The Morning Jolt

White House

The 18th Anniversary of the 9/11 Terrorist Attacks

The wreck of the World Trade Center smolders as a man passes a subway stop in New York City on September 11, 2001. (Peter Morgan/Reuters File Photo)

Making the click-through worthwhile: No matter how far the 9/11 attacks get in the rear-view mirror, this date is never going to feel normal for as long as we live; Republicans breathe a sigh of relief in North Carolina’s special House elections; and the sudden departure of John Bolton suggests that things are getting bad on the president’s national security team.

No Matter How Much Time Passes, This Date Is Never Going to Feel ‘Normal’

No matter how much American daily life goes back to “normal” on September 11, this day is never going to feel normal, is it? You guys will be coming to visit me in the Old Blogger’s Home in forty years and this date on the calendar will still have that particular ominous feeling, those memories coming back, that sense that on his day all those years ago, history changed direction, and not for the better.

As I noted last year, in a bunch of ways, we’ve “won.” Osama bin Laden is fish food. Hamza bin Laden, Osama’s son and heir, was killed earlier this year. The Taliban leader who hosted and protected al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar, is dead. We don’t hear much from Ayman al-Zawahiri anymore. Al-Qaeda isn’t even the big worry in Islamist terror anymore, compared to ISIS. One expert concludes, “The last international attack in the West connected to al-Qaeda was the 2015 shooting at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris.”

The Taliban is beaten—er, being invited to Camp David by the President of the United States—er, involved in negotiations with the United States about the future of Afghanistan.

In many ways, our modern discourse has moved on to other fears — mass shooters, Russian hackers, Chinese ambitions, waves of refugees, homegrown extremists cooking up their own nihilist manifestos about how they’ve been wronged by a sinful and decadent Western civilization.

We can’t live in the past, trapped in amber, forever reliving that day. But the day becoming too normal doesn’t feel right, either. This must be how the Baby Boomers felt when Generation X came along and November 22 passed with minimal marking of the anniversary of JFK’s assassination, or how the Greatest Generation felt when December 7 became just another day in the pre-holiday rush. You can’t blame the kids for not quite getting in their bones what this day meant to us, how many of us feared our loved ones had perished — either in New York, or Washington, or in a field in Pennsylvania. Those hours of rumors, the knowledge that someone was deliberately crashing planes into skyscrapers and buildings and not knowing if there were other planes up there. (That morning’s rumors and false reports included claims that a car bomb had exploded at the State Departmenttruck bombs at the Capitol, fires on the Mall, and a “suspicious” rental truck near the Pentagon.)

For a few hours, almost everyone in America lived through the same shared traumatic experience. If you or your loved ones were in the wrong place at the wrong time — that was it, there was no way to outrun an oncoming jumbo jet. The phone lines were jammed, reaching your loved ones was just about impossible for a while. Up and down the east coast, parents had just dropped off their kids at school when they first heard reports that something terrible had happened in New York City.

Way back in 2006, I wrote Voting to Kill, and I remember this anecdote from Republican pollster David Winston, describing a focus group he conducted:

One woman in this group had three or four kids. We were discussing the 9/11 attacks and how they affected us, and she went into this very short, very tense description of driving from school to school and picking up her children. All of us — myself, the other participants — were riveted. It was clear that while this story wasn’t unique, something else was there. I was describing this story to my wife and her immediate reaction was, “which child did she pick up first?” And with that, it was like the tumblers falling into place. That mother in the focus group and every mother who had children in more than one school had the moral equivalent of Sophie’s Choice on that day: which child did she pick up first?

He described another focus group in Ohio, where one woman said that she had dropped off her kids, and contemplated going back to pick up her kids, but decided against it because the radio made it sound like the attacks were only in New York and Washington. And another mom in the focus group whipped her head around and declared, “I picked my kids up!” Three years later, the emotion was still close to the surface. Here we are, eighteen years later, and the emotion isn’t quite so close to the surface . . . but it isn’t buried all that deep, either.

