EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the December 13, 2004, issue of National Review.
The September 11 attacks still reverberate profoundly. Of that, there is no better indication than George W. Bush’s decisive reelection. For all the trendy talk about “values voters,” the campaign was run principally on national-security issues, and the president won a surprisingly large majority. The nation was convinced that he had a superior handle on how to keep us safe.
And there’s a reason for that conviction: In the three years since 9/11 and the still-unsolved anthrax scare that followed hard on it, the U.S. has not suffered a domestic terrorist attack. One might ask: Is that truly attributable to President Bush’s stewardship? After all, we are continually told that Islamist militants are gifted with preternatural reservoirs of patience; could it not be that we are simply in another cyclical downturn, a calm before the next inevitable storm?
Not a chance. The failure of al-Qaeda, its affiliates, and assorted Wahhabi wannabes to strike us when we have every indication they are desperately trying to is a direct result of the Bush doctrine, announced and implemented in the aftermath of 9/11. The president, the Pentagon, and the Justice Department are to be commended for persevering in it despite a relentless barrage of criticism from the media, civil-liberties extremists, and, regrettably, too many Democrats. Especially salient on this score have been two aspects of the doctrine: a comprehensive strategy that brings to bear all of government’s arsenal, and the admonition to state sponsors that they will be considered just as culpable, and will be treated with the same lethality, as the terrorists they abet. Most of all, however, success has been the result of getting serious.
The holistic approach to terrorism has a number of advantages so palpable that the more interesting question is why it took a cataclysm of 9/11 dimensions to get it implemented. Most obviously, our military has killed or captured thousands of militants overseas. Incapacitated terrorists don’t commit attacks. This is not a trite observation. First, unlike sovereigns, sub-state terror groups have extremely limited resources. To be sure, lost terrorists can be replaced in numerical terms–and are being replaced owing to prodigious funding streams globally backing madrassas that churn out an alarming number of terrorists-in-waiting. But instantly replacing the deadly competence of experienced hands is impossible. Second, the pantheon of jihadists who have become household names over the last few years–bin Laden, Zarqawi, Zawahiri, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman (the blind sheik), Ramzi Yousef, and others–do not strike once and retire. Motivated by hatred and depravity masquerading as spirituality, they are even more likely to be recidivists than ordinary criminals. Neutralizing them does not prevent just one atrocity–it nullifies many.
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