What made Sept. 11possible was a failure, not by our intelligence
agencies—but by the accommodating, range-of-the-moment, unprincipled
foreign policy that has shaped our decisions for decades. Sept.
11 was not the first time America was attacked by Islamic fundamentalists
engaged in “holy war” against us.
In 1979 theocratic Iran—which has spearheaded the “Islamic
Revolution”—stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held 54 Americans
hostage for over a year. In 1983 the Syrian- and Iranian-backed
group Hezbollah bombed a U.S. marine barracks in Lebanon, killing
241 servicemen while they slept; the explosives came from Yasser
Arafat’s Fatah movement. In 1998 Al-Qaeda blew up the U.S. embassies
in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 individuals. In 2000 al-Qaeda
bombed the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 sailors.
So we already knew that Al-Qaeda was actively engaged in attacking
Americans. We even had evidence that agents connected to al-Qaeda
had been responsible for the 1993 bombing of the World Trade
Center. And we knew in 1996 that bin Laden had made an overt
declaration of war against the “Satan”America. How did America
Did we adopt a principled approach and identify the fact that
we were faced with a deadly threat from an ideological foe?
Did we launch systematic counterattacks to wipe out such enemy
organizations as al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Fatah? Did we seek
to eliminate enemy states like Iran and Syria and Iraq? No—our
responses were short-sighted and self-contradictory. For instance,
we initially expelled Iranian diplomats—but later sought an
appeasing rapprochement with that ayatollah-led government.
We intermittently cut off trade with Iran—but secretly negotiated
weapons-for-hostages deals. When Israel had the courage to enter
Lebanon in 1982 to destroy the PLO, we refused to uncompromisingly
support our ally and instead brokered the killers’ release.
And with respect to Al-Qaeda, we dropped a perfunctory bomb
or two on one of its suspected camps, while our compliant diplomats
waited for al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks to fade from the headlines.
At home, we treated our attackers as if they were isolated
criminals rather than soldiers engaged in battle against us.
In 1941 we did not attempt to indict the Japanese pilots who
bombed Pearl Harbor—we declared war on the source. Yet we have
spent millions trying to indict specific terrorists—while we
have ignored their masters. Despite emphatic pronouncements
from Islamic leaders about a “jihad” against America, our political
leaders failed to grasp the ideology that seeks our destruction.
This left them unable to target that enemy’s armed combatants—in
Palestine, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia—and the governments
that assist them. Is it any wonder then that, although our intelligence
agencies prevented many planned attacks, they could not prevent
Unfortunately, little has changed since Sept. 11. Our politicians’
actions remain hopelessly unprincipled. Despite President Bush’s
rhetoric about an “axis of evil,” he has attacked only one country,
Afghanistan, to stop one individual, bin Laden. And even that
action was undertaken only haltingly. Morally unsure of his
decision to protect American lives by wiping out the threat
in Afghanistan, Bush feared world disapproval over civilian
casualties. Consequently, he reined in the military forces and
allowed numerous Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters to escape. Similarly,
Bush allows their comrades-in-arms in the Middle East to go
unharmed. He continues to pretend that those attacking Israel—and
who have attacked Americans in the past and will try again in
the future—are, somehow, different from the killers in Afghanistan.
Instead of taking consistent, principled action to destroy
our terrorist adversaries, our politicians focus on details
such as increasing airport security, reorganizing government
bureaucracies, and scrutinizing FBI memos. Thus, too unprincipled
to identify the enemy and wage all-out war, but not yet completely
blind to their own ineffectualness, our leaders resignedly admit
that there will be more terrorists attacks on U.S. soil.
There is only one way to prevent a future Sept. 11: by rooting
out the amoral, pragmatic expediency that now dominates our
Onkar Ghate, Ph.D. in philosophy, is a resident fellow at the
Ayn Rand Institute (www.aynrand.org). The Institute promotes
the philosophy of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged and The
Fountainhead. Send comments to email@example.com.