Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Eye of the Terror Storm

Victor Davis Hanson

Another anniversary of September 11, 2001, is near. It has been nearly six long years since a catastrophic attack on our shores, and we've understandably turned to infighting and second-guessing — about everything from Guantanamo to wiretaps.

But this six-year calm, unfortunately, has allowed some Americans to believe "our war on terror" remedy is worse than the original Islamic terrorist disease.
We see this self-recrimination reflected in our current Hollywood fare, which dwells on the evil of American interventions overseas, largely ignoring the courage of our soldiers or the atrocities of jihadists. Our tell-all best-sellers, endless lawsuits and congressional investigations have deflected our September 11-era furor away from the terrorists to ourselves.

All this tail-chasing comes only with the illusory thinking that the present lull is the same as perpetual peace. Have we forgotten that experts still insist another strike will come, carried out by those already here or soon to enter the United States?

Look back at jihadist near-misses in this country since September 11, 2001 — along with a disturbing recent Pew poll that found 1 in 4 younger Muslim-Americans approve, at least in certain circumstances, of suicide bombing to "defend Islam" — and the dire predictions seem plausible.

Recall the jihadists arrested in Albany and near Buffalo, N.Y., or the recently uncovered plot to attack Fort Dix, N.J. Past foiled targets included the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Brooklyn Bridge, Kennedy International Airport in New York and the New York Stock Exchange.

Some angry loners — mouthing jihadist propaganda or anti-American slogans — simply act on their own to try to kill Americans. Iranian-American college student Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar hit several University of North Carolina classmates with his car in March 2006. Last summer, Omeed Aziz Popal was arrested for a hit-and-run rampage in San Francisco. And Naveed Afzal Haq is charged with shooting several women last summer at a Jewish center in Seattle.

Recall also the American residents and citizens with direct connections to al Qaeda's terrorism network: American Jose Padilla (a k a Abdullah al-Muhajir) was just convicted by a jury of terrorist conspiracy. Khalid Abu-al-Dahab, a key al Qaeda recruiter, operated out of California's Silicon Valley. "Sheik" Omar Abdel Rahman advised Egyptian jihadists from his U.S. jail cell, after his conviction for helping plan the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. U.S. visitor and asylum-seeker Ramzi Yousef was convicted of the same crime. His partner, the indicted American citizen Abdul Rahman Yasin, fled to prewar Iraq. Another American, Adam Gadahn, regularly narrates al Qaeda communiques.

Khalid Sheik Mohammed — mastermind of the September 11 mass murder and the Daniel Pearl decapitation — studied in North Carolina for a number of years. Egyptian-American and U.S. Army veteran Ali Mohamed helped plan the destruction of American embassies in East Africa. The convicted "20th hijacker" Zacarias Moussaoui attended flight school in Oklahoma.

Two things seem clear:

(1) There have been, and are now, plenty of Islamic terrorists and their helpers in the United States.
(2) We are dangerously shortsighted about the ongoing threat they pose.
Meanwhile, Islamic-American organizations and sympathetic civil-liberties associations file lawsuits about supposed American security excesses and illiberal vigilance.

Last fall, for example, several imams were taken off a flight from Minneapolis when the group's erratic behavior scared fellow passengers. Afterward, one of the so-called "flying imams," Arizonan Omar Shahin, called for boycotting the airline and legislation to stop supposed anti-Muslim profiling.

But the brazen Mr. Shahin, it turns out, is more than just a bullied Islamic scholar; he has also helped raise funds for an organization that the U.S. government has tied to Hamas.

Our experts are too often in denial or disarray. Former White House counterterrorism adviser Richard A. Clark, former CIA operative Michael Scheuer and former CIA director George Tenet now make widely publicized strident attacks on ongoing efforts to stop terrorists and level charges against others — and each other. They rarely talk with any humility, much less apprise us of what we can learn from their own failures to stop the September 11 jihadists during their long tenures.

In short, six years of quiet at home have fooled some into thinking terrorists pose little danger here — or that we may be doing far too much rather than too little to stop such killers. No matter that this week a jihadist plot to destroy U.S. facilities in Germany was thwarted.

Others make the mistake of endlessly refighting the last six years — who let al Qaeda grow, who "lost" Osama bin Laden, who fouled up postwar Iraq? — instead of concentrating on the storm ahead.

Before 2001, the excuse for American complacence and infighting was naivete. But what will be the reason for the next successful strike against us by the jihadists? More naivete — or is it simple hubris?

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian at Stanford University's Hoover Institution and the author of "A War Like No Other" (Random House).

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