Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years?

Has it really been five years?

I have to confess: I haven't been watching the news today. Partly because I've been waiting on a phone call from the air-conditioning repairman, but mostly because I didn't want to hear it. The endless on-and-on by the talking heads, mumbling sonorously and decorously about the anniversary of the tragedy.

Which shows how truly and deeply they just don't get it.

When a good friend gets cancer, that's a tragedy. Somebody flying a fully-loaded airplane into a building is an act of war.

I remember quite cleary my thoughts and feelings that day. I remember hearing about the first plane crashing, and wondering how it could have happened. Accidents do happen, after all. During WWII, in heavy fog, a B-17 ran into the Empire State Building. I was still wondering about the odds of something similar happening today when the second one hit.

I don't believe in coincidences.

More to the point, I knew who was responsible, and more or less where he was.

I knew who Bin Laden was several years before 9/11, knew that he was responsible for the '93 WTC bombing, and knew that he was enjoying the hospitality of the Taliban. Putting two and two together wasn't exactly rocket science. It took me all of about ten seconds.

The only question remaining to my mind was, how do we respond?

On the whole, I think we've responded appropriately. We've used considerable restraint. In my angrier moments, I sometimes think that turning the whole region from the Jordan River to the Hindu Kush into a solid field of Trinitite might not be such a bad idea after all. But cooler heads have prevailed.

We smashed the Taliban. There are still a few remnants around today, but they aren't running the country anymore.

We smashed Al-Qaeda's training and supply infrastructure. Now that the training camps are gone, every casualty they suffer is expenditure from capital, not income. They haven't been totally destroyed. It's damn hard to totally destroy a cell-based organization. I'm reasonably sure it's a practical impossibility. But things like this have a relatively short shelf life as revolutionary movements. They have about ten years before they either (a) win, or (b) metastasize into fairly conventional criminal syndicates. They've shot their wad, and have nothing at all to show for it. Five years ago, they were the supermen of the Arab street. Now? They're rather less popular, especially since someone did the math and realized that most of Al-Qaeda's victims were other Muslims. Own goals never win friends or influence people.

We smashed Saddam Hussein. He had precisely bugger-all to do with 9/11, but Iraq's bizarre neither-fish-nor-fowl status simply had to be resolved sooner or later. Removal of his regime allowed Iraq's re-entry into the realm of nations. What becomes of it in the long run is, of course, up to the Iraqis. They can still make a total hash of it. But, they've got something like a fighting chance now, which is more than they had before.

Five years on, we haven't done as well as we might have, but we have done better than some have feared. In this "the glass might be half full but the damn thing leaks" world, that's about as good as anyone can hope for.

A few thoughts for the day:

StrategyPage has some thoughts on how far we've come since the attacks five years ago.

OpFor fires up the way-back machine, recalling September 11th, 1565, and the Battle of Malta.

And a neighbor here on Blogspot recalls yet another September 11th, the Battle of Brandywine, from the Revolutionary War.

Stout hearts, citizens. They cannot win unless we lose our nerve.