Did We Really Overreact to 9/11?

Secondly, nobody believed Saddam had a “nuclear arsenal” in the 1990s. That’s because after we defeated him in 1991, we discovered he was but six months to a year away from developing an atomic bomb. So we ended it with inspections. He was close to getting the bomb ten years prior to the Gulf War as well, but the Israelis took out the Osirak reactor in 1981. The fear was that Saddam would perpetually pursue and eventually obtain a nuclear device, a fear substantiated by the Iraq Survey Group’s findings: Saddam was hell-bent on reconstituting his NBC programs (nuclear/bio/chem) the moment international sanctions were lifted. Free from sanctions, Saddam would have likely gotten his hands on the bomb -- or at least an Uday/Qusay successor regime would have.

As for the Soviets, there is no use in rearguing Cold War history with a man of Zakaria’s views on foreign affairs. Soviet expansionism was real: Afghanistan, El Salvador, Cambodia, Nicaragua, Angola, Romania, martial law in Poland. Communist insurgencies had sprung up around the world. Eastern Europe was under the Politburo’s dominion. Dissidents were kidnapped and thrown in gulags. Hell, if it weren’t for a disobedient colonel in 1983 they would have nuked us!

And in regards to the American penchant for exaggerating the threat from Moscow, I would refer Zakaria to the infamous National Intelligence Estimate 85-3-62 presented to President Kennedy on September 19, 1962: “The USSR could derive considerable military advantage from the establishment of Soviet medium and intermediate range ballistic missiles in Cuba. … [This] development, however, would be incompatible with Soviet practice to date and with Soviet policy as we presently estimate.”  The Cuban Missile Crisis was three weeks later.

The rest of Zakaria’s article is a mishmash of grievances with the federal government. He talks of needless bureaucracy (“created … 263 organizations,” “thirty-three new building complexes”); needless waste (“money spent on intelligence has risen by 250 percent”); and needless incompetence (not catching Maj. Hassan before Fort Hood or the underwear bomber before Christmas).  And then to end it, Zakaria quotes James Madison to give us the contemporary libertarian view of needless Big Brother.

There’s some truth to these last points. Perhaps the Department of Homeland Security could have been put in the FBI. Perhaps the director of national intelligence could have been put in the CIA. Perhaps the federal government could be fighting this war far more effectively -- and cost-effectively. But all this speaks to government incompetence, mismanagement, and red tape. It says nothing of our “overreaction” to 9/11. We did not put Muslim-Americans in internment camps as Roosevelt had done to Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor, or as Bruce Willis does in The Siege after a mere bus bombing. Hollywood and the puppeteers of pop culture do not understand the American character or the American psyche. After 9/11, we did not “go Roman” on the Middle East as previous global powers would have done.

The water-boarding debate was always controlled by demagogues. To this date President Obama won’t declassify the blacked-out documents that describe the efficacy of the interrogative practice (which was performed on just three terrorists). Obama knows water-boarding worked and saved American lives, and he knows Americans would be supportive of the practice in such a case, so he would therefore rather keep this issue in the dark than vindicate the worldview of Dick Cheney and the Weekly Standard.  Obama also retained the right to employ water-boarding whenever he wishes. As for the supposed evils of Gitmo, Predator drones, rendition, military tribunals, wiretaps, etc. -- Obama continues all of it to this day, and under a Democratic administration the issues have ceased to be used for domestic grandstanding and ahistorical slander.

Nine years after 9/11, our policymakers have responded in measured and levelheaded though sometimes inadequate ways. Our citizens have been patient and tolerant, though sometimes blissfully ignorant; our diplomats and intelligence officers have been dauntless. And our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines have been valiant.