A New Strategy for America
On this somber anniversary, it’s time to reflect on how we should confront the challenge of Islamism.


America at its core is a country of strong and resilient people who are prepared to confront the challenges posed by those who seek to do us harm. But we may not always agree on the best response to any given event, which is why we depend upon our leadership to define our role in the world in times of crisis.

The anniversary of the tragic attacks on September 11, 2001, and September 11, 2012, is a day to remember those who died and suffered. It is also an opportunity to open a new dialogue on the tactics and strategies that have been successful — and unsuccessful — in confronting, containing, and defeating the threat from radical Islam.

Radical jihadists attacked the U.S. repeatedly prior to September 11, 2001. They bombed the World Trade Center in New York. They brought down U.S. military facilities in Saudi Arabia. They leveled U.S. embassies in East Africa. They launched a deadly suicide mission against the USS Cole.

President Bill Clinton did not treat these attacks as what they were, acts of war. His most forceful response was to fire a few cruise missiles into Afghanistan terrorist-training camps and a supposed weapons factory in Sudan. Even an opportunity to take out bin Laden was dismissed as too risky.

That all changed on the morning of September 11, 2001, when radical Islamists murdered nearly 3,000 Americans in attacks aimed at our political, financial, and defense institutions.

President George W. Bush chose to go on offense. Boots were soon on the ground in Afghanistan to topple the oppressive Taliban, who harbored Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. New intelligence programs were launched. International coalitions were formed.

It was an imperfect strategy in an uncertain environment, but we knew the very real and personal threat. We were determined to win, and our enemies knew it.

It stands in stark contrast to the response to the attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya, on September 11, 2012. President Barack Obama chose a different course. His administration initially downplayed the attack by saying it was caused by an anti-Islam YouTube video, and his secretary of state later dismissed the issue during a Senate hearing, saying, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

It makes a major difference.

It was part of Obama’s new approach to terrorism; he sought to minimize the threat from radical Islamists. In his 2009 inaugural address he reached out to the Muslim world, saying that he seeks “a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

The “War on Terror” became an “overseas contingency operation.” The term “radical Islam” was no longer used. Enhanced interrogations were banned. The administration attempted to close the terrorist-detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. He declared the operation in Iraq over and pulled out all U.S. troops.

Obama sought a strategy of accommodating our enemies, even if they weren’t so willing to accommodate us.

So where does that leave us today? The fact is that no foreign-policy doctrine is perfect. The situation in Syria has deteriorated into a civil war with no good solution. Libya is becoming a lawless state. Violence in Egypt is looming. Bin Laden might be dead, but al-Qaeda is alive and well across the Middle East and North Africa. America is divided, frustrated, and almost paralyzed.

The malaise that America finds itself in today is totally uncharacteristic of who we are. We have been, and we are, an exceptional people capable of accomplishing great things.

The path forward will not be quick or easy. America is looking for leadership that will bring it together under an all-encompassing plan to defeat radical Islam. Leadership that is willing to act decisively. Leadership that is willing to admit its mistakes. Leadership that is willing to tell the truth.

— Peter Hoekstra is the former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Remembering 9/11
The date September 11 will forever be etched in the American consciousness as the day of the horrific terrorist attacks of 2001, when nearly 3,000 American perished. Twelve years later, the reverberations of the attacks continue. Here’s a look back the destruction and loss on that terrible day.
The North Tower already in flames from the impact of American Airlines Flight 11, a second hijacked plane, United Flight 175, approaches the South Tower of the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Jet fuel from the impact of Flight 175 erupts from the face of the South Tower.
Tens of thousands of gallons of fuel in both airliners — fully loaded for the planned cross-continental flights — created massive fires inside the towers which eventually weakened their support structures.
This image from a security camera outside the Pentagon captures the moment after American Airlines Flight 77 struck the side of the massive building.
Plumes of smoke from the Twin Towers dominated the Manhattan skyline.
Smoke billows from the upper floors of the North Tower above where Flight 11 struck.
Workers trapped in the upper floors of the North Tower above the impact sites struggle to escape the flames and smoke inside.
Some people made a devastating choice in the face of certain death.
The South Tower starts to collapse at 9:59 a.m.
The top of the North Tower collapses downward at 10:28 a.m.
Debris from one of the towers spreads out and downward during the collapse.
Aerial view of the North Tower's collapse, with lower Manhattan already inundated with smoke from the collapse of the South Tower.
People on the ground flee the massive cloud of debris from the collapsing South Tower.
Onlookers across the Hudson River in Jersey City watch as smoke billows from the collapse of the North Tower.
Fires burn in the lower floors of one of the adjacent World Trade Center complex buildings.
THE PENTAGON: Fire crews work to extinguish fires raging at the Pentagon shortly after the attack.
Fires burn from the windows of the Pentagon near the impact site.
Interior rooms and hallways are exposed in the area above where Flight 77 struck, collapsing the structure above it.
First responders tend to wounded Pentagon workers as smoke billows from the building behind them.
PENNSYLVANIA: Rescue workers inspect the crash site of United Flight 93 in Stoneycreek Township, near Shanksville. It was later learned that passengers aboard the flight had time to learn of the other hijackings and attempted to retake the airplane.
MANHATTAN: The skyline glows with dust in this view from Jersey City.
Manhattan residents react in horror at the unfolding destruction.
A U.S. marshal helps a woman injured in the attack.
Clouds of dust and debris obscure a view of a street in lower Manhattan.
Manhattan residents cover their mouths and faces as they flee the dust across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Ash from the collapsed buildings turned the area around Ground Zero into a lunar landscape.
First responders carry the body of Mychal Judge, a Roman Catholic priest and chaplain of the Fire Department of New York. Judge was fatally wounded on the ground during the collapse of the South Tower.
First responders struggled bravely to save people trapped in the Twin Towers.
GROUND ZERO: The destruction wrought by the collapse of the Twin Towers was unimaginable, creating a Dantean landscape into which rescue workers pushed to try and find survivors. Pictured, a lone fireman (lower center) is dwarfed by the debris pile.
Part of the World Trade Center's unique external ribbing remained standing as the tower collapsed.
Rescue workers (at right) navigate the remains of the South Tower.
Firemen spread water on the collapsed wreckage of 7 World Trade Center.
COMMANDER IN CHIEF: President George W. Bush confers with his team aboard Air Force One after the 9/11 attacks.
President Bush greets first responders at Ground Zero.
President Bush stands atop with rubble at Ground Zero to give a much-needed exhortation of strength and perseverance to the gathered crowd.
President Bush meets with New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani (at left) and emergency officials to discuss the recovery effort.
Amid the devastation, a symbol of hope: A pair of steel beams in the shape of a Christian cross, discovered in the ruins of the Twin Towers.
New York City firemen raise an American flag at Ground Zero shortly after the buildings had fallen.
The twin beams of the Tribute in Light shine skyward from lower Manhattan. First installed in March, 2002, the lights became an annual remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people who perished in the attacks. With the new One World Trade Center tower nearing completion, the Tribute in Light will remain an annual observance in the city.
An American flag and roses pay tribute at the National September 11 Memorial.
Updated: Sep. 11, 2013



Sign up for free NRO e-mails today:

NRO Polls on LockerDome

Subscribe to National Review