Seven years. Zero attacks. And almost zero credit.
President George W. Bush deserves better.
Seven years ago today, evil men killed 2,998 innocent people in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. They did so in service of an evil ideology. And they were directed by evil, small-souled creatures protected by a rogue state halfway across the world. The creatures called their murderous organization Al-Qaeda, which means "The Base" -- a name appropriate for an organization that serves man's base instincts, for base motives, to achieve base results.
At the time, there was every reason to believe that Al-Qaeda would strike again on American soil. There was every reason to believe that even if the free world could track down Base leader Osama bin Laden and pulverize him, the cost in the meantime would be the endurance of more terror -- mechanical, chemical, biological, maybe even nuclear.
President Bush said no. Not on his watch. Not if he could help it.
And for seven years, he has backed it up. The only terrorism on American soil since 9/11 came from a home-grown scientist, clearly disturbed, who sent some mail laced with anthrax for a few scary weeks and spent the next seven years trying to hide his tracks. Sure, the bad guys have tried again -- they've planned more plane bombings, a bridge bombing, an airport bombing, and other assaults against American civilization -- but they were interdicted every time.
This wasn't a dog that didn't bark merely because it felt like being mute; this was a dog that didn't bark because it was forcefully muzzled. And Bush was the one who applied the muzzle.
HE DID IT by fashioning, with the help of Colin Powell (before Powell went off the reservation), an incredibly impressive coalition that went into Afghanistan -- even then, liberal pundits predicted, yes, a "quagmire" in Afghanistan, too -- and in incredibly short order kicked out the rogue regime, killed numerous members of Al-Qaeda, and chased the remaining ones high into the hills where they presumably live in caves perfectly suited to their troglodyte mentality.
Bush did it by directing his government to use all the tools at its disposal to identify and freeze Al-Qaeda assets, improve intelligence-gathering (and intelligence-sharing, back and forth, with anti-terrorist nations), disrupt Al-Qaeda communications, and track down and kill Al-Qaeda leaders. He did it by getting tough on other terrorists, too, even ones not directly affiliated with Al-Qaeda. And he did it by encouraging democratic movements throughout the Middle East and central Asia, while providing material support where necessary.
And yes, Bush warded off terrorists by toppling Saddam Hussein's dangerous outlaw regime in Iraq. It was a regime that had repeatedly shot at American aircraft. It was a regime that demonstrably owned weapons of mass murder and then refused to account for their removal or their destruction. It was a regime that had invaded its neighbors, and that had gassed and slaughtered its own people. And it was most certainly a regime that harbored terrorists, trained terrorists, and that maintained friendly communications and at least some operational ties with Al-Qaeda. Hussein's Iraq provided asylum for infamous terrorists Abu Nidal and Abu Abbas. It gave reward money to homicidal Palestinian suicide bombers. It ran a terrorist training camp at Salman Pak. It provided asylum for Al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who later founded and ran "Al-Qaeda in Iraq." An interdicted letter to him from Osama bin Laden's chief deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, made clear that Zarqawi's efforts in Iraq were an essential part of al-Qaeda's plans for conquest -- indeed, that "the expulsion of the Americans from Iraq" was the single essential predicate for "the establishment of a caliphate in the manner of the Prophet."
Well, Zarqawi is dead now, and so are most of his lieutenants, and so is his entire Al-Qaeda-in-Iraq organization except for a few final remnants in isolated last-ditch redoubts.
YES, THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION mishandled Iraq in many ways after toppling Saddam. The mismanagement began early on, when the State Department and the Defense Department had conflicting plans and then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice failed to effectively coordinate or impose order upon the operation. (One acquaintance of mine came back from a visit to Iraq in those early post-Saddam days and said "Quin, man, it's a clusterfu**.") John McCain said early on that we needed more troops and different tactics, and so did the Weekly Standard, and so did others -- but Bush, contrary to his reputation for being headstrong and unwilling to listen, instead listened to and deferred too much to his generals and to Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, who were honorably but terribly, disastrously wrong.
But here's where Bush got it right: As Bob Woodward has been reporting in the Washington Post this week, apparently unaware that the reporting actually does credit to Bush's judgment rather than providing more evidence of bad judgment, Bush stood tallest when Iraq fell into its worst chaos. Even when almost all the top military advisers continued to stubbornly advocate a failed plan, Bush insisted on victory and found a strategy to achieve it. The "surge" of course has worked wonders, and Iraq is now likely to be a success -- and despite Bush's earlier mistakes, it would not have happened if the president had not shown extraordinary leadership.
And yes, the developing victory in Iraq has indeed played a big part in the protection of our homeland from terrorist attacks. If the U.S. has been "bogged down" at times in Iraq, for the terrorists the fight there has been equal parts catnip and quicksand. Attracted there by the presence of their American enemy, they haven't been able to escape. Hundreds upon hundreds of key terrorists have been killed in Iraq. Thousands of their followers have perished. And with their attention, blood, and treasure sunk into their losing battles there, they haven't been able to attack us here within American borders. Also, by exercising their brutal natures not against infidel Americans but against fellow Moslems, the jihadists have lost the "hearts and minds" not just of the Iraqi people but of many of their Islamic brethren worldwide. President Bush was right all along that success in Iraq would have beneficial repercussions throughout the Islamic and Arab worlds.
One of those benefits came early on, when Libya's Moammar Ghadafi saw the fate of Saddam Hussein, pronounced himself scared by it, and began cooperating with the West. Ghadafi turned over huge stores of weaponry and dismantled his nuclear program -- a program that, the free world discovered, had been far closer to fruition than had been previously supposed. And now Ghadafi has hosted a visit from Condi Rice -- and, urged on by the dictator's pro-American son, Libya is more than likely to become a staunch American ally in the region.
TO REVIEW: Seven years ago bin Laden enjoyed the state support of the Taliban, Saddam was in power and bribing his way to greater autonomy, and Ghadafi was still a serious burr under our saddle. Now they are, respectively, encaved, embalmed, and enlisted (at least partly) in our cause.
That's a pretty darn good record. It comes at the cost of more than 4,000 dead American service personnel, and more than 30,000 injured. But hundreds of millions of us have, in the meantime, been safe in our daily lives from jihadist terror. Those American soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen are heroes of heroes. And they have been led by a commander in chief who has often been wrong on tactics, but always right about the ultimate goals and always determined that their sacrifices be in service to a worthy and successful cause.
Seven years after 9/11, the victories have been far greater than the intermittent setbacks. No jihadists have struck within our borders. Freedom reigns and rings. And President Bush deserves some thanks.
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