Getting back to reality

Posted: Jun 01, 2002 12:00 AM
It is hard to imagine an event that could shake a nation back to reality more than the Sept. 11 attacks. For a while it did, but I fear we are drifting back to fantasyland at an alarming pace. By now it’s almost clichéd to acknowledge that Sept. 11 had a profound effect on us, but it did. Many wrote that it would be permanent. But will it? The attacks clearly drew us together as a people and as a nation, uniting us in a bond of patriotism at a level we haven’t seen since World War II. They also made us more appreciative of our freedom and blessings, and caused us to soberly reflect on the truly important things in life, including God, family, friends and neighbors. And many swore we wouldn’t backslide. The intensity of our emotions has subsided over time, which had to happen sooner or later. But normally, intense emotions cloud our judgment, and we become more reasonable as they recede. In this case, the reverse may be occurring: The 9/11 emotions made us wiser (about the important things), and their diminution is making us less so. We are becoming more irrational, which may be a pathetic byproduct of the rank partisanship that dominates the national debate today. I don’t mean that we all ought to be running around like frenzied vigilantes, just that we shouldn’t lose sight of what matters most. We mustn’t permit ourselves to become complacent again, because we are far from being out of the woods in this war. Our focus immediately after the terrorist attacks was driven by a refreshing burst of moral clarity, which President Bush choreographed with the skill of a consummate leader. Despite skepticism from moral relativists, there was a general consensus that the terrorists were evil personified and that our struggle was as black and white as good versus evil. Not any longer. We’ve lost our focus. New reports are coming out almost daily concerning information that was supposedly available to our intelligence services and our leaders prior to Sept. 11, and everyone is pointing the finger of blame at everyone else for these failures. We’re looking to fault anyone but the terrorists for the atrocities. Democrats are blaming Bush, Republicans are blaming Clinton, and Congress is blaming the FBI, CIA, INS and other agencies. Now everyone is demanding an investigation of our intelligence breakdown, as if we are capable of absolutely preventing terrorist attacks. There is no question that our intelligence infrastructure has collapsed, but for our politicians to blame the CIA and FBI after what they’ve done to sissify and handcuff those agencies is like Bill Clinton blaming inadequate campaign finance laws for his sale of our nuclear missile delivery technology to Red China. I wouldn’t object to Congress empanelling a Blue-Ribbon Commission, if it weren’t doing so for political cover and if it would actually use the information acquired constructively. But what invariably happens with such commissions is that they issue impressive reports and recommendations that are largely ignored, like the Grace commission on government waste, fraud and abuse. I wouldn’t even mind Congress conducting the investigation directly, if it would subject itself to scrutiny and accountability for emasculating our intelligence capabilities and national security. But what is the point of these high-powered investigations if our leaders have no intention of doing what’s necessary to strengthen our security, including tightening illegal immigration controls, strengthening border security, requiring coordination between federal and state agencies, sensible targeting of Arab suspects, allowing pilots to have guns in the cockpit and arming the often disarmed National Guard in our airports? We also better not delude ourselves into thinking that we’re capable of absolutely insulating ourselves from all future 9/11s. Our high-tech, relatively painless experiences in the Gulf War, Kosovo and Afghanistan have made some believe we are untouchable. But no matter how well we do in our war against terrorism on all fronts: diplomatic, financial, intelligence and military, we are always going to retain a degree of vulnerability because we are dealing with an evil, uncivilized and implacable enemy whose members have little respect for human life. It’s time that we came back to reality, quit blaming each other, legitimately refurbished our intelligence networks, unshackled ourselves from the constraints of political correctness and implemented measures to enhance our security, and renewed our resolve to prosecute this war, beginning with Iraq -- when we’re logistically ready. The restructuring of the FBI is a good start. But let it just be the beginning.