Are Americans taking the necessary steps to protect themselves from further attacks?
This question comes to mind on reading a news dispatch titled, "Iran Enthusiastically Celebrates the American 'Humiliation' at Tabas 22 Years Ago."
It refers to Tabas, a remote desert town in Iran - the site of a U.S. military disaster. On April 25, 1980, a rescue team sent by President Jimmy Carter to spring 49 Americans held hostage in the U.S. embassy in Tehran had to abort when two U.S. aircraft collided at Tabas, leaving eight soldiers dead.
To this day, Iran's militant Islamic leadership keeps the memory of that day alive. Last week, the government bused thousands of militiamen to Tabas where they prayed and shouted slogans like "Death to America" and "Death to Israel." It will build a museum in Tabas exclusively devoted to chronicling the failed U.S. mission. Iranian television news informs viewers that the failure "proves the weakness of the United States."
The disaster has gone down the memory hole for Americans. But it's Americans (and Israelis and other Westerners) who really should be recalling the Tabas incident, for it marked a major turning point.
It was when the current round of militant Islam's war against the West took its first fatalities. "Death to America" proved to be not an empty slogan but the battle cry of this era's most vibrant and dangerous extremist ideology.
In retrospect, it is clear that the eight deaths at Tabas were the very first in a sequence that has continued for over two decades. Consider just some of the attacks on Americans:
- April 1983: U.S. embassy in Beirut bombed, killing 63.
- October '83: U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut bombed, killing 241.
- December '83: U.S. embassy in Kuwait bombed, killing 6.
- January '84: Malcolm Kerr, president of the American University of Beirut, assassinated.
- April '84: Hezbollah attacks the environs of a U.S. airbase in Spain, killing 18 servicemen.
- September '84: U.S. embassy in Beirut again bombed, killing 16.
- December '84: Two Americans murdered on a hijacked plane in Tehran.
- June '85: U.S. seaman killed on a hijacked plane in Beirut.
And on and on. More recent incidents include the World Trade Center bombing of February '93, the two attacks on U.S. soldiers in Saudi Arabia in '95 and '96, the two U.S. embassies blown up in East Africa in August '98 and the USS Cole bombed in Yemen in October 2000. In all, some 600 Americans lost their lives to militant Islam before September 2001.
All of these were highly publicized incidents, dominating the headlines and furrowing brows about an effective counterterrorism policy. But they did not inspire action. The U.S. government neither attacked the enemy nor changed policies. For example, the 241 dead at the Marine barracks bombing (the largest number of Americans killed by militant Islam before 9/11) brought forth no retaliation at all and the World Trade Center bombing prompted no review of immigration procedures.
In short, although Americans were repeatedly attacked, they barely responded. One can hardly blame the militant Islamic groups and governments for concluding that the United States was weak, demoralized and ripe for attack. The population was feckless, distracted and complacent, the government incompetent.
And now? The trauma of September changed some things but not enough. The government won't name militant Islam as the enemy but hides behind the euphemism of "terrorism." The CIA and FBI remain largely unchanged. Airline security is a sham. Israel is constrained from rooting out the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure.
As the sense of vulnerability and resolve of seven months ago dissipates, Americans are returning to business as usual. Sept. 11 increasingly feels like a remote nightmare without much relevance to the present circumstances.
To which I predict: If things proceed in this direction, there can only be one certain result - further assaults perpetrated by militant Islam. The carnage begun that awful day in the Iranian desert in 1980 will not run its course until Americans understand how much they need to fear and loathe militant Islam. We can only hope this happens sooner rather than later, so that the number of casualties to come will be smaller rather than larger.