2017-09-12 04:37:47 UTC
by John R. Bolton
September 11, 2017 at 7:00 am
Today marks the 16th anniversary of al-Qaida's 9/11 attacks. We learned much
that tragic day, at enormous human and material cost. Perilously, however,
America has already forgotten many of Sept. 11's lessons.
The radical Islamicist ideology manifested that day has neither receded nor
"moderated" as many naive Westerners predicted. Neither has the ideology's
hatred for America or its inclination to conduct terrorist attacks. Iran's
1979 Islamic Revolution brought radical Islam to the contemporary world's
attention, and it is no less malevolent today than when it seized our Tehran
embassy, holding U.S. diplomats hostage for 444 days.
The Taliban, which provided al-Qaida sanctuary to prepare the 9/11 attacks,
threaten to retake control in Afghanistan. Al-Qaida persists and may even be
While ISIS's caliphate in Syria and Iraq will not survive much longer,
countries across North Africa and the Middle East ("MENA") have destabilized
or fractured entirely. Syria and Iraq have ceased to exist functionally, and
Libya, Somalia and Yemen have descended into chaos. Pakistan, an unstable
nuclear-weapons state, could fall to radicals under many easily predictable
The terrorist threat is compounded by nuclear proliferation. Pakistan has
scores of nuclear weapons, and Iran's program continues unhindered. North
Korea has now conducted its sixth, and likely thermonuclear, nuclear test,
and its ballistic missiles are near to being able to hit targets across the
continental United States. Pyongyang leads the rogue's gallery of would-be
nuclear powers, and is perfectly capable of selling its technologies and
weapons to anyone with hard currency.
During Barack Obama's presidency, he ignored these growing threats and
disparaged those who warned against them. His legacy is terrorist attacks
throughout Europe and America, and a blindness to the threat that encouraged
Europe to accept a huge influx of economic migrants from the MENA region,
whose numbers included potentially thousands of already-committed
IGNORING NORTH KOREA
Obama also ignored North Korea, affording it one of an aspiring
proliferator's most precious assets: time. Time is what a would-be nuclear
state needs to master the complex scientific and technological problems it
must overcome to create nuclear weapons.
And, in a dangerous unforced error that could be considered perfidious if it
weren't so foolish, Obama entered the 2015 Vienna nuclear and missile deal
that has legitimized Tehran's terrorist government, released well over a
hundred billion dollars of frozen assets, and dissolved international
economic sanctions. Iran has responded by extending its presence in the
Middle East as ISIS had receded, to the point where it now has tens of
thousands of troops in Syria and is building missile factories there and in
Before 2009, publishers would have immediately dismissed novelists who
brought them such a plainly unrealistic plot. Today, however, it qualifies
as history, not fantasy. This is the agonizing legacy the Trump
administration inherited, compounded by widespread feelings among the
American people that we have once again sacrificed American lives and
treasure overseas for precious little in return.
These feelings are understandable, but it would be dangerous to succumb to
them. We didn't ask for the responsibility of stopping nuclear proliferation
or terrorism, but we are nonetheless ultimately the most at risk from both
And as we knew during the Cold War, but seem to have forgotten since it
ended, our surrounding oceans do not insulate us from the risk of
long-distance nuclear attacks. We face the choice of fighting the terrorists
on our borders or inside America itself, or fighting them where they seek to
plot our demise, in the barren mountains of Afghanistan, in the MENA
deserts, and elsewhere.
Nor can we shelter behind a robust national missile-defense capability,
hoping simply to shoot down missiles from the likes of North Korea and Iran
before they hit their targets. We do not have a robust national missile
defense capability, thanks yet again to Barack Obama's drastic budget cuts.
President Trump appreciates that nuclear proliferation and radical Islamic
terrorism are existential threats for the United States and its allies.
During the 2016 campaign, he repeatedly stressed his view that others should
play a larger role in defeating these dangerous forces, bearing their fair
share of the burden. But candidate Trump also unambiguously (and entirely
correctly) called for restoring our depleted military capabilities because
he saw that American safety depended fundamentally on American strength.
Sept. 11 should be more than just a few moments of silence to remember the
Twin Towers falling, the burning Pentagon and the inspiring heroism of
regular Americans in bringing down United Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa. We
should also seriously consider today's global threats. Those who made
America an exceptional country did so by confronting reality and overcoming
it, not by ignoring it.
The names of passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93, who lost
their lives in the September 11 attacks, as displayed at the National 9/11
Memorial in New York. (Image source: Luigi Novi/Wikimedia Commons)
John R. Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, is Chairman of
Gatestone Institute, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute,
and author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United
Nations and Abroad".
This article first appeared in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and is
reprinted here with the kind permission of the author.
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