1:00 PM CDT, Tuesday, September 11, 2001
In the aftermath of the greatest loss of American life in a single attack since Pearl Harbor—and probably ever—our first thoughts must be for the victims of an attack that was neither cowardly nor senseless (as it is already being called), but a well-coordinated demonstration of American vulnerability. This is a time for prayer, not analysis. Unfortunately, even the chief executive of the United States—a professing Christian—could not find the courage to pray in front of the cameras. Faced with the evidence of a probable Islamic suicide attack carried out by men—perhaps Muslims—willing to die for their beliefs, the President could only ask for a moment of silence, a prayer to nothing. Score one for the terrorists.
The terrorists also defeated the Bush advisors who deflected his return flight and sent him into hiding. Of course the President's life is potentially threatened; but thousands of lives were lost in New York and Washington, while the CIA was asleep at the switch. This is the same CIA, remember, who helped to install the current Islamic terrorist regime in Afghanistan—the regime that ironically said, echoing Bill Clinton, that they "feel America’s pain," and which has given asylum to Osama bin Laden, who, although he is denying responsibility, has threatened such an attack repeatedly.
It would be wrong to blame President Bush for a decision clearly made by his top advisors, but he needs to be in the nation's capital, bravely defying the threats to our security. If he cannot go home, how can anyone feel secure in his home or office? A large part of the President’s responsibility is public relations, and this administration is so far flubbing its greatest challenge. As I write, the President has "disappeared down the rabbit hole" in hiding, according to ABC News reporter Ann Compton.
If Islamic extremists turn out to be behind these attacks, will anyone in Washington wake up to the danger they have created by humiliating Muslims in the Middle East and, simultaneously, giving them easy access to the United States, where they are building their mosques and agitating against any public expression of Christian faith? Such a response is unlikely.
What will our government do in the weeks to come? The decision to close the border is too little too late—closing the barn door once the horse thieves have got in. It is important to keep in mind that in America, every disaster will be used as a pretext for more stupid government programs. Despite the obvious fact that this kind of terrorist attack, which we have been predicting, could not have been stopped by the President's missile defense program, the Republicans will certainly claim that American security interests demand immediate funding. Predictably, Democratic leftists will blame the openness of our society and call for more stringent controls on guns and travel. This attack should cinch the argument for national identity cards and strengthen the hand of those who don't think we have enough police check points. The already depressed stock markets may turn suicidal, the price of oil will soar; Arafat's little rebellion has run out of steam, and President Bush will be blamed for not supporting Ariel Sharon with sufficient zeal.
Meanwhile, John McCain and Al Haig are calling for a declaration of war, only they won't say against whom; but a permanent state of war, as Chronicles' Executive Editor Scott P. Richert points out, is exactly what would suit the Washington hawks who pine for the good old days of the Cold War.
Thomas Fleming is the former editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of The Politics of Human Nature, Montenegro: The Divided Land, and The Morality of Everyday Life, named Editors' Choice in philosophy by Booklist in 2005. He is the coauthor of The Conservative Movement and the editor of Immigration and the American Identity. He holds a Ph.D. in classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Before joining the Rockford Institute, he taught classics at the University of Miami of Ohio, served as an advisor to the U.S. Department of Education, and was headmaster at the Archibald Rutledge Academy. He has been published in, among others, The Spectator (London), Independent on Sunday (London), Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Chicago Sun-Times, National Review, Classical Journal, Telos, and Modern Age. He and his wife, Gail, have four children and four grandchildren.