In terms of events that changed our history, where will the terrorist attack that brought down the World Trade Center on that dark day rank next to, say, the first voyage of Columbus, the landing of the Pilgrims in 1620, the battles of Trenton and Saratoga and Yorktown and Gettysburg, the introduction of the income tax, the attack on Pearl Harbor?
It is no slight on the lives lost in the Sept. 11 attacks, or the courageous efforts over the five ensuing years to track down the surviving culprits, to say that the answer is not yet clear.
In terms of the actual physical and economic damage done, in terms of the size of the active enemy force and their ability to bring this nation to its knees, the threat of al-Qaida is pathetic. They may be able to leverage some short-term gains for the regressive Wahhabi cult of Islamic medievalism in Iran and Pakistan and even in Saudi Arabia. But the notion that a few thousand ululating loonies, hiding out in caves and eating with one hand, can hope to overthrow “decadent Western culture” is absurd.
They can’t even get Britney Spears off the cover of the tabloids, for Muhammad’s sake.
Except, perhaps, in Europe, where a neurotic generation of estrogen-soaked surrender monkeys might indeed prefer donning a burnoose and kneeling before an Islamic master for their daily whipping to any forthright declaration that Western culture is just fine, thank you very much, we’re perfectly happy with the Enlightenment and the steam engine and indoor plumbing, and if you don’t like it you can pack your grievances and head back to Flyspeckistan, and no, you may not take your Playboy videos.
(These murderers of unarmed women and children clearly imagine the world hangs on their every word. Oh, please. To this day, more Americans can name the second-string quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers than any of the also-rans who have ever been dubbed “second in command” of al-Qaida. These guys aren’t exactly the Wehrmacht.)
The larger questions are whether Islam in general will embrace or categorically reject this repulsively violent, barbaric and regressive brand of nihilism and nostalgia for the Dark Ages -- and meantime whether Americans will foolishly allow their vital constitutional rights to be further eroded by those who contend, “It’s just temporary, until we win this ‘War on Terrorism’ thing.”
On both, unfortunately, the jury is still out.
Meantime, at least some useful work is being done in the exploration of how and why the building threat of al-Qaida (being small, it’s an outfit that needs a lot of time to put a plan in gear) was ignored for so long.
An ABC documentary airing tonight and Monday lays a good part of the blame on the fact that Bill Clinton and his administration were more focused on Monica Lewinsky and the inconvenient fact she possessed a stained blue dress (meaning the “Bimbo Squad” couldn’t discredit her as a pathological hysterical liar like all the others), than on evidence that the threat of Islamic terrorism was real, coherent, and on the rise.
Veteran White House counterterrorism official Richard A. Clarke, who disputes the film’s accuracy, is portrayed in “The Path to 9/11” telling FBI agent John P. O’Neill: “Republicans went all out for impeachment. I just don’t see the president in this climate willing to take chances.”
O’Neill responds: “So it’s okay if somebody kills bin Laden, so long as he didn’t give the order. ... It’s pathetic.”
Talk radio personality Rush Limbaugh, a friend of screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh, reports the film “indicts the Clinton administration, Madeleine Albright, Sandy Berger. It is just devastating to the Clinton administration. It talks about how we had chances to capture bin Laden in specific detail.”
“Water under the bridge,” some will argue.
But surely to chart a wise course for the future, it can’t hurt to figure out how we got where we are today.
“The Path to 9/11” marks a start. Though it’s doubtful we’ll really grasp what’s going on in the Middle East until as many Americans can identify Mohammed Mossadegh and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as can identify ninth-year quarterback (former Eastern Michigan Eagle, former Detroit Lion) Charlie Batch, No. 16.