Ten years after the September 11 attacks, the U.S. is winning the war on terror. In the fevered days after the worst attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, most Americans were holding their breath, waiting for the next explosions. They never came.
It was not because al Qaeda did not try. Al Qaeda was successful in launching attacks in other countries. The 2002 bombing of a nightclub in Bali killed 180 people. In 2003, al Qaeda bombs killed 58 and wounded 750 in Istanbul. In 2004, a series of bombs on commuter trains in Madrid killed 190 and wounded 2,000. The 2005 attack on the London subway killed 56.
There have been numerous terror plots disrupted by U.S. and allied intelligence agencies. By one count, 39 al Qaeda plots have been foiled in the United States since September 11. Some of these plots were high profile such as the “shoe bomber,” Richard Reid, in December 2001 or the “underwear bomber,” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, in December 2009. Most frequent fliers will recall the liquid bomb plot against airliners from August 2006 since it marked the beginning of the ban on all but the smallest liquids for airline travelers.
Fewer will remember the cargo bomb plot disrupted less than a year ago in October 2010 in which terrorists tried to ship bomb-laden packages on cargo planes. There were also plots to attack soldiers at Fort Dix, N.J. in May 2007, to blow up fuel tanks at Kennedy airport in June 2007, and attempted car bombings in Times Square in May 2010 and at a Portland, Ore. Christmas tree lighting in November 2010. Miraculously all of these attempted terror attacks were thwarted.
The fact that the terrorists have not struck America again is largely due the valor and sacrifice of American and allied soldiers, sailors, airmen, and intelligence officers. In addition to freeing two countries, they have decimated al Qaeda’s leadership beginning with beginning with Mohammed Atef, an al Qaeda lieutenant killed in Afghanistan in November 2001. September 11 plotters Ramzi Binalshibh and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were captured in Pakistan. Attacks on al Qaeda’s command and control culminated in the death of Osama bin Laden himself in Pakistan on May 1, 2011.
All of this was accomplished without the loss of civil liberties that many feared. The much maligned PATRIOT Act was reauthorized in 2005 and 2011 with bipartisan votes. The act was amended to assuage concerns about civil liberties. There have been no pogroms or harassment of American Muslims. The omnipresent and rabid criticism of President Bush is evidence that dissent was not crushed. Newspaper coverage of classified programs shows the lack of censorship. Unlike during the Civil War, habeas corpus was not suspended. With the exception of increased screenings at airports, there has been little change for most Americans. Even the soldiers armed with automatic weapons that were present at airports after the September 11 attacks are long gone.
President Bush deserves credit for bringing the nation together in the days after September 11. President Bush’s steadfastness in the darkest days of the war, when even members of his own party were calling for a withdrawal from Iraq, eventually led to the surge that pacified the country. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq removed Saddam Hussein, a mass murderer and sponsor of terrorism, and may have ultimately helped to fuel the Arab Spring uprisings.
President Obama also deserves credit for his part in the war on terror. Obama ordered the attack on Osama bin Laden and ordered his own surge in Afghanistan and stepped up drone attacks on fighters in Pakistan. Obama also deserves credit for reneging on his campaign promise for a precipitous pullout from Iraq.
The new face of terror is the homegrown terrorist. Several recent terror attacks have been carried out or attempted by local Muslims who became radicalized over the internet without planning or direction by al Qaeda leaders. Although several al Qaeda agents and cells had been discovered earlier, Abu Nidal Hasan’s Fort Hood rampage in November 2009 was the first high-profile terror attack by a homegrown radical. Earlier that year, members of a terror cell in North Carolina were accused of plotting attacks.
Georgia is not without radicals. In 2009, two Georgia Tech students, Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee were convicted of making videos to scout locations for terror attacks. Sadequee had been previously arrested in Sarajevo in 2005 with plastic explosives and bomb making materials as part of “al Qaeda in Europe.” Earlier this year, a Marietta woman admitted mailing a bloody pig foot and anti-Semitic ramblings to New York congressman Peter King.
The Augusta Chronicle recently reported that in the ten years since September 11, $460 million has been spent protecting Georgia from terrorists. Half of this money has been spent in Atlanta where the state capitol and the international airport make inviting targets. This amount, spent over ten years, represents less than six percent of the amount that President Obama and the Democrats spent in one year on their stimulus bill. It was only 42 percent of Georgia’s $1.08 billion share of the stimulus money. The homeland security money was arguably a much better investment.
Although the war on terror will likely continue for the foreseeable future, it is evident that the United States is winning. In spite of numerous attempts, al Qaeda has not been able to attack America in ten years and most of al Qaeda’s senior leadership is either dead or imprisoned. American freedoms and civil liberties have been preserved.
The constantly changing face of terrorism means that there are constant new threats, from car bombs to sniper attacks to nuclear weapons. Threats come of lone wolves hiding in American society as well as state sponsored terror groups. Perhaps the biggest danger – and irony – is that the war on terror has been so successful that most Americans no longer feel threatened.