Weeks after the great awakening of 9/11, Professor Angelo Codevilla wrote in The Claremont Review of Books that we should expect repeated terrorist attacks and that there was nothing we could do about it without changing the entire playing field. Americans are in subways and football stadiums, and this is our way of life. The way of life for the terrorist, the professor admonished, is the small weapon with the hefty load. One truck, perhaps one thousand dead.
The happy news on Monday was that we had penetrated, and therefore managed to abort, one concerted design of the terrorists, to hit five centers of congested U.S. life. But not baseball parks. Instead, centers of commerce. If you hit the Stock Exchange, you are aiming at 1,500 employees. But killing them is only part of the point. We are far removed from the battle of the Marne, or Gettysburg. What al Qaeda is attempting in choosing its targets is to damage the vital aorta of American life. Imagine an electrical failure in a hospital, and you see the picture in a special, gruesome light. A commentator contrasted the high-strung composition of modern commercial life with what was so in the Second World War. Bombings of Berlin and Tokyo were to great effect, but not immobilizing. The World Bank, the IMF, the Stock Exchange, Citigroup, and Prudential form a major artery of our economic system.
We have been three years since Professor Codevilla’s apocalyptic analysis, but the crisis of Monday stresses that the threat has not dissipated since 9/11, it has increased. We focus on counterweaponry and applaud gratefully our military and intelligence network which, with the apparent cooperation of the Pakistani government, delivered the plotters to our attention. We saved the day, but learned, on the same day, the strategic reach of a sophisticated enemy which, notwithstanding that we have won one war in Afghanistran and are on the way to winning another in Iraq, is still capable of planning a subversive operation on grand-opera scale.
The totality of our engagement as addressed by President Bush and his advisors is manifest. Perhaps the day after tomorrow we will locate Osama bin Laden and fire a fine retributory bullet to take him to his dream world. But we will need to remind ourselves day after day–especially during an election season, when central postulates are doubted–that only comprehensive aggression against terrorist structures can give us, if not safety, such shelter as can be devised.
And this means focusing on incubation pods of terrorism. We need special attention given to Iran, and North Korea, and churning Arab cultures. We have the benefit that with perhaps the exception of North Korea, no civil government gives explicit sanction to the terrorists. They have too much to lose. Tehran is a threatening power center, and we need to face its gestating nuclear armory with strategic vision. But Iran does not want a showdown with the United States hanging on a bomb going off at Prudential headquarters in New Jersey.
The distinction between the view of reality by the Bush administration and the voices of irresolution that held forth in Boston a week ago is especially keen. There is no other word for it than that we are at war. War against loosely bound but fatally well organized forces that want to incapacitate America and are well on their way to changing the mobile freedoms by which we have lived for so long, but whose restriction now is represented by the gatekeeper who wants to see the inside of your shoe before allowing you another step.