Success in preventing more attacks the past decade deserves acclaim

The success of the American military, intelligence services, domestic law enforcement and policy makers in safeguarding our cities and citizens from the malignant designs of terrorists in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001, deserves to be considered in class with the Marshall Plan and the defeat of communism and facism among the great accomplishments of the American government in the last 100 years.

We suffered a painful and devastating attack at Fort Hood, but remarkably, that remains the sole attack on Amerian soil since 9/11. Think of it: In an interconnected world where the methods of delivering mass destruction are as vast as the number of radical jihadists who would gladly give their lives to take an American’s; in a free and open society, where the would-be venues of mass murder are multitudinous; in the face of multiple threats in all these open places, and against all the odds, America’s homeland has remained safe in the 10 years since we so brutally learned that we are anything but.

As the media fill the airwaves and printed pages with 9/11 rememberances, this herculian American feat should not go unnoticed.

A contingent in the media is already hard at work trying to remake America’s decade-long focus on stopping terrorism seem counterproductive and fanciful — a fool’s errand, a distraction or something of the like. A decade without another large-scale attack, to these media knowers, is unworthy of mention, much less acclaim.

They deride a decade of foreign entanglements against terrorists and their nation-state supporters as unwise. They whimsy about the good that spending on wars and homeland security would have done had it been redirected to building new schools or bridges instead.

They are hard at work trying to coin the 10 years since 9/11 as “the lost decade” because of the time, attention and treasure we have spent defending and attacking terror.

But the intellectual plotters who weave this tale ignore a fundamental truth: America’s aggressive posture against foreign terrorism, no matter how imperfect in its execution at times, can still be considered in attacks prevented and American lives saved.

Like proving a negative, of course, it is difficult to know exactly how many 9/11-like moments have been drowned by America’s domestic and foreign anti-terrorism apparatus. But a report from the Heritage Foundation last year provides some definition: “In 2009 alone,” the report says, “U.S. authorities foiled at least six terrorist plots against the United States. Since Sept. 11, 2001, at least 30 planned terrorist attacks have been foiled, all but two of them prevented by law enforcement.”

That doesn’t mean that America’s anti-terror effort has been easy to live with or perfect in execution. At home, new bureaucracies with imperfect structures and inconvenient tactics have made life uncomfortable. Think TSA. Meanwhile, liberals and libertarians have roared with fury over the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretaps, waterboarding and Guantanamo Bay, even though these tools have helped make America safe.

Abroad, grave errors in judgment have harmed America and her interests. In Iraq, bad intelligence took us to war too soon, and bad tactics from stubborn politicians cost the lives of American servicemen and women. Donald Rumsfeld deserves to be remembered in league with Robert McNamara.

In Afghanistan, we let the perpetrator of 9/11 escape our grip in the first hours of that conflict and, at times, we took our eye off the ball.

And yet, even these foreign policy errors have been subtantially righted. In Iraq, a bold double-down known as the surge corrected our course there. In Afghanistan, thousands of terrorist fighters have been slain, while in Pakistan, their leader, Osama bin Laden, was killed this year.

None of this means the struggle is over. America still faces grave threats; it would be foolish to whistle past the terrorist graveyard. Ten years of successfully beating back our enemies is a benchmark of success, not an endgame by itself.

But all of this does suggest that, even as we mourn the anniversary of that terrible day, we should honor the efforts of those who have protected us from other anniversaries like it, and recommit ourselves to the policies, strategies and priorities that have aided them at every step.

Josh Penry is a former Colorado Senate Minority leader and a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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