On September 11, 2002, I was the Communications Director for the city of Sandy, Utah. A few days earlier, I had gotten a phone call from a guy named Paul Swenson, who ran a business called Colonial Flag, which had its offices only a few blocks away from Sandy City Hall. He had, what seemed to me, a really nutty idea – he wanted to put up over 3,000 flags right outside of City Hall, one for each victim of the previous year’s terrorist attacks.
Being the visionary that I am, I told him that time was too short, and I didn’t think we’d be able to do it.
Then I told Mayor Tom Dolan about the idea, and he wisely overruled me.
That led to the first Healing Field, a beautiful and solemn presentation of American flags in rows on a plot of ground that is almost identical to the size of the site of the World Trade Center. I can’t imagine a more graceful and beautiful tribute to the lives lost on that fateful day, as well as a finer expression of unity and purpose. It allows us to honor the dead and also look forward to the national challenges ahead.
The field attracted extensive local attention, and hordes of visitors tramped up to the Mayor’s office to get a bird’s-eye view of the field from the office windows. Then CNN did a story on it. Two days later, I received a phone call from someone in Governor Jeb Bush’s office, asking how they could duplicate the Healing Field in Florida. It has become an annual tradition in Sandy, and a number of other locations across the country have adopted the idea. According to the HealingField.org website, a new Healing Field is now up on the National Mall in Washington, DC.
It’s hard to know how to mark the occasion of September 11. It shouldn’t be a day of celebration – too many lives were lost. But should it be a day of mourning? Yes, but that’s not enough. It should be a day of new resolve and determination. We should honor those who died by doing all we can to ensure our enemies never catch us off guard again.
As we get farther and farther away from that horrible day, we lose the resolve we all shared in the aftermath of the attacks. Our success in prosecuting the War on Terror has produced what was, on September 11, an unthinkable result – we’ve had no major new terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11. Consequently, our success proves to a mixed blessing – it has produced security, yes, but also complacency. As 9/11 fades into memory, it becomes harder and harder for many people to understand what all the fuss is about.
So John Edwards can call the War on Terror a “bumper sticker slogan” and Michael Moore can snidely assert that “there is no terrorist threat.” If the Bush Administration had only been a little less vigilant on the terrorist front, he might, ironically, be more popular in the eyes of those who see radical Islam as a conservative shibboleth, a figment of a fevered Neocon imagination.
It’s especially ironic that this year’s 9/11 anniversary comes on the heels of General Petraeus’ report to Congress on the progress of the troop surge in the Iraq War. Democrats are already calling him a liar, just as they call Bush a liar for initiating the Iraqi conflict. Whenever anyone tries to make any connection to this war and 9/11, critics shriek “Saddam didn’t attack us on 9/11! How dare you presume there’s a connection?”
Well, if I may be so bold, here’s how I dare. If you’re one of those naysayers who insists that everything Bush does is a lie, please read slowly and carefully, because you’re probably too busy seething with rage to follow my logic.
Immediately after 9/11, the same critics who berate Bush now were lambasting Bush then for not “connecting the dots.” The signs were all there, they insisted. We had the information; we just didn’t put it together and act fast enough. If only Bush had connected the dots, 9/11 could have been avoided.
Maybe so. Hindsight is 20/20, and there’s plenty of blame to go around. But Bush wasn’t interested in blame. Being unable to go back in time, he couldn’t reconnect those dots.
But he could connect the dots he had.
The new dots said that Iraq was a belligerent nation who had already proven its willingness to wage wars of aggression with its neighbors and to deploy weapons of mass destruction, which it had already used – against its own people, no less. After the Gulf War of ’91, Iraq had agreed to disarm completely and verify its disarmament to the United Nations. Everyone – the U.S., the U.N., even France – agreed that Iraq was not in compliance with the terms of its surrender in 1991.
Bush-haters, look closely, because here’s the connection to 9/11: Bush didn’t connect the dots before September 11. But he did connect the dots prior to the Iraq War. In a post 9/11 world, he knew the United States did not have the luxury of letting a madman with weapons of mass destruction hold the world hostage.
Keep in mind that no one is saying that Saddam had anything to do with the 9/11 attacks. Certainly George Bush never said that. Those who scream that he lied about this connection have yet to produce an actual statement of his to back up their slander. On the contrary, both Bush and even Darth Vader Cheney himself have both repeatedly said Saddam did not attack us on September 11, 2001. So the critics are left sputtering about “insinuations” and “misleading” and blah blah blah, all the while unable to come up with concrete facts.
I remember calling Tom Barberi, a failed Utah radio talk-show host, not long after someone in the administration admitted that Iraq did not pose an “imminent” threat to us at the time we invaded. Barberi was brimming with righteous indignation as he accused Bush of lying to the American people. I reminded him that Bush had never said the Iraqi threat was imminent. In fact, in his 2003 State of the Union speech, he said exactly the opposite.
Some have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike? If this threat is permitted to fully and suddenly emerge, all actions, all words, and all recriminations would come too late. Trusting in the sanity and restraint of Saddam Hussein is not a strategy, and it is not an option.
We didn’t react on 9/11 until after the threat was imminent, and we all see the horrific consequences. 9/11 taught us we need to connect the dots. That’s why Congress, in an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote that included the support of both Hillary Clinton and John Edwards, voted to authorize the war. That’s why the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted for Resolution 1446, which warned Hussein of “serious consequences” if he didn’t disarm immediately.
Then, when things got difficult, everyone went wobbly. Everyone, that is, except George W. Bush.
The old saying is that success has a million fathers, but failure is an orphan. People who see failure in Iraq want to pretend that it’s all Bush’s fault; that he lied all along, and that Iraq is a distraction from the “real War on Terror.” They couldn’t be more wrong.
(As for the “no-weapons-of-mass-destruction” issue, I always ask Bush-haters why Bush didn’t plant the weapons once he got there. Surely if he were dishonest enough to willingly deceive America into believing in imaginary weapons, he’d be slimy enough to fabricate the evidence, or get Cheney’s Halliburton buddies to do it for him.)
The fact is that the War in Iraq is critical to the future security of our nation. If we pull out, al Qaeda has a safe haven from which to plot new and more brutal attacks on America. The Islamists who hate us because of who we are become emboldened. America, which has never been beloved by Islamic nations, would now no longer be feared by them, either.
And then what happens next? Connect the dots.