Our Heads in the Sand

Scripps-Howard News Service 5.21.02
Balint Vazsonyi

Is it a coincidence that the national agony surrounding the difficult questions about 9/11 breaks to the surface when the clean-up at Ground Zero has reached its conclusion?

I wonder.

Be that as it may, we now have opened this Pandora's box. May America's strength of character carry us through. May the families of the dead bear with us.

I believe we can get past the unspeakable, but not unaccustomed, baseness of the current Democratic leadership and of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

We can get past the hyperventilation at the White House. If there is culpability, it is shared by previous administrations and all of us.

Because, one way or another, all of us have participated in permitting the dismantling of this country's defenses. It began in the 1960s under the guise of Vietnam war protest, women's liberation, environmental awareness, dislike for Richard Nixon. It continued with open hostility first toward the CIA, then toward the FBI, university faculties rampaging for unilateral disarmament, and Jimmy Carter's utter inability to comprehend the facts of life - whether in Korea, Iran, the Panama Canal Zone or Cuba.

By the time Ronald Reagan came around, even a man of his legendary courage and commitment found the national will depleted to the extent where the murder of nearly three hundred U.S. Marines went unanswered.

After a brief interlude known as Desert Storm, cut short on the advice of our current secretary of state, the use of American power became a sick joke in the hands of a president who himself has been a sick joke on the rest of us.

Deep in our hearts, we all must know what would have been done under "normal" conditions. Upon receiving news relating to Osama bin Laden's intentions, the already voluminous FBI file would have been updated. What file? Following the bombings of U.S. embassies and the USS Cole, every Arab enrolled in a flying school would have been under surveillance for some time already. Now, quietly, special agents would have been assigned to monitor their every move. All airlines would have been advised to watch out for more than two Middle-Eastern men on any one flight, especially if giving rise to suspicion on additional grounds.

But we have not operated under "normal" conditions for years, or the boat carrying the explosives would never have reached the USS Cole. And, with competent and focused personnel at our airline counters, the 19 men would never have been allowed to board those planes on 9/11. Remember? They did not even bother to camouflage their intentions by buying round-trip tickets, using a credit card, or checking bags. Did no one notice them or, worse still, the airline people did, and elected to do nothing?

Similar questions might be raised about our relationship with intelligence reports. We did not have "specific information?" How specific does it have to be? The USS Cole was attacked by men who knew they would die, and who used a vessel as a self-propelled bomb. Those are not dots to connect. Those are exclamation points.

And yes, there would have been plenty of time to prevent a take-off of those fateful flights, even after the murderers had boarded. Time, yes. Will, no.

The attack on history's most powerful navy also went unanswered. No, conditions in America have not been "normal" for some time. And that is not the fault of George W. Bush.

Normal for a country, even for the most generous country, is to be committed to self-preservation. The 1960s introduced a slow but unstoppable decomposition of that basic human instinct. National self-preservation requires border controls. National self-preservation requires competent and reliable people in important jobs, especially in jobs to do with our security. We can hire people either for "social justice," or for competence, not both.

And national self-preservation requires that the government provides for the safety of Americans before it gets all teary-eyed about a sense of comfort for everyone who comes here, whether legally or illegally, whether with legitimate intentions or employing flagrant deception. Our concern with everybody's "comfort" has acquired proportions bordering on insanity.

These are harsh sentiments. It is indeed much nicer to pull over the elderly, and babies on the arms of nursing mothers, for random security checks showing how we refuse to draw conclusions from 30 years of terrorism - invariably from the same source - even after they dared something not even Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia dared: they attacked our homeland.

Yes, it is much nicer, or is it?

Could it be a case of burying our heads in the sand?

In any event, we ought not to blame one person or administration for something we could only alter by common consent. It is difficult, because Americans genuinely want to be nice.

Hopefully, Americans also wish to stay alive.