Is U.S. Safer Since Sept. 11 Attacks?
As we observed the second anniversary of 9/11, the question
naturally arose: Are we safer today than we were two years
But a simple "yes" or "no" oversimplifies a complex situation. A
conditional "yes" is more appropriate. No one can deny that
fighting terrorism around the world increases the likelihood that
we'll fall victim to another attack in the near-term, but this is a
necessary risk to ensure our long-term safety. It's also true,
however, that no terrorists have successfully executed a major
attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. That doesn't mean an
attack can't occur tomorrow, but it shows how much progress we've
made over the past two years. Indeed, we've taken concrete steps
that will make the nation safer in the long run. Let's consider
some victories that will make our country safer:
--Eliminating two of the world's leading state sponsors of
terrorism. On 9/11, the Taliban (search) ruled Afghanistan and
Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq. Today, neither is in power.
A deadly synergy is created when states like Iraq and Afghanistan
choose to work with terrorist groups. States have resources --
territory, finances, trade -- that non-state actors lack. But
non-state actors can operate globally and largely undetected.
Today, a state like Iraq could harness its resources to develop a
weapon of mass destruction and conspire with non-state actors to
deliver that weapon.
This symbiotic relationship can operate undercover, possibly
without the knowledge of the American government. Thus, a state
hostile to us may appear to be acting within the bounds of
acceptable diplomatic behavior while covertly supporting the
aggressive endeavors of its non-state allies. This is exactly what
both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein's Iraq were doing before they
were removed from power.
--Denying terrorists organizations the ability to freely operate.
Yes, al Qaeda (search) still exists, but the organization is on the
run. Thousands of terrorists have been detained or killed over the
past two years. These include not only low-level henchman like
Richard Reid (search) (the "shoe bomber"), but high-level
strategists Khalied Shaik Mohammad (search), Riduan Isamuddin
(search) (also known as Hambali), and Uday and Qusay Hussein
The enablers of terrorist activity are also under assault.
Financial flows that were the life-blood of organizations like al
Qaeda are being disrupted; there are far fewer gaping security
loopholes for terrorists to exploit. States like Saudi Arabia that
have often enabled terrorists -- if not outright supported them --
can no longer ignore such activity.
--Developing a deterrence strategy appropriate for modern threats.
Both Usama bin Laden and the Taliban could have predicted that the
United States would retaliate, yet they weren't deterred. The
prevailing belief was that no state would attack the United States
out of fear of the consequences; the activities of organized
terrorist networks were treated as criminal behavior.
After 9/11, however, President Bush unveiled the Bush Doctrine
(search), founded on the principle that the United States would
actively engage, militarily if necessary, rogue nations that
support terrorists and develop weapons of mass destruction. The
president's description of these states as forming an "Axis of
Evil" (search) put the world on alert. While America's
anti-terrorist activities in Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines
and Indonesia have supported this principle, the president's
willingness to wage full-scale war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq
demonstrated to the world his commitment to uphold this new
doctrine. The result: States know the price of directly or
indirectly supporting violence against the United States or its
--Better understanding our own vulnerability. Until 9/11, most
Americans and their government believed we faced no real security
dangers. They largely ignored the proliferation of weapons of mass
destruction, the spread of ballistic missile technology, the
increasingly violent terrorist attacks occurring against U.S.
interests abroad, and the increasingly belligerent and hostile
rhetoric coming from the Usama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins of
the world. On 9/11, however, the United States was forced to
reevaluate its own vulnerability.
The result was a series of policy changes that address the new
dangers we face. Our policy-makers have been continuously
identifying weaknesses, oversights and mistakes.
Unfortunately, politics has snuck into the debate. Some have
attempted to undermine the credibility of the president's policies
in order to advance their own political agenda. The important point
is, though, that the government and the public remain committed to
developing strong policies for the war on terrorism. All of which
makes us, yes, safer today.
is a senior policy analyst for defense and national security at
the Davis Institute for International Studies and Ha Nguyen is a
Reprinted with permission of Foxnews.com