The horrific terrorist attacks yesterday in New York and Washington will rank as one of the greatest calamities in American history and will confront the United States with one of its most demanding challenges. Not since Dec. 7, 1941, has the U.S. homeland sustained such an aggression. The nation responded then without panic but with iron determination to defend itself and punish the aggressors. The response today must be as decisive—to the mass murderers who planned and carried out the attack, and to any nation or nations that gave them shelter and encouragement.
The challenge today is in many ways different from that of 60 years ago, and in some ways more complex. The attack at Pearl Harbor targeted military forces, not civilians, and when it was over the United States knew who the aggressors were and where to find them. . . this was an adversary capable of meticulously planning and executing a large-scale attack, one that draws on good intelligence and abundant resources. It is an enemy that has proven that it has the ability to penetrate U.S. homeland defenses, perhaps more readily than any the country has faced in modern times. And though it may have no single fixed address, it probably has the support or complicity of one or more foreign governments.
If the enemy is more elusive, yesterday’s attacks were not, or should not have been, as unexpected as was Pearl Harbor. The United States for years has been fighting a low-grade war against terrorists, and for years counterterrorism experts and military planners have been warning of the possibility of a massive strike against U.S. domestic targets. Some earlier attempts—including a previous plot to topple the World Trade Center—were narrowly averted. Steps have been taken in recent years to tighten airport and border security, and the FBI and CIA have mounted broad efforts to identify and uproot terrorist networks both at home and abroad. A few terrorists were apprehended and put on trial; a couple of cruise missile strikes have been launched; the networks of one leading suspect in yesterday’s attacks, Osama bin Laden, were said to have been seriously disrupted.
But the terrible message of Sept. 11 is that these steps fell far short; the nation’s commitment was not enough. Despite the increased airport security, the attackers managed to hijack four large airliners from three major airports— at Boston, Newark and Dulles—almost simultaneously, and flew one of them into the Pentagon’s restricted airspace apparently unchallenged. More broadly, an attack that must have required extensive preparations and a substantial support network appears to have gone entirely undetected by the FBI and intelligence community. These are large failings. . .
A state of war also means a national commitment, nurtured by bipartisan cooperation in Washington, to attack and defeat the country’s enemies. . .
In the past the United States has shied away from squarely confronting regimes that were linked to terrorist attacks against Americans— such as Iran in the case of the 1996 Khobar towers bombing in Saudi Arabia, or Afghanistan in the 1998 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by Osama bin Laden’s network. It can no longer afford to do so. Instead, it must seek to assemble an international alliance to identify and eliminate all sources of support for the terrorist networks that would wage war on the United States. If necessary, it must act alone. There can be no greater purpose to foreign and defense policy in the coming years.
Though the circumstances are different, what President Franklin D. Roosevelt said after Dec. 7 in Pearl Harbor, “a date which will live in infamy,” applies to Sept. 11 just as well. “Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us,” Mr. Roosevelt said. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”
Why are we continuing to do business with an enemy that has declared war on us?