Jewish theology teaches that the wise man is the man who learns from everyone. The same can be said about events. What lessons are there to be learned from Sept. 11 and its aftermath? What can we expect in the years to come? Here are the six most important lessons I have learned from the slaughter of 3,000 of my countrymen.
1. We must define the enemy. Our enemy is Islamic fundamentalism. Terrorists representing this murderous ideology utilize anonymity to attain their goals. We must not make it easier for them by refusing to identify them. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has appeased advocates of political correctness. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta won't screen young Muslim men, so Grandma continues to be checked for her metal hip. President Bush has justifiably made an effort to disassociate terrorism from Islam. Unfortunately, he has done such a good job that Muslim groups have not felt the need to strenuously disassociate themselves from terrorism. Identifying the problem is the first step toward eradicating it.
2. It's not the economy, stupid. Why is George W. Bush hovering around 54 percent in popularity polls? After all, the economy hasn't exactly skyrocketed from the ashes of its mid-recession doldrums. Simply put, the economy is not the issue Democrats would like it to be. A few weeks back, brilliant U.S. News and World Report columnist Michael Barone told me that the age of "economy only" politics is over. It's not the 1930s anymore, he said. Thoughts of a Great Depression aren't lurking subconsciously for the American voter. He was right then, and he's right now. Which is why President Bush will clean the Democratic clock in 2004.
3. Politics doesn't stop at the water's edge anymore. The era when liberals could eschew petty politics and unify with conservatives on foreign policy is over. The Democrats care more about regaining branches of government than they do about protecting American citizens. That's why they attempted to scuttle the homeland security bill; that's why they're griping over granting President Bush $87 billion to fight terror and rebuild Iraq; that's why their two leading contenders for president, John F. Kerry and Howard Dean, are bashing President Bush on foreign policy. At least Kerry should know better. It was his party's resistance to all-out war in Vietnam that led to American defeat.
4. Bill Clinton was a bum. Blaming Bill Clinton for Sept. 11 has been taboo. Nevertheless, Bill Clinton is largely at fault for 3,000 dead Americans in New York (not to mention scores more dead in Africa, Saudi Arabia and Yemen). Weakness breeds terrorism. The Clinton presidency was a non-stop display of foreign-policy weakness. More directly, Clinton refused to take out Osama bin Laden. Anyone complaining that Bush hasn't found OBL ought to complain to Clinton. If Clinton had done his job, we could find OBL either rotting in a prison somewhere or lying under the sod.
5. The 1973 complex shapes American foreign policy. Anti-Bushniks are wrong about the War on Terrorism in every respect save one: What ever happened to Saudi Arabia? The vast majority of the Sept. 11 terrorists were Saudis, financed by Saudi money. The head of al-Qaeda is a Saudi. The Saudi official religion, Wahabbi-ism, is the most virulent strain of Islamic fundamentalism. So why isn't Saudi Arabia on America's hit list? Because we need its oil. Or at least we think we do. The Saudis scared us with the 1973 oil embargo, so we continue to refer to the Saudis as our allies. But if we don't begin pumping oil from a newly reconstructed Iraq or find other sources for oil, we will continue to face Saudi-backed terrorism for years to come.
6. Americans must be ready to sacrifice certain liberties for a little temporary safety. It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." He was speaking about the need for American intolerance toward government encroachment on liberties. He was not advocating that Americans tolerate occasional terrorist attacks in order to board airplanes more quickly. I'd rather take off my shoes at the airport metal detector than be murdered aboard a 747. But maybe that's just me.
We have all learned our own lessons from Sept. 11. May those lessons imbue us with the urgency to do what must be done.