All dates fade into history eventually. We honor Veterans Day, but there’s no particular day to honor the Battle of the Somme in 1916, where a million men died; on July 1 alone, roughly 20,000 men died. On Aug. 22, 1914, more than 27,000 French soldiers died at the Battle of the Frontiers; and September 17, 1862 ended with more than 20,000 Americans killed and wounded at the battle of Antietam. Two generations from now, September 11 will be just another day for most Americans.

There’s still a weird bit of denial about confronting about what happened that day. This morning, the New York Times tweeted,“18 years have passed since airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center. Today, families will once again gather and grieve at the site where more than 2000 people died.” Huh? “Airplanes took aim and brought down the World Trade Center?” What, did we declare war on airplanes after that?

Republicans Let Out a Sigh of Relief in North Carolina

Special elections are not determinative of the following election cycle. But you would rather win them than lose them, and if a party starts losing special elections in districts that would normally be safe territory, it’s a rattle in the engine. Usually it’s only the diehards and the party loyalists who show up for a special election. Losing a special in a district that leans your way can indicate that your base isn’t that tuned in or fired up and that the opposition party’s grassroots are.

Last night, the GOP eked out a win in a district that really shouldn’t be too much of a sweat: “With 99 percent of precincts reporting, [Republican Dan] Bishop led [Democrat Dan] McCready 50.8 percent to 48.6 percent in a race that analysts saw as a harbinger for 2020.” For Republicans, this was the result they wanted, if not a particularly reassuring final score. The state GOP has no need to panic, but also no reason to think that 2020 will be an easy or safe year.

Yeah, Things Are Really Bad.

It is bad that President Trump has now gone through three national security advisors in 31 months — four if you count Keith Kellogg filling in for a week in between Michael Flynn and H. R. McMaster. (Kellogg, currently the National Security Advisor to Mike Pence, is a contender to replace John Bolton.) 

It is bad that Trump keeps ending up in the same position of impassioned disagreement with the people he appoints and keeps reaching the point where he can’t work with them anymore.

It is bad that the people Trump appoints to national security positions keep telling him that his ideas are counterproductive to American interests and the country’s security. It’s one thing if one or two appointees express objections to inviting the Taliban to Camp David, adding Russia to the G-7, delaying the imposition of sanctions on Russia, slowing down U.S. assistance to Ukraine, echoing Kim Jong-un’s language on U.S.–South Korean joint military exercises, or meeting face to face with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani. But when everyone around the president who has spent their career in service to their country, studied the issues for years, knows the players and history, and who swore an oath to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution all have the same assessment of the president’s ideas, and the president ignores their assessments, it’s really bad.

When the president believes that we should not be collecting intelligence on other countries because it could undermine his relationship with the leaders of other countries, it’s really, really bad.

Marc Thiessen is probably the most pro-Trump columnist at the Washington Post. He’s a former spokesman and advisor to the late Senator Jesse Helms. He was a speechwriter for Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon and then George W. Bush. He’s written a book defending “enhanced interrogation techniques” (waterboarding). He’s about as far as you can get from a liberal squish or a knee-jerk Trump-hater.

And he’s livid over the now-canceled presidential invitation to the Taliban:

These are murderous terrorists with American blood on their hands. It is an outrage that Obama freed them. But for Trump to even consider allowing leaders of a designated terrorist organization to set foot in Camp David is worse than an outrage; it is an insult to all those who died on 9/11 and the American troops who gave their lives fighting them in Afghanistan.

. . . Trump’s defenders say this would have been no different from his diplomacy with Kim Jong Un, or his offer to meet with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Yes, it is. First, Kim and Rouhani are heads of government. Taliban leaders are terrorists. They claim to be the heads of a state — the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.” Hosting them at Camp David grants them undeserved legitimacy.

By killing an American soldier, Taliban leaders were rubbing the United States’ defeat in Trump’s face. That move backfired. Trump now says the Taliban talks “are dead.” Let’s hope so — and that with the death of those talks dies one of the most shameful moments of the Trump presidency.

We’re sailing into really uncharted waters now.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, why Biden’s not really the “centrist”the media says he is; and Beto O’Rourke stumbles onto a good point on housing policy but flinches from confronting limousine liberals.

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