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Questions Without Answers
September 18, 2001
by Orwell Thompson

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It has been several days since the suicide-bombing flights by terrorists caused the destruction of the World Trade Center towers and the unconfirmed deaths of thousands of innocent people, and severely crippled and stalled the political machinery in Washington. Americans have come to an undeclared but universally understood moment of reflection.

There exists a general feeling that now isn't the time to blame or point fingers. Peace and prayer are the elixirs we seek to heal what is ailing in our souls. The country has reached a level of semi-contentment while in the midst of a universal grieving process.

We've been sucker punched, now we must regroup before we hit back.

There have been some surreal moments during this, our great time of mourning. One of them came Wednesday when both houses of Congress joined together for a nationally televised rendition of "God Bless America," during which, an unsuspecting network news anchor was heard to say, "This is eerie." Dick Gephardt and Tom DeLay crossing over party lines to join together for a heartfelt moment in the interest of their constituents?

Strange days, indeed.

The United States never has been menaced so directly inside its own borders since the day of infamy with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But sooner or later, literally and figuratively, the smoke will clear and the public will demand answers to certain questions.

Such as, what did our intelligence agencies know and when did they know it? Apparently, news of the terrorists' plot spread among certain Muslim sects as long as a year ago. Were any of these communications intercepted and what did they indicate? Why didn't our security officers act on them?

President Bush asked Congress for $20 billion to bankroll an anti-terrorism program. House members instead voted to double the money to $40 billion. But during the past several months, the only talk of funding for the military has been for the president's great white elephant a missile defense shield that would not have been able to stop Tuesday's attacks even if such a mechanism had been in place. Bush's change in military policy is welcomed but might have come too late. Why didn't our government have a better terrorist prevention strategy?

Retaliation is expected and necessary, but whom do we attack, and how? Osama bin Laden has once again become public enemy number one. President Clinton authorized the bombing of suspected terrorist camps in Afghanistan run by bin Laden in 1998, but when he did, he was accused of conducting the air raid to deflect attention away from the Monica Lewinsky affair the Republicans' oft-mentioned wag-the-dog allegation. It might have been bad policy, but at least it was a deterrent.

According to the experts, terrorists and their leaders often are linked by a complex network, following that chain of command back to its source to find the person or persons responsible for these horrendous acts could take months, or even years. Will the American public be willing to wait that long to satiate its desire for retribution?

And that leads back to the Commander in Chief.

Bush's polling numbers are sky high. In a recent NBC News poll, more that 80 percent of Americans believe the president is handling the crisis admirably. But it took President Bush three days after tragedy struck to set foot in New York , and he was criticized by the press for not returning to Washington immediately after the attack on the Pentagon. Stories have come out that Air Force One or the White House might have been the target of the plane that crashed, or was forced down by unrelenting passengers, in the hills of southwestern Pennsylvania. That is the reason, his handlers say, that the President didn't hustle back to our nation's capital.

Judging by what we have seen in the media, Bush has been a dismal failure in the charisma department, which is supposed to be his biggest strength. He meanders from photo-op to photo-op with a look of perplexed bemusement plastered across his face. He seems to be saying, "Like the rest of you, I can't believe that this is happening."

We don't need him to tell us how hurt and angry he is - enough already. That isn't putting the country's fears to rest. The American people know Bush can relate, but can he lead?

If, in two months, the United States hasn't exacted some measure of revenge, Bush's poll numbers will plummet. At which time, expect him to follow the lead set forth by Poppy, who kick-started a sagging economy in 1990 with a good old-fashioned war. Criticism of the elder Bush was that he didn't go far enough by eliminating Saddam Hussein, who was the real cause of all our angst.

Bin Laden has taken up Hussein's role as foil, and it will be up to Bush to make sure all those responsible for the September 11 massacre are held accountable and brought to justice.

And that brings us to the most important question of all:

Is Bush up to the task?

 
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