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Where We Were & What We Can Learn

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," five years after September 11, what have we learned? We'll mark the progress made in the war on terror so far and debate where the next battlefield should be. Plus, we'll take on the Bush doctrine. Has the president undersold his efforts to spread democracy around the word? Plus, the staff of The Wall Street Journal shares their eyewitness accounts of the events of that fateful day. Those topics, plus our weekly "Hits and Misses." But first, these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. Monday marks five years since the most devastating terrorist attack on the American homeland. This week, President Bush presented a progress report on the steps taken since 9/11 to make the country safer.

President Bush: We learned the lessons of September the 11th. We're changing how people can work together. We're modernizing the system. We're working to connect the dots to stop the terrorists from hurting America again. [Applause]

Gigot: So what are the lessons learned from September 11? And where do we stand in the war on terror? Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, as well as Wall Street Journal Eeditorial board members Dorothy Rabinowitz and Rob Pollock, and OpinionJournal.com columnist John Fund. Dan, looking across the last five years, what are the successes? What have we, as a nation, done right?

Henninger: Well, I'd say the answer to that is pretty simple. Virtually all of the antiterror programs exposed on the front pages as an attack on our civil liberties have, in fact, been successful assaults on the terrorists' attempt to destroy civilization. Let's go down the list: 1) electronic surveillance, the warrantless wiretaps, 2) the Swift program to monitor financial transactions, and 3) interning these homicidal people in Guantanamo.

What all of that reflected, it seems to me, was Bush's success at getting the national-security bureaucracies actively engaged in fighting terrorism rather than what we had before 9/11, which was a kind of passiveness to their strategies.

Gigot: And that represents a conceptual change in how we fight this war, from the law-enforcement mentality, which we used to treat it, where we took--remember after the first World Trade Center bombing, we didn't even bother to interrogate Ramzi Yousef, one of the plotters, very much. So it's a conceptual change too, Rob.

Pollock: Yeah, it's a big conceptual change. You know, it's not just these policies of interrogation and so forth that have been used against al Qaeda. But of course President Bush has taken a longer-term view as well, that we need to dry up these swamps where Islamic radicalism grows, which, for course, has brought us into Iraq and into Afghanistan. And that's the other big conceptual change.

Gigot: The idea of going after state sponsors of terror, which we never did before.

Pollock: Right.

Gigot: Well, we talked a little bit about it. We talked a good game against Iran and so on. But this time, actually, we've gone in and said, Look, you will not have these refuges.

Fund: It's easy to focus on the bad news of this fifth-year anniversary. But I think we also have to focus on what has worked. If you'd asked people--and polls were taken right after 9/11--"Do you believe there will be an attack on the American homeland in the next few months or a year?" Eighty percent of the American people said yes. That hasn't happened. Obviously, that has something to do with the steps that Dan and others just mentioned.

Gigot: Dorothy, on that point, we're hearing an argument made more and more now by people, five years after, as memories fade, that somehow we overreacted as a nation to this event; that in fact it wasn't that great a threat as witnessed by the fact that we haven't been attacked. What's your response to that argument?

Rabinowitz: My response to that is to always go back to Winston Churchill, who's always good for a line or two on this.

[Laughter]

And he said most pointedly, "The counsels of prudence and restraint led directly to the bull's-eye of disaster." And those are the truths here now too. But you have to really look into what is the psychological impetus for babble about "it's overkill." Why is this? Because, really, I do not think they want to acknowledge that Bush has been successful, and that we have not had an attack of this kind.

Gigot: Interesting.

Pollock: Look, my response to people who say it wasn't as great a threat is, look, there was no surprise on September 11 about who this was. We didn't spend very long thinking, Gee, who flew the planes into those buildings? Anyone who was following the news knew it was Osama bin Laden, knew it was al Qaeda. Why did we know that? We knew that because they'd hit the USS Cole in 2000, because they'd hit the African embassies in 1998, and because bin Laden kept going on TV and declaring jihad against the United States. I mean--

Fund: Also saying that the lack of a U.S. response emboldened them to try again.

Pollock: Yes.

