This Saturday, President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and first lady Michelle Obama led national memorial events across the East Coast to mark the ninth anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. This coming Saturday marks the ninth anniversary of our official response: the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, the Congress-approved declaration of a global war against al-Qaeda and any other terrorist threat to the U.S. After nine years of fighting in Afghanistan and elsewhere, what do we have to show for our efforts? Are we safer?
- Terrorists Weaker, But More 'Complex' Terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Bruce Hoffman published a lengthy report "assessing the terrorist threat." Their summary:
Al-Qaeda and allied groups continue to pose a threat to the United States. Although it is less severe than the catastrophic proportions of a 9/11-like attack, the threat today is more complex and more diverse than at any time over the past nine years. Al-Qaeda or its allies continue to have the capacity to kill dozens, or even hundreds, of Americans in a single attack. A key shift in the past couple of years is the increasingly prominent role in planning and operations that U.S. citizens and residents have played in the leadership of al-Qaeda and aligned groups, and the higher numbers of Americans attaching themselves to these groups. Another development is the increasing diversification of the types of U.S.-based jihadist militants, and the groups with which those militants have affiliated. Indeed, these jihadists do not fit any particular ethnic, economic, educational, or social profile.
- 'We're Safer Than We Think' Newsweek's Fareed Zakaria writes, "Of course we are safer. During the 1990s, Al Qaeda ran training camps through which as many as 20,000 fighters may have passed. It was able to operate successfully during that decade and into the next because most governments treated the group as an annoyance rather than a major national-security challenge. After the attacks, the world’s attitude changed dramatically, and the series of security measures instituted since then have proved effective. ... As a result, Al Qaeda 'central'—Osama bin Laden and his gang—has been whittled down to about 400 fighters. It has been unable to execute large-scale attacks of the kind that were at the core of its strategy." In addition, "The real threat of Al Qaeda was that it would inspire some percent-age of the world’s 1.57 billion Muslims, sending out unstoppable waves of jihadis. In fact, across the Muslim world, militant Islam’s appeal has plunged."
- Our Faltering Muslim Outreach The Economist's Lexington appraises, "After a year that saw a successful terrorist attack and two near-misses on American soil, it is hard to be upbeat. ... The failure of Barack Obama to engineer the transformation some expected from him in the wider world has been no less dispiriting. After the toxic impact of George Bush on Muslim opinion, many hoped that the advent of a kinder, gentler president whose middle name was Hussein would help America to draw the poison. ... And yet Mr Obama’s programme of Muslim outreach is already faltering."
- Remember 9/11's Lessons; Stay in Afghanistan NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen writes in the Washington Post, "We learned that ignoring an unstable situation that seems so far away -- as we did after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan -- can have lethal long-term consequences at home. We learned that we cannot hide from international terrorism; it will seek us out. And we learned that defense in the 21st century cannot begin and end at our borders. ... It is especially important when raised voices, in the United States and other countries, call for an end to the mission in Afghanistan; to bring the troops home now, regardless of conditions on the ground; essentially to let the Afghans deal with the Taliban and al-Qaeda on their own. Following this route would be a mistake of historic proportions."
- Rebuilding Is Our Best Response The New York Times editorial board writes, "Nine years after terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center, a memorial and a transportation hub are taking recognizable shape and skyscrapers are finally starting to rise from the ashes of ground zero. That physical rebirth is cause for celebration on this anniversary. It is a far more fitting way to defy the hate-filled extremists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, and to honor their victims, than to wallow in the intolerance and fear that have mushroomed across the nation." They detail the progress on the buildings, which they say are on track for 2011 completion.