worried that they are not liberal enough to the most intolerant on the planet.
A people at war needs to hear at times Churchill’s or Clemenceau’s defiance as much as tolerance. Both are necessary, but if we are continually reminded that Pastor Jones and his supposedly extremist al-Qaeda doppelgangers cannot turn us from the path of our accustomed liberality, we equally need to hear that the United States has brought defeat to its enemies and will continue to do so at home and abroad.