September 18, 2001
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
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
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?