Happy Easter - it's a profound and soberly celebratory day for those who observe. Taking a break from the eggs, bunnies, and pastel colors, this whole 9/11 inquisition could use a little more perspective.
If the question is, "Should the government have done something to stop the terorist attacks of 9/11?" The answer is "yes." 3000 people from around the world would still be alive, and countless damaged others would still be whole. And if the question is, "Could the government have stopped the terrorist attacks of 9/11?" Then the answer is also "yes" - anything is possible.
But if the question is, "Is it reasonable to expect the government to have stopped 9/11, was there some kind of negligence involved in the government NOT stopping 9/11?" then the answer is a clear "no."
Take note of these thoughts from Thomas Patrick Carroll, a former officer in the clandestine service of the CIA:
- There is an old philosophical axiom - "should" implies "can." Whether one should act is only meaningful if the act itself is possible. So before we entertain notions of what U.S. leaders should have done before 9/11, we need to be clear on a fundamental question: What could they realistically have done?
Not much, to be blunt.
The attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon had their roots in the militant Islam seeping out from the oppressive, fearful, pre-modern states of the Near East. An effective response to such a threat would have required national resolve on a scale that simply did not exist before 9/11, any more than the fortitude to fight the Axis was there before Pearl Harbor.
For example, by the end of the 1990s, it was clear that Al Qaeda was a growing threat and that Afghanistan was its base. Invading that country, destroying the Taliban and killing hundreds of Al Qaeda members would have made the 9/11 attacks less likely to occur. Would the American public and Congress have supported such an "unprovoked" preemption? Or could a presidential candidate in 2000 have made the invasion of Afghanistan his campaign theme and been elected? Of course not.
Let's move to something less ambitious. For instance, could the U.S. government have significantly strengthened airline security before 9/11?
It is difficult to see how. Those were the days when Congress was gung-ho for the "passenger bill of rights," and no representative hoping for reelection was going to suggest taking pocket knives away from travelers. (Yes, the box cutters were perfectly legal to carry aboard on 9/11.) Nor would anyone have urged pilots and crew members to battle a hijacker in midflight, jettisoning 30 years of successful, and nonviolent, techniques for dealing with air piracy.