Five years ago today, Americans opened their newspapers to read front page stories in The New York Times with these headlines: "School Dress Codes vs. a Sea of Bare Flesh" and "In a Nation of Early Risers, Morning TV Is a Hot Market." The front page of The Washington Post included stories on the EPA tightening rules on arsenic in water and a poll that focused on tax cuts. And at 8:41 a.m. I sent an e-mail to my colleague Michael J. Gerson, who was then the chief speechwriter to President Bush. I reported to Mike on the senior staff meeting we had earlier in the morning (Mike was working from home and as his deputy, I attended the meeting in his place). The first sentence of my e-mail said this: "Very little of note happened."
Five minutes after that message was sent, America entered a new world, and a new war.
In the half-decade since the September 11 attacks, we and our coalition partners have made significant progress in that war. Terrorist sanctuaries have been removed, terrorist finances have been disrupted, key operatives have been captured and killed, terrorist cells in America and other nations have been broken up, and new attacks have been stopped before they could be carried out. The fact that we have not suffered a single terrorist attack on our homeland since that awful morning in September is a remarkable achievement. But we are still in the early years of an epic struggle. The civilized world will either prevail, or a "long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope."
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During the past five years, we have learned some important things. We have certainly learned about the nature of the enemy. Al Qaeda and its allies are violent, ruthless, and without conscience. Their movement is fueled by deep hatred, anger, and hostility to freedom. They want to control every sphere of human life and crush all expressions of human dignity. We cannot negotiate with them because they cannot be reasoned with. "Anyone who stands in the way of our struggle is our enemy and target of the swords," said Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the late leader of al Qaeda in Iraq.
These Islamic extremists prey on weakness and revel in watching the innocent suffer and die. Their creed is to kill, and to kill, and to kill. They want to kill Christians, Jews, and Muslims who do not share their twisted faith. They want to kill women and children and the elderly and the innocent. And in their efforts, they have shown cunning, relentlessness, and patience.