During the 1990s, most of us thought we were living in a period of unprecedented peace and prosperity. We even spent the "peace dividend" - cutting resources for intelligence and the military. The Cold War was over. We had no enemies worth worrying about. That was the conventional wisdom, the accepted narrative of that giddy era.
The fact that Americans were being attacked with regularity by Islamist terrorists - for example in New York City in 1993, at Khobar Towers in 1996, at two of our embassies in Africa in 1998, off the coast of Yemen in 2000 - did not lead most politicians to conclude there was a crisis that urgently needed to be addressed. As a result, the catastrophic attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 came as a shock and a surprise.
In the wake of 9/11, it was obvious that we faced a national security crisis - that a war was being waged against America and the West. Extensive anti-terrorism policies were implemented in response. Terrorists were hunted down and killed. Others were captured and interrogated. In a few cases, "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" were authorized to coerce "high-value" terrorists to reveal what they knew about attacks planned but not yet carried out.
Even so, most experts predicted that further assaults on Americans would not be long in coming. Curiously, the same people who are now quick to credit President Obama's stimulus spending with averting a second Great Depression say they doubt whether there is any correlation between the anti-terrorist policies of the Bush administration and the security we've enjoyed over the eight years since their implementation.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney begs to differ. Those policies "provided the bulk of intelligence we gained about al-Qaeda," he said in a statement. "The activities of the CIA in carrying out the policies of the Bush Administration were directly responsible for defeating all efforts by al-Qaeda to launch further mass casualty attacks against the United States."