In his news conference on Tuesday night, a reporter pressed President Bush to discuss "what mistakes might have been made." He answered, quite rightly, that prior to September 11, 2001, the country was not on a "war footing" and that the real culprit in the attacks was Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda. Other members of the Bush Administration have reiterated the president's sentiment in testimony before the 9/11 Commission.
Two things are remarkable about this. The first is that this answer may somehow absolve the president and his government for the ongoing failure of U.S. intelligence services to address the problem of terrorism. What the President might have said is that there is no such thing as perfect intelligence. There never has been and never will be. We can reorganize the CIA and the FBI and rebuild our human intelligence capabilities, but because we live in a free and open country we will always be vulnerable to attack. What we can do is punish those countries that sponsor terrorism and those terrorist cells that exist in known places throughout the world.
Prior to 9/11 this had not been done sufficiently. We had not retaliated to the bombings of the Marines in Beirut in 1983; the terrorist attacks in Europe in 1985 and 1986; the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993; the bombings of U.S. embassies in Africa in 1996; and the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. These were not failures of intelligence. These were failures of U.S. presidents to punish those terrorists abroad who meant to do America harm. Little intelligence would have been required other than knowing whom it was we should punish. But retaliate we did not, and 9/11 was a consequence of our lack of resolve.
For some inexplicable reason, the Bush Administration is defensive on a point it need not be. It is not this administration's fault that the intelligence services were disorganized or that previous administrations had failed to act. President Bush is doing his best now to right the course and punish those who mean us harm.
Second, a common theme emerging from the commission's hearings seems to be that we ought to have declared war against terrorists prior to 9/11. On this point we agree. It was 10 years ago that our friend Bruce Herschensohn made the case for declaring war on terrorism in his book, Lost Trumpets, which he wrote for the Claremont Institute.
Since then, we have continued to argue that only by making war against terrorists can you hope to defeat them, a point that resonates with the commonsense of the American people, if not the bureaucrats in the State Department. I reprint here an excerpt from Herschensohn's argument:
It will be prime time; exactly 9:00 P.M. in Washington, D.C. when the door of the Chamber will open and the doorkeeper will yell it out, "Mr. Speaker, the President of the United States." The applause will be immediate as the audience of Senators and Representatives and the Supreme Court and the members of the President's Cabinet and his staff rise and the applause will last through the end of the President's journey to the podium and beyond. And the Speaker of the House will say "Members of the Congress, I have the high privilege and distinct honor of presenting to you, the President of the United States." And again the standing ovation.
There will be a greatness, not only in the moment, but in this President, with or without the traditional ovation.
"Mr. Speaker, Mr. Vice-President, Distinguished Members of the Senate and House of Representatives, honored guests and fellow citizens: As President of the United States of America, I have requested this Joint Session of the Congress to ask this body for a declaration of war against an enemy of the United States of America--a hostile force that is also an enemy of most of the inhabitants of this planet. That enemy is Terrorism.
"As Franklin Delano Roosevelt once came to this chamber to request a declaration of war because of a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, I am here for a similar declaration, because of repeated surprise attacks on our citizens that have taken place throughout the world. The victims of those surprise attacks have been powerless, and they have been innocent of any crimes. They have often been murdered because they held a passport issued by the United States of America.
"Those attacks have not been a matter of the past alone; we have become much to relaxed in the intermissions between attacks. They will come again, maybe next year, maybe in the next moment, but they will come again. And if we do nothing more than we have done, they will escalate in the future. These surprise attacks can come to any citizen of the United States.
"But what do I mean by a declaration of war? With precision, what is it I'm requesting?
"I am requesting that from your declaration forward, the United States of America will regard Terrorism as a sovereign state--as a nation in itself. The Nation of Terrorism is a chain of bases, training camps, safe houses, and other facilities that dot portions of the map of the world, going into and out of other sovereign states. The non-contiguous configuration that the Nation of Terrorism has enjoyed has been a shield since its citizens-by-choice have assumed that they would always be regarded as part of other sovereign states that surround them. That shield must be a thing of the pastâ€¦.
"As Commander-in-Chief I will see to it that if any American is terrorized; indeed if one hair on the head of an American is touched in hostility, there will be an immediate retaliation by the Government of the United States of America against Terrorism, with our military directed to strike at any unannounced terrorist target we think appropriate within that archipelago of 'islands' that have been built and inhabited within the existing borders of other sovereign states.
"In short, we will no longer simply search for individuals directly responsible for individual acts of terrorism any more than in other wars we would search selectively for an individual grenade-thrower on a battlefield. This will be a clear edict that we are no longer at war against individual terrorists alone when we can find them, but instead, we are at war against Terrorism and we have found it.
"When President Roosevelt addressed this body in December of 1941 he did not say 'Yesterday we were attacked at Pearl Harbor, and we are going to do everything possible to find out who those individual pilots, navigators, and bombardiers were, and capture those men, and bring them to justice.' That would have been a guarantee that we would have lost the war.
"We must recognize that the Nation of Terrorism has already declared war against the United States and has often captured our most prized property--our citizens. As President of the United States I cannot and will not allow that to continue or re-start.
"If terrorists feel that our retaliatory policy puts them at risk of being targeted for individual acts of terrorism that they did not commit, there is only one option for their future safety: to get out of the terrorism business.
"My fellow Americans, intermittently, terrorism, including hostage-taking, has been a crime without sufficient punishment, and often with reward for the hostage-takers. Our policy of searching is done. A new policy of swift and sure retaliation against the Nation of Terrorism will be in immediate effect after you in the Congress make such a formal declaration. Let that declaration be a warning, the only warning to be given, that the citizens of the United States are to be secure against violence on their person wherever they travel throughout the world."
Bruce Herschensohn latest book is Passport, a gripping novel of the Cold War. Limited copies of Herschensohn's Lost Trumpets are available. Call (909) 621-6825 to order.