After 9/11, the prevailing view was that "nothing would ever be the same." The sight of bodies plunging 100 stories from the flaming towers of the World Trade Center seared into our psyches the reality that America has cruel and wanton enemies. The USA Patriot Act, which sought to repair some of the intelligence lapses that permitted the 9/11 attacks to go undiscovered, passed the House by a vote of 357 to 66 and the Senate by 98 to one.
Twelve years is a long time, though, and the best you can say about "things will never be the same" is that it's a truism. The ordinary human tendency to relax one's watchfulness creeps back surprisingly quickly -- especially when the president of the United States implies that we can unilaterally declare a war "ended" because we're tired of vigilance and we want to spend money on Obamacare, universal preschool and food stamps.
The Obama administration is flailing on the subject of national security, declaring the war over in one breath and thundering against Syria's use of chemical weapons in the next. After 12 years of excoriating Mr. Bush for attempting to deal with a tyrant in control of WMDs, Mr. Obama, though calling himself "war-weary," nonetheless sounded exactly like his predecessor in his frustration with the so-called "international community."
"My preference obviously would have been that the international community already acted forcefully," he lamented on Friday. "But what we have seen ... is an incapacity at this point for the Security Council to move forward."
What caused that "incapacity"? Russia's willingness to veto any resolution that would impose costs on Syria. Thus does the law professor encounter the real world, in which promising "resets" and "flexibility" to "Vladimir" leads not to international cooperation against evil but to the opposite.
If the president were thinking strategically, and not just about avoiding personal humiliation because he improvidently painted himself into a corner with warnings about "red lines," he wouldn't be wasting energy on Syria, which is the client of another power. As Michael Ledeen of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies has tirelessly pointed out, Iran is the chief fount of terror in the world. Ledeen is feeling deja vu, watching another president focus on the wrong country regarding WMDs.