Nothing must please our enemies more
than to witness the ruling political parties of America obfuscating over
the personal lives and peccadilloes of their constituencies. Bill Clinton,
Bob Torricelli, Trent Lott, hell, they’ll even exhume dead people like J.
William Fulbright for one last going over. As hard as it is to believe,
today the al-Qaida terrorists have to fight for headlines; our vaunted
free press just can’t seem to decide what’s more important for us to
know—that Trent Lott’s a closet bigot or that terrorists have just
purchased the option on some Iraqi nerve gas.
In the declared war against terrorism,
no fifth column could wish for the kind of successful sabotage we inflict
upon ourselves. In little more than a year, our collective thirst for
scandal and low-denominator news has pushed the unthinkable horror of 9/11
to the dim recesses of our psyche. Indeed, 9/11 has become an artistic
work-in-progress, with several dance and theater groups poised to stylize
the most grotesque event of the century and transform the unspeakable into
“art.” These days, a photo of Osama bin Laden—with the appropriate
caption—is a guaranteed laugh on David Letterman or Saturday Night Live.
What went wrong? During the weeks
immediately following 9/11, America gave strong evidence of its unity and
strength. We stood staunchly behind our President, and we appeared
determined to seek out, engage and defeat the consummate evil that had
murdered thousands of innocent people and reduced a national landmark to
rubble. Flags flew everywhere. Wherever citizens gathered—in churches,
ball parks and arenas, at NASCAR races and tennis tournaments—there were
poignant moments of silence that appeared to show our solidarity and
fortitude for the battles that surely lay ahead.
So we went to war, or at least, we made
noise. For six months, with bombs smart and dumb and elite troops on
secret missions, we rearranged the geographic and political landscapes of
Afghanistan in a prime-time, real-life version of Mission Impossible. But
this time Tom Cruise must’ve been on vacation; the mission got the better
of us, and when no clear victory was announced, when the head of our
adversary was not pulled out of a cave and displayed on Good Morning
America, we began to lose our focus.
For al-Qaida, after an initial scare,
we finally started to behave exactly the way they wanted. We started to
blame each other for the attack, we sold our stocks and created a
recession, we rearranged our national security, which now doesn’t have a
prayer of being effective for at least five years, and we put ourselves on
the doorstep of a war that promises not only to further weaken any resolve
we may have left, but which also could alienate what allies we might have
had. Partisan politics has returned, Democrats and Republicans have
resumed their mutual enmity, and the fourth estate has, with obvious
relish, rediscovered the easy scandal story. Under the guise of “searching
for truth,” rafts of reporters are right now rifling through the flotsam
of Trent Lott’s life, sifting through decades-old southern cesspools in an
effort to discover black-and-white evidence of racism. Will the smoking
gun be a photo of young Trent, drinking from a “whites only” fountain? Or
maybe some truly enterprising cub will find a cancelled check made out to
Wallace for President in 1968. While the Senate wrangles over its next
Majority Leader, al-Qaida is breathing easy.
Terror is alive and well and living
among us, and we are every bit as vulnerable as we were a year ago. We
will win this war, but it’s the eventual cost that’s worrisome. Does the
Gateway Arch or the Seattle Space Needle have to fall? Must a hundred
nursery school children be poisoned, or half a city catch some viral
plague? Remember how you felt on September 12, 2001? America needs to get
that feeling back. There will be plenty of time for Democrats vs.
Republicans, and movie star shoplifters and even Pete Rose. But we’ve got
some unfinished business, first.
December 16, 2002