WASHINGTON, D.C. -- There are times when history's calamities bring with them not only carnage but also unanticipated benefits. Pearl Harbor allowed President Franklin Roosevelt to get on with what he knew he had to do -- namely, declare war on democracy's mortal foes.
As late as 1941, significant political forces in the country were going to make Roosevelt's entry into the war very messy. After Japan's "sneak attack," those forces lost their clout. Similarly, the outbreak of the Korean War enfeebled the political forces then preventing President Harry Truman from rearming and facing the growing communist menace in Europe and Asia. By the same token, Sept. 11 may have provided America its wake-up call for terrorism before the terrorists become more lethal.
If this is the case, as I think it is, then those who died so bravely on Sept. 11 are even greater heroes than we have hitherto recognized. Their deaths will not have been in vain if future deaths are prevented.
As with the periods preceding Pearl Harbor and the Korean War, the period preceding Sept. 11 was a dreamy time. There existed little political support for a war on terrorism, and the president who should have summoned us to action against terrorism was neither up to the job nor even attentive. He was, as they say, (SET ITAL) distracted. (END ITAL) Remember the CNN footage of his being "groped" at a rope line by the fair Monica? Contrary to the Clinton apologists' presidential histories, Roosevelt and Truman never suffered these (SET ITAL) distractions. (END ITAL)
Unlike Roosevelt in the late 1930s and President Truman in the late 1940s, the big loveable lug who was president in the 1990s made no effort to rouse America against international threats. In point of fact, there is growing evidence -- some of it coming from statements by his own national security advisors -- that the Boy President actually neglected terrorists' threats. Moreover, the actions that he did take against terrorists often seemed to be mere expedients to distract attention from his scandals or to turn public opinion against a duly authorized prosecutor. The result was quite possibly to render the threat of terrorism doubtful in the public's eyes.
A more lurid irony issuing from the 42nd president's frivolous antics is that he may have provided Zacarias Moussaoui, the first man to be indicted for the September murders, with a game plan for evading conviction. Just as the Clintons discredited the Whitewater evidence deployed against for being merely "circumstantial," Moussaoui can make similar claims. So far the evidence against him is only circumstantial.
Nonetheless, the terrorists' grisly work has roused Americans to vigilance and duty. With surprising equanimity, the country is now contemplating moving against other enclaves of terror -- for instance, Iraq and its arsenals of chemical and biological weaponry, and possible nuclear devices.
Attacking Iraq soon is, indeed, the prudent course. Sources I speak with in the Justice Department are increasingly apprehensive that terrorist acts vastly surpassing those of Sept. 11 are being planned. Some talk of biological or chemical attacks, or of an attache-sized nuclear device reducing a major American city to wasteland.
In Iraq, Saddam Hussein has contemplated all these possibilities. He has employed scientists and technicians to create such weapons. He has supported terrorists who dream of carrying out his evil stratagems. Iraq should be the next target in our war against terrorism.
Saddam's military is, according to analysts, far weaker than it was the last time we sent it packing. His hold on the country is also weaker. Our overwhelming display of force in Afghanistan has persuaded Middle Eastern powers who have reason to fear Iraq that an American assault on Iraq might very quickly rid the region of a very dangerous man.
Turkey has publicly reversed its stand against attacking Iraq, and other Middle Eastern powers have quietly signaled their acquiescence also. Finally, Iraqi exiles in the Iraqi National Congress seem to offer the prospect of a reform government after Saddam's departure.
When we were finally forced to enter into this war on terrorism, the Bush administration made it clear that Osama bin Laden was only the first snake in a nest of snakes. For the world to be reasonably secure from terrorism, the rest of the snakes must now be dealt with.
Surely the quickest way to exterminate a snake nest is to get the mother first. The word coming out of Washington is that the Bush administration is even now setting its sights on the great snake in Baghdad.
As Todd Beamer, one of the heroes who prevented United Flight 93 from causing even greater carnage was heard to say as he and his fellow passengers moved on the terrorists, "Let's roll."