Gigot: Well, what about the progress against WMD? Because you have had Moammar Gadhafi turn state's evidence against himself and blew up his own WMD program. We rolled up the A.Q. Kahn network, which is the Pakistani who was spreading WMD to places like North Korea and Iran. That is a significant change. We didn't have those successes before 9/11.

Henninger: Yeah. And you know what, Paul? I think this actually points to the biggest question of all, and that's whether going into Iraq has been a success or failure, whether it was a huge mistake. You know what? I think ultimately it was a success. What is the other biggest problem on the table right now? That is Iran's nuclear program. Clearly, the Iranians are seeking nuclear capability. If we had not gone into Iraq, if Saddam had been allowed to stay in power, and if he watched Iran gaining nuclear capability, there is no question that he would have sought the same thing himself rather than allow him to become under the foot of the Iranian mullahs.

Gigot: But this issue of Iran and Iraq, and I would throw in Afghanistan too, are very unsettled at this point. We have not really won those conflicts yet. We still have a lot of nation building, if you can use that phrase, to do. We still have insurgencies in both places, a very active one and sectarian strife in Iraq. And then, in Afghanistan, the Taliban is still a nuisance at the very least, John.

Fund: Well, I would submit we haven't paid enough attention to Afghanistan in the last few months. We've turned over about 90% of the territory of the country to NATO's troops. And they aren't doing the best job they could. I think we need a stepped-up effort in Afghanistan.

Pollock: The other thing I think it's important to remember is, as Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld himself pointed out in that famous memo, the war on terror's going to be a long, hard slog. And I think we have to be careful about having expectations that are too high.

Gigot: Do you have--quickly, Rob, any second thoughts about going into these state-sponsored places and trying to replace the regimes?

Pollock: No second thoughts at all. I think, as Dan said, there was not a benign alternative to going into Iraq.

Gigot: OK. All right, thanks. We'll continue our discussion in just a moment. And then, we at The Wall Street Journal recount our experiences when the events of September 11 unfolded on the doorstep of our own office. And then, our panel reveals our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. We continue now with our panel. Dorothy, memories fade five years on. The war on terror, certainly Iraq, but also some of the methods the president is using, Dan described, on the war on terror, very polarized, have become very partisan. Are you concerned at all about the ability of us to maintain a domestic consensus as a nation to prosecute this war?

Rabinowitz: I think, in the end, no. I think if you just look at a small portion of our existence today--going to the airports--and you view the ease with which Americans have accepted all of this surveillance. And I think the rest of it rolls off their backs. That is not to say that it is not important and damaging to hear the constant rain of assault about the death of our civil liberties for five years. I have immense faith in the American people's ability to toss that off. But that doesn't mean that when you poll them, they don't end up saying the "right," the "appropriate" thing, thereby throwing the reality off.

Henninger: But wait. We've had these divisions, and, you know, it has had an effect. The president's approval rating has fallen down below 40%. He has problems. Now, Paul, you had the opportunity this week to interview the president. You were on Air Force One with him. And you talked to him for nearly 45 minutes, I think. What was his mood? What was his attitude toward this?

Gigot: Feisty, even passionate. Not on defense at all, on offense in defending his policies, engaged in particular on the freedom agenda, the democracy agenda. When you asked him about Syria--I mean, Egypt or you asked about Iran, it was interesting to hear him talk about the details, get down below and take on the people who say, Look, I think this is not going--people saying this is not going well.

He says, Look, this is going to be a long war. There are growing pains. But here's the progress in Egypt, for example. Here's what I told Mubarak about the opposition leader. Here's what we're working on on Iran. He's deeply engaged in these things. And I don't think that comes through an awful lot. And he's passionate about this argument. I think the speeches he gave this week, he wants to throw the gauntlet down for this campaign.

Fund: Well, he better do it in the next 60 days, because there's a poll that counts, called the election.

Gigot: That's right.

Fund: And if the Democrats take one or both Houses of Congress--I have to tell you, I am very concerned the political consensus behind the war on terror is going to fray even more. And the president will be engaged in a political civil war in this country.

Rabinowitz: But John, the political consensus on Iraq is the thing you're talking about. But the political consensus called the war on terror, I think, is unshakably on the side of the president. They know. You just go to anybody in New York City, who faced the ludicrousness of having objections to bag inspections, and two or three people who felt martyred, and--my Lord.

