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American Diplomacy
Commentary and Analysis

September 2001

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Just as we always will remember the audacious attack that occurred on September 11, I can never forget the grim voice of the radio announcer who interrupted the regular programming on December 7 to report the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The next day, a shocked public, glued to the radio, heard President Roosevelt deliver his now-famous words: "Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan."

Back then, we relied on the papers and the radio for our news of the day. Throughout the war years, the airwaves were a vital communication link between the president and the public. Even in the darkest days, his "fireside chats" brought people together and gave them reason to believe that democracy would prevail.

But, despite the temptation, Americans must not compare what was then with what is now. We knew who the enemy was. Today, we are dealing with suicidal, shadowy terrorists—reportedly financed by Osama bin Laden—who operate out of small, independent cells and live in such-places as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran or Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Their ability to move around the globe with comparative ease is frightening.

So what can we do? Everything possible, whatever the cost.

  • We need to expand and improve our counterintelligence network, as well as our immigration checkpoints. The fact that stateless terrorists could commandeer four civilian jet airplanes almost simultaneously from three major airports demonstrates a woeful weakness in our security system.
  • Terrorism is a global threat. For that reason, we must obtain the cooperation of leaders from countries worldwide.
  • Although after the fact, the Federal Aviation Administration now acknowledges that our airport control is an abysmal failure. It's well known that the people who man the metal detectors are poorly paid and inadequately trained. Instead, the FAA should adhere to the stringent procedures employed by El Al, Israel's national carrier. I have flown this airline and can testify to the 45-minute exhaustive luggage search and background questioning that each passenger must undergo. In addition, I was told, same of the attendants on every El Al flight are, in fact, security personnel.
  • Finally, the cry of "war," no matter how noble, is wasted rhetoric on an amorphous enemy. Bombs and rockets tend to kill the innocent as well as the guilty. However, if all trails do lead to bin Laden—and increasingly this seems to be the case—then we must find a way to take him and his lieutenants out.

What can we do? Everything possible, whatever the cost.



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