January 5, 2010 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Terrorism

A Sobering Reminder That We're Still at War

Americans sometimes seem to forget that we're at war. But our enemies never forget.

And in case we needed any further proof, Umar Farouk Abdulamutallab reminded us there are plenty of radical extremists willing to kill in the name of their ideology. Clearly, we must remain vigilant and committed to stopping terrorists from inflicting damage to our country.

But after nearly a decade of fighting a war against terror, the painful questions persist: What has our government learned, and what can it do better in the future to protect our homeland?

On a day when most families were opening Christmas presents with loved ones, a terrorizing ordeal was taking place thousands of feet above the U.S. A Nigerian national, Abdulamutallab, was attempting to detonate an explosive in the cabin of an airliner as it began its descent into the Detroit airport. Thankfully, the bomb failed to ignite and passengers and crew members acted to restrain the would-be attacker. The aircraft was able to safely land.

If the bomb had gone off, it would have caused a massive explosion inside that aircraft that could have killed everyone aboard -- almost 300 hundred passengers and crew.

As New Yorkers, we don't need any reminders of what terrorists are capable of doing when our homeland security fails. After all, New York City was at the epicenter of the deadliest terrorist attack on American soil. More than eight years after the 9/11 attacks, there's still a gaping hole where the Twin Towers once stood. Americans haven't yet recovered our feelings of invincibility and innocence.

For so long, we had naively comforted ourselves, thinking that terrorism was confined only to other parts of the world. September 11 should have changed that way of thinking.

Since then, we've accepted new security measures and new laws to help keep our country safe. But with the memory of the events receding, dangerous complacency appears to once again be setting in.

And yet, the past decade witnessed continued attempts and attacks on innocent civilians by Islamic extremists:

  • In 2001, the Richard Reid shoe bomb jeopardized the lives of the passengers and crew on an American Airlines aircraft.
  • In 2004, the Madrid subway bombings claimed 191 lives.
  • In 2006, the Mumbai, India attacks claimed 209 lives.
  • In 2009, the Pakistan car bombing claimed 110 lives and over 200 casualties

Sadly, this is only a partial list of recent terrorist attempts on innocent civilians here and around the world.

The first lesson we can learn from the past decade is that there are plenty of deranged individuals who are perfectly willing and able to kill innocent civilians. Secondly (and related to the first), our government must remain committed to disrupting terrorist plots and terrorist havens. Lastly -- and perhaps most importantly -- the continued terrorism threat demands smarter security, not simply more money, as some claim.

"The most effective means of stopping terrorist attacks," homeland security expert James Jay Carafano of The Heritage Foundation explains, is "stopping attacks before they even come close to fruition." In other words, our government has to do a better job gathering intelligence and sharing pertinent information among the various agencies before a would be-bomber is able to board a commercial airliner.

Although we may be tempted to think that we are turning the page of the violent past decade that saw countless of civilians murdered in the name of extremism, we cannot. It was nothing short of a miracle that 300 lives were spared when Abdulamutallab's bomb failed to detonate. Terrorists, as this event revealed, do not regard certain days (like Christmas) as off-limits.

As we start this New Year, let's not lose sight of the world we live in and let's demand that our legislators and government remain vigilant in keeping our country safe. Anything else would be a complete travesty.

Israel Ortega is a Senior Media Services Associate at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Israel Ortega Contributor, The Foundry
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First Appeared in The Americano