Pollock: Well, if that's true, Dorothy, though, why do the Democrats seem to think there's so much political mileage to be made in attacking the president on wiretapping and attacking him on data mining and attacking him on the interrogation policies?

Rabinowitz: And why do they lose elections?

[Laughter]

Gigot: There's a significant part of the Democratic Party which really does not believe that this was a major change. I mean, there's an article--the front page of Foreign Policy magazine this week says, "9/11, the day nothing changed."

Fund: If the election is about the war on terror, Bush will have the advantage. But if the election is on Iraq, let's be honest here. The Republicans are in trouble because the country's unhappy.

Henninger: I think one thing he could have done is spoken over the heads of the Democratic Party, to Democratic voters. There are millions of them out there. And I think he needed to address their concerns directly rather than simply make them feel that this administration was ignoring them.

Gigot: This brings me to the degree to which Iraq is the central issue in some respects here. Because if we make progress there, so much of this domestic division will go away, if we win there. And then, also, things begin to open up throughout the Middle East, and we won't seem so beleaguered, and this sense in the last year of losing some momentum in the war on terror. And Iran, for example, reacting and saying, You're bogged down in Iraq; we can now push in Lebanon and other places. I think that would begin to fade, if we could do better in Iraq.

All right, thanks. We'll be back after this short break. Coming up next, the Journal editorial staff shares our own memories of September 11. That, and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. The anniversary of September 11 carries great personal meaning for the staff of The Wall Street Journal because the attack occurred just 200 yards from our offices. Dan Henninger, Mary O'Grady, John Fund and I were all eyewitnesses to the devastating event. And this is what we remember:

Gigot: The plane went right overhead like a "shoop-boom." And at first I didn't know what it was. And it is New York, and there are all kinds of crazy sounds. And nobody was showing any extraordinary reaction until about 60 seconds later, my cabdriver started shouting. He had seen something in the rearview mirror. He immediately pulled over. And he said--whipped open the car door and said, "Look what's happened." And we got out, and there it was, the whole--with the smoke and the fire in the north face of the north tower.

Henninger: I glanced up and the thought that went through the back of my mind was, That plane's too low. Now, I always had thought that the airliners flew too low over Manhattan. And my first thought was, One of them has finally lost altitude. And then I looked up again and there was no plane. It was inside the building. I thought I'd see the fuselage or something fall off the back but, no, there was just this long gash.

Then, there was another sound from the other side of the other tower, and you saw an explosion. But we couldn't tell what it was standing over there. We didn't see anything going into that building until some guy came running up the street screaming that another plane had flown into the other tower. At that point, we knew what had happened.

O'Grady: I was standing right on the corner of Fulton Street and thinking about whether I would go back to the office. I was thinking about how we would get the paper out. And I thought the bigger risk was to go over the bridge and the less risk would be go back to the office. Because I was convinced that they would go after the bridge next. But something told me to go on the bridge. And I started up the bridge and to go in the car lane, where the cars were. I was walking, and that's when the first tower collapsed. And I'm sure that, if I had gone back, I would have been hit by the collapse.

Fund: I was with a security guard who had injured his foot, and he was limping; he couldn't run. And we had been talking. And I remember thinking to myself, Well, this thing is falling apart and all of this cloud of debris and dust is coming. But I can't leave this guy behind. So I took his hand and we walked away. So as we walked, the full force of the debris hit us. And it was like being in a windstorm, a wind tunnel. But I wasn't scared. I just knew somehow that this debris wasn't big enough to hit us or kill us. I just had that confidence. And when it finally subsided, we were both alive, and we looked like ghosts, of course. But we were ghosts who were walking and alive.

Gigot: We had to get out a paper that day because it was almost a kind of act of a patriotic duty to not let them shut us down.

Henninger: It was undoubtedly the hardest piece of journalism I have ever produced in my life. I had to stop twice because I did--and I'm not given to tears--but I simply broke down thinking about the event. And I guess I must have finished it in about 90 minutes, sent it down there to South Brunswick. And miraculously, we got a paper out that day, and ultimately, the Journal won a Pulitzer Prize for it.

