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September 13, 2007

Sept 11 - Six Year Anniversary

I missed posting on the actual anniversary of Sept 11 because of some child care issues with my twin girls born in May (which also explains my absence from blogging over the summer...) My wife purchased a very nice diary for their first 1000 days, and since I'm back at work and dealing with my research topics I thought about commenting on their first Sept 11.

Of course they're only a few months old and oblivious. But I wondered what the commemorations would be like as they got old enough to read the diary and re-read it over the course of their life.  What would the 25th anniversary of Sept 11 be like?

As I had that thought, I also realized it was very likely that another event would overtake it and be more significant for them.  At that point, my thoughts seemed less appropriate for their diary than my websites, where I have been concerned about future terrorism.

Part of what prompted this line of thinking was doing some updating of the Teaching and Understanding Sept 11 over at my StopViolence site. So, here's the intro I wrote a few days before Sept 11:

Rather than writing a detailed introduction, I will refer readers to the full text of a chapter Mark Hamm graciously allowed to be posted here. It's called Al-Qaeda, the Radical Right and Beyond: The Current Terrorist Threat and it is from his new book. I think it provides an excellent review of what has happened since 9/11 as well as some important thoughts for the future. 

One important worth noting comes from an article written by Kean and Hamilton, the 9/11 Commission Chair and Vice-Chair. Their article, Are We Any Safer Today? notes: "Six years later, we are safer in a narrow sense: We have not been attacked, and our defenses are better. But we have become distracted and complacent." (Washington Post, Sept 9, 2007, B1). They note slow movement on a number of reforms and a very resilient enemy. Of particular significance for the editors of this website is their comment:

We face a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world -- a trend to which our own actions have contributed. The enduring threat is not Osama bin Laden but young Muslims with no jobs and no hope, who are angry with their own governments and increasingly see the United States as an enemy of Islam.

Four years ago, then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld famously asked his advisers: "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

The answer is no.

U.S. foreign policy has not stemmed the rising tide of extremism in the Muslim world. In July 2004, the 9/11 commission recommended putting foreign policy at the center of our counterterrorism efforts. Instead, we have lost ground.

The concern about foreign policy also expressed in my chapter, Demystifying Terrorism: 'Crazy Islamic Terrorists Who Hate Us Because We're Free'? The full text of that chapter is available on this site, and as a preview I answer that they're not crazy. 

With the recent video from bin Laden, it is worth commenting briefly on him and al Qaeda. I have kept my page on bin Laden as the photo of the moment for a while, not just because I've been busy, but because I never bought into the belief we had somehow won and his organization was neutralized. I think this reinforces the resilience of the enemy and think bin Laden is important as an inspiration to many, who is also a shrewd ringleader for al Qaeda. A Washington Post article The New al Qaeda Central discussed the recent failure to keep the pressure on bin Laden, which has given him the chance to regroup, recruit and promote loyalists from within. Part of their take:

"All this business about them being isolated or cut off is whistling past the graveyard," said Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst who led the agency's unit assigned to track bin Laden. "We're looking at an organization that is extraordinarily adept at succession planning. They were built to survive, like the Afghans were against the Russians."

So, in a nutshell, we have a vibrant al Qaeda that is easily recruiting from the ranks of people radicalized by what the US is doing in Iraq. Kean and Hamilton are worried about nuclear proliferation and terrorism; Mark Hamm is worried about chemical weapons and terrorism. 

We should be studying these issues all year round, not just thinking about them once a year on the anniversary of Sept 11.

In a way, I guess it doesn't matter that the post was a few days late and I hope it both expanded the time frame during which we think about terrorism and countered even a little complacency.

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