At Ground Zero and Beyond
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
It was an inspiring and somber scene yesterday at ground zero — President Bush and his wife, Laura, flanked by Mayors Bloomberg and Giuliani and Governor Pataki, striding down the ramp into the pit, preceded by a lone Marine honor guard in bright white gloves and gleaming golden buttons and buckles. The Marine was a reminder that the country is in a war being fought thousands of miles away at Iraq, Afghanistan, and secret locations by Marines and GIs in dirtier uniforms than the one on display yesterday, but a war that nonetheless entered a new phase with the attack here in New York City five years ago this morning on buildings that held thousands of civilians who weren’t wearing any uniforms at all other than the ones of office workers or restaurant waiters or bond traders. Buildings that toppled on those wearing the uniforms of police officers and firefighters.
After laying wreaths at the site of the twin towers, the president proceeded to Saint Paul’s Chapel, where President Washington once prayed. Tonight, he will speak to America in the latest of a series of speeches he has been making on the war. The speeches are important because they show that Mr. Bush understands that the home front is an important one in this war. Osama bin Laden himself has cited the example of Vietnam and said that he intended to launch “a media campaign to create a wedge between the American people and their government,” a wedge that it is our national responsibility to resist. We think of that in terms not only of the Bush administration but the Clinton administration that came before it.
We are moved to remark on that after seeing some of what are purported to be scenes from the ABC series aired last night and scheduled to be aired tonight.The series depicts the Clinton administration’s failure to respond decisively following a series of terrorist provocations — the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993, the attack on the Dharan barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996, the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. In retrospect they look like an ominous pattern leading up to September 11, 2001. One of the scenes being aired on the Web over the weekend showed a scene that suggests President Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, flinched. It echoes elements of disclosures first reported in these columns in an editorial headlined, “The Boldness of the President.
In that editorial, issued on July 23, 2004, we noted that, according to the report of the 9/11 Commssion, Mr. Berger was, as we put it, “presented with plans to take action against the threat of Al Qaeda four separate times — Spring 1998, June 1999, December 1999, and August 2000. Each time, Mr. Berger was an obstacle to action.” The report noted these decisions “were made by the Clinton administration under extremely difficult domestic political circumstances.
Opponents were seeking the president’s impeachment.” Our point was not to criticize Mr. Clinton but to warn of the danger of seeking to weaken a presidential administration in the midst of a dangerous passage. We need the boldness of the president, particularly in dangerous times, and the editors conducting these columns spent the latter part of the 1990s making that point against the special prosecutor going after Mr. Clinton.
This is something to keep in mind as Mr. Bush returns to Washington today to address the nation on the war. If Democrats gain control of the House in November, one can bet that the next two years will be spent fighting over impeachment. Already, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, John Conyers, has introduced a resolution to create “a select committee to investigate the Administration’s intent to go to war before congressional authorization, manipulation of pre-war intelligence, encouraging and countenancing torture, retaliating against critics, and to make recommendations regarding grounds for possible impeachment.” Thirty-seven other Democrats have co-sponsored this road-to-impeachment resolution, including our own Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, Charles Rangel, Nydia Velazquez, and Major Owens.
The sad thing is that now — just as in the Clinton administration — the president needs his boldness in respect of the war to be encouraged by the Congress, not sapped. The fact is that enormous progress has been made in the past five years in the war on Islamic fascists. One of the worst Islamic fascist regimes, in Afghanistan, has been toppled. Iraq has been liberated and its people have gone to the polls — not just once, but three times. They have inspired change in the direction of democracy throughout the region, in ways that are only beginning to be felt, and much depends on the victory there of democracy and freedom.
Mr. Bush, in likening the current struggle to that against Soviet Communism, seems to be preparing Americans for a war that will last decades. It was January of 1979 when Michael Ledeen warned in the Wall Street Journal of the Islamic fascists on the march to take Iran. One member of the “Axis of Evil” — Iran — is building a nuclear bomb while supporting a war against Americans and the forces of freedom in Iraq and Israel. A junior member of the Axis, Syria, maneuvering desperately to quash the stirrings of democracy in Lebanon while its tyrant tries, at home, to avoid becoming a casualty of the trend toward freedom and democracy. A representative of Iran was at Harvard last night, telling lies in another frantic effort to evade the sweep of a rising democratic tide.
These next battles against Iran and Syria — and against Hamas and Hezbollah, and the battles that wear on in Iraq and Afghanistan — will be demanding ones. If America succeeds, the gains for the people of the Middle East, for Israel as well as the Arabs and other Islamic populations, will be great. So will the dividends for Americans in terms of security and, eventually, economic growth. When we sent a reporter out in the streets of Manhattan along the route of the president’s motorcade yesterday as a test with a sign that read “Thank You, Mr. President,” she was greeted by some with derision but also warmth. Five years after September 11, there are still New Yorkers who remember the consequences of sapping the boldness of a president and who want to encourage the president as he returns from ground zero to lead in the next phase of this war as boldly as possible to prevent another attack and secure the victory needed for a lasting peace.