O'Grady: It was hard to come back. But now, I think it's just become sort of, in my conscious mind, a construction site, and I try not to think about it much more than that. What inspires me or keeps me going about it is just knowing how many courageous people, you know, came back downtown to rebuild and to live here and to sort through the rubble and all of that. And so we're part of that story.

Fund: You cannot go through a day like that, seeing things like I did--I not only saw people jump from the top of the building; I saw a couple jump holding hands. I still don't know who they were. But you don't see those kind of things without having both a deep appreciation for the tragedy and all of the hurt that people went through, but also with much deeper appreciation of what life means and how precious and valuable it is.

Gigot: When it hit you, and you thought, The United States homeland is under attack 200, yards from my office. And you realize that in this kind of a conflict we're in, everybody has the potential to be casualties. American civilians have the potential to be casualties. And that will never leave me, and I think most Americans should never forget that. All Americans should never forget that.

Henninger: We may or may not ever get a formal memorial built down here. But that site has been memorialized 24/7 for five years, and it's a very impressive thing to see. And I think, you know, anyone around the country who thinks the event is somehow being forgotten--not down here, it isn't, not down in front of Ground Zero. People are looking at it every day.

Gigot: When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses," where, this week, we're naming the key policy changes that need to be made before the 10th anniversary of September 11. Item one, cutting the red tape that ties up our intelligence community. Dan?

Henninger: Well, I would direct my comment to John Negroponte, the director of the new National Intelligence agency. We know that the failure of 9/11 was, in part, a failure of the national security bureaucracies. And they are really, by nature, given to caution and proceduralism. And, you know, it's a problem that's a lot like crabgrass. You just have to attack it every week and cut it back. And I guess I would exhort Mr. Negroponte, who's been appointed the grand antibureaucrat, to simply make a point of keeping those security bureaucracies fast and flexible.

Gigot: You know, one of the things that I asked the president was precisely that point about the security bureaucracies. And he said actually they're better. He said his intelligence is "quantifiably better"--that's a direct quote--since 9/11. So that was encouraging on that point. Next, putting political correctness on hold when it comes to national security, Dorothy?

Rabinowitz: Yes, well, it is true that there is always a Churchill quote. "The malice of the wicked is reinforced by the weakness of the virtuous." And who are the virtuous in our time? The American Civil Liberties Union and all its minions--

[Laughter]

--and everyone who has contributed to the idea that a proper focus on people entering our country that selects is somehow a terrible violation, and everything else that has tied American security and our boundaries. You know, on 9/11, two of the hijackers entered, one without a photograph, and why was he allowed to enter? Because he was a Middle Easterner, and people were worried. So we ask for eye on the ball. That is it.

Gigot: All right, thanks, Dorothy. Next up, the next battlefield in the war on terror, Rob?

Pollock: Yeah, I want to stress Iran not getting the bomb. And the reason I want to stress that is because there is an increasing number of people who seem to view Iran as a sort of deterrable enemy, like the Soviet Union. But I think it's very important to remember that prior to 9/11, no terrorist organization in the world had killed more Americans than the Iranian-backed Hezbollah. This is the No. 1 state sponsor of terror in the world. They talk openly about destroying another U.N. member state. And the president of the republic talks, you know, almost happily about a coming conflict in which a third of humanity is going to perish.

Look, President Bush has staked his presidency on combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and he cannot afford to be remembered as the administration that let Iran get the bomb.

Gigot: All right, Rob. And finally, "You're fired" are two words that should be heard a lot more of in Washington, John, you believe?

Fund: Paul, President Bush has shown admirable loyalty towards his appointees and generals. But at a time of war, there also has to be another value, accountability. And the president, I don't think, has fired enough people who haven't performed. George Tenet, a Clinton holdover as head of CIA, told the president the Iraqi intelligence he had was a "slam dunk". He wasn't fired. Instead, he got a Medal of Freedom. Other generals, other officials, like Paul Bremer, have been rewarded rather than, I think, held accountable. I really believe that if we really have a war on terror, we also have to follow the example of FDR and Truman, who fired as many officials as needed to get the people who could get the job done.

Gigot: Do you have any candidate now?

Fund: Well, I will say this. Lincoln went through every general during the Civil War until he found U.S. Grant. You do it until you find the right person.

Gigot: All right, John, thanks. That's it for this week's edition of "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot.


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