Last December, my family saw the revival of “White Christmas” at the Marquis Theater on Broadway. The play reminds us of a time when Americans could easily identify their enemies. Back then, veterans poured home knowing they’d completely vanquished their Axis foes and kept our country safe.
Things aren’t as straightforward today.
While we were in New York, a terrorist was planning the attack he’d carry out Christmas Day on a plane headed for Detroit. Five months later, another terrorist attempted to set off a car bomb in Times Square. Had he succeeded, the Marquis might have been destroyed.
It’s been more than eight years since terrorists hijacked planes and first attacked our homeland. Of course, al Qaeda had been at war with the U.S. overseas long before 9/11 -- we just hadn’t replied in kind. The current struggle has already lasted longer than World War II.
And it will continue for the foreseeable future. There are still bad guys. They still want to target Americans. They’re just more difficult to identify than most of our previous enemies.
It’s important to note that we’re already doing many things right. Last year alone, authorities prevented at least six terrorist attacks. We’ve thwarted 31 (counting the Times Square attempt) such strikes since 9/11.
Yet as the May bomb attempt shows, to win the long war on terrorism, our government must constantly adapt to ever-changing threats. That’s a key reason The Heritage Foundation is sponsoring the second annual “Protect America Month.” We can’t afford to grow complacent.
Lawmakers and the Obama administration need to work together and with state and local governments to provide terrorism-fighting tools, to increase information-sharing and collective security efforts around the globe, to expand vital law enforcement partnerships with local law enforcement, and to encourage cooperation with the governments of other countries.
There are several steps we should take right away. They include:
* Extending key provisions of the PATRIOT Act. Critical segments of the Act expire at the end of the year. They should be made permament.
* Expanding the Visa Waiver Program and increase visa coordination with our allies. This would reward nations for working with us, and make it easier to track threats.
* Deciding how to handle terrorist detainees. President Obama wants to close Guantanamo Bay, but can’t until there’s a place to put dangerous detainees.
* Fixing oversight. With 108 Congressional committees, subcommittees and commissions watching over DHS, there’s a chaotic system in place that often leads to policies that make Americans less safe.
Many lawmakers realize the stakes.
“America can’t win the battle for hearts and minds in the Muslim world by apologizing, and by banning terms like ‘war on terror’ and ‘radical Islam.’ Such self-flagellation only encourages our enemies,” explained Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., in a May 4 speech. “Humbled by the lessons of 9/11, and reminded of their value just this weekend in Times Square, today we reaffirm that our nation must never again be caught off guard.”
The Times Square attempt was stopped because an alert citizen saw suspicious activity and notified police, who took the threat seriously and acted quickly. But let’s not forget that the suspect was able to board an airplane (after buying his one-way ticket with cash) and was actually back from the gate before federal agents arrived to detain him.
That’s too close for comfort. DHS should focus on gathering more intelligence and finding better ways to share it with local law enforcement and foreign partners. Information may be our nation’s best weapon against terrorism.
A false sense of complacency led to thousands of deaths and the destruction of the World Trade Center. But if our government remains focused and takes the correct steps, it can keep Americans safe.
Ed Feulner is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).