Has America Learned from 9/11?
by Daniel Pipes
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As Americans pick a president, one key criterion is how the war on terror is going. Is President Bush correct in his positive view or Senator Kerry in his negative one?
This same debate, interestingly, is also taking place within conservative circles, where analysts sharing the same basic outlook - that Americans are fighting for their very existence - come to dramatically different conclusions. Consider the contrasting views of two important voices on the right, Mark Helprin and Tod Lindberg.
Mr. Helprin, author of such powerful novels as A Soldier of the Great War and Winter's Tale, writes a despairing analysis in the current issue of the Claremont Review of Books, in which he finds America's failure today to understand the threat it faces "comparable to the deepest sleep that England slept in the decade of the 1930s," when it failed to perceive the Nazi menace.
Mr. Helprin finds that the country, and its elites in particular, remain enamored with the illusion that it can muddle through, "that the stakes are low and the potential damage not intolerable." In other words, September 11 did not serve as a wake-up call. He calls on Americans to make up their collective mind and answer the simple question, "Are we at war, or are we not?" If not, they need not worry and can remain happily asleep in pre-September 11 mode. If they are, "then major revisions and initiatives are needed, soon."
Mr. Helprin sketches out the steps needed for serious war-fighting, both abroad (focusing on Iraq and Iran) and at home. The latter include: Truly secure the borders with a 30,000-strong Border Patrol, summarily deport aliens "with even the slightest record of support for terrorism," closely survey American citizens with suspected terrorist connections, and develop a Manhattan Project-style crash program to protect against all chemical and biological warfare agents.
The means to take these steps exist; what prevents them from taking shape is the left being in a state of "high dudgeon" and the right not even daring to propose such measures. "The result is a paralysis that the terrorists probably did not hope for in their most optimistic projections, an arbitrary and gratuitous failure of will."
Mr. Lindberg, editor of the Hoover Institution's Policy Review magazine, also finds a wide agreement among Americans, one that transcends the partisan divide of the current election season. Unlike Mr. Helprin, he is cheered by what he finds. The Bush administration, he notes in the Weekly Standard, has "outlined a new strategic doctrine that is going to guide national security policy for the next 50 years, regardless of who wins the 2004 election."
Whereas Mr. Helprin looks at the deficiencies, Mr. Lindberg points to four changes that Mr. Bush asserted and now Mr. Kerry appears to accept, namely that Washington:
The Democratic nominee could have revised or rejected these policies. He could have endorsed lower spending on the American military, focused narrowly on terrorists and ignored the states behind them, forsworn pre-emptive war, and promised noninterference in the internal affairs of other states. But Mr. Kerry did none of these. Rather, he complains about implementation, basically limiting his criticism of Mr. Bush to Osama bin Laden's eluding capture or gaps in the coalition versus Saddam Hussein.
Messrs. Helprin and Lindberg have reached nearly opposite conclusions about the underlying agreement between the hostile Democratic and Republican tribes. But Mr. Helprin, who excoriates the American reluctance to do what's necessary, is the more correct. Mr. Lindberg correctly discerns that Mr. Kerry has, during the electoral season, accepted the Bush administration's presumptions because they are widely popular. But there is no reason to expect these views to survive into a Kerry administration, which is very likely to revert to a wholly different outlook.
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