Exactly 20 years ago on this date, a terrorist attack at the World Trade Center took the lives of six people and injured more than a thousand others. The tragedy shocked the nation but, as with other al-Qaeda attacks in the years that followed, the WTC bombing did not alter the country’s basic approach to Islamist terrorism. For the next eight and a half years, the United States carried on with a business-as-usual attitude toward the subject. The lack of urgency applied to the subject, as well as the disorganized and sometimes slap-dash nature of the security establishment’s counter-terrorist operations, led to the far greater tragedy of September 11, 2001 when al-Qaeda managed to accomplish what it failed to do in 1993: knock down the towers and slaughter thousands.
All these years after 9/11 and the tracking down and killing of Osama bin Laden, are there any further lessons to be drawn from that initial tragedy? To listen to the chattering classes, you would think the answer is a definitive no. Few are marking this anniversary and even fewer seem to think there is anything more to be said about what we no longer call the war on terror. But as much as many of us may wish to consign this anniversary to the realm of the history books, the lessons of the day the war on America began still need to be heeded.
It should be acknowledged that the United States has come a long way in the last 20 years when it comes to awareness of the forces that launched that first attack. The 9/11 attacks changed the government’s priorities and forced those in charge of the security apparatus to make fighting al-Qaeda a priority, which was something that was nowhere on the country’s radar screen even after the atrocity that took place on February 26, 1993. The death of bin Laden in 2011 seemed to signal that the long battle against the Islamists had been fought and won by the U.S., allowing Americans to go back to sleep about terror–or at least to put it in our collective rear-view mirrors.
But as the 9/11/2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya demonstrated once again, the forces that launched the attacks on America are by no means as dead as bin Laden. Indeed, they continue to be a potent force throughout the Maghreb and the Middle East. The Taliban, al-Qaeda’s old allies and hosts, are poised for a comeback in Afghanistan as the United States gradually abandons what President Obama and the Democrats once called the “good war.”
Even more ominously, al-Qaeda’s ideological allies in the Muslim Brotherhood now rule Egypt in place of a secular regime, which, though undemocratic, was a vital ally in the global war on Islamist terror.
Here in the U.S., cases of home-grown Islamist terror continue to crop up as a new generation of Islamists continue to sow the seeds of an unending war against the “Great Satan” of the United States as well as its Israeli ally.
Unlike in 1993, the problem is no longer whether our intelligence and security establishment is serious about fighting terror, but rather whether we as a nation have the will and the patience to go on doing so. The willingness of the Obama administration to embrace the Brotherhood and to go on, as it did after Benghazi, pretending that the war on terror is over, is a sign that our will may be faltering.
It is no small thing that the Islamist government of Egypt that the U.S. has embraced has called for the freeing of Omar Abdel Rahman, the so-called “blind sheik” who was the al-Qaeda mastermind of the 1993 World Trade Center attack. As we think back on the 20 years since six Americans died as a prelude to the murder of thousands more by the same group, the sympathy for their killer ought to remind us that the fight against Islamism is far from over.