Instapundit’s Initial Take On 9/11

Taking a short trip back in time via Instapundit's archives reveals a September 11th post that turned out to be prophetic.

On Twitter this morning, David Weigel linked to a post that Glenn Reynolds published just before 2pm on September 11, 2001. Reading it now, it seems prophetic. In the post, Reynolds notes that most of what was being reported at the time would turn out to be wrong and advised readers to keep several key points in mind:

The Fog of War: Nobody knows much right now. Many things that we think we know are likely to be wrong.

That was certainly true during the initial confusion of the attacks. There were reports of car bombs at the State Department, fires on the National Mall, a fourth plane headed toward Washington (which turned out to be true, of course, but NBC News reported at one point that the military believed the plane was only minutes away, which wasn’t true), and even of more planes in the sky ready to hit targets like the Sears Tower. Reporters didn’t have much direct information for several hours, and rumor ended up being reported as fact.

But, this is a phenomenon we’ve seen many times since September 11th, too. During the run-up to the Iraq War rumors about Iraqi contact with the 9/11 hijackers circulated widely even though there was little supporting evidence, and those rumors continue to be believed by some people even though they’ve been thoroughly debunked.

The “Fog of war” has been around as long as there has been war, the difference today is that it’s far easier for a rumor to be spread widely in a very short period of time, and once people start to believe it, no amount of facts are going to dislodge it from the public mind.

Overreaction is the Terrorist’s Friend: Even in major cases like this, the terrorist’s real weapon is fear and hysteria. Overreacting will play into their hands.

At the time, I’m sure, Reynolds was referring to this in the context of the security measures and threats to civil liberties that were to come shortly after the smoke had cleared in Lower Manhattan, but the controversies of the past three months provide another example of how over-reacting aids the terrorists.

As I noted several weeks ago, the anti-Muslim rhetoric that seems to have reared it’s ugly head in the past several years plays directly into the hands of the Islamic radicals who fill the Islamic street with the idea that America is the enemy of Islam. The words that are used in the United States, have consequences overseas:

When Muslims overseas hear Americans political leaders equating Islam with Nazism, as Newt Gingrich as, or burning their holiest book, as the Church in Florida plans to, then it is going to be easier for extremists like Anwar al-Awlaki, who say things like this on a regular basis, to convince their fellow Muslims that we are an irreconcilable enemy:

Mr. Awlaki, whose Web diatribes calling for attacks on the United States have turned up repeatedly in terrorism investigations, has sought to counter the notion that American tolerance extends to Muslims.

In a March posting, Mr. Awlaki, who lived in the United States for nearly 20 years, predicted that America would become “a land of religious discrimination and concentration camps.”

“Don’t be deceived by the promises of preserving your rights from a government that is right now killing your own brothers and sisters,” he wrote. “Today, with the war between Muslims and the West escalating, you cannot count on the message of solidarity you may get from a civic group or a political party, or the word of support you hear from a kind neighbor or a nice co-worker. The West will eventually turn against its Muslim citizens!”

As both President Bush and President Obama have struggled to remind us, we are not at war with Islam. Over-reacting to terrorism by condemning an entire religion is exactly what the radicals who would ignite a worldwide religious war want us to do.

It’s Not Just Terrorists Who Take Advantage: Someone will propose new “Antiterrorism” legislation. It will be full of things off of bureaucrats’ wish lists. They will be things that wouldn’t have prevented these attacks even if they had been in place yesterday. Many of them will be civil-liberties disasters. Some of them will actually promote the kind of ill-feeling that breeds terrorism. That’s what happened in 1996. Let’s not let it happen again.

Well, it did happen again. Within only a few weeks after Professor Reynolds wrote that, Congress voted on and passed the USA PATRIOT Act, the largest wholesale increase in “anti-terrorism” law enforcement measures in American history.  Within a year, a huge new cabinet department, the Department of Homeland Security, had been formed and quickly became a bureaucracy of more than 200,000 employees with an annual budget in excess of $ 50 billion a year.

The Constitutional objections to the PATRIOT Act have been well-documented, as has the tendency of law enforcement to use the powers given to them by the new law well beyond the fight against international terrorism. The “War on Terror” has also seen an increase in the use of warrantless wiretaps in manners that raise serious constitutional problems, and caused the nation to engage in a decade long debate on whether the President should be allowed to imprison people without trial or judicial review. As for the DHS, it has become a massive bureaucracy that doesn’t seem to be any more effective than the patchwork of agencies that preceded it in keeping the nation safe.

The Professor’s warning to not let the same mistakes be repeated went unheeded.

Only One Antiterrorism Method Works: That’s punishing those behind it. The actual terrorists are hard to reach. But terrorism of this scale is always backed by governments. If they’re punished severely — and that means severely, not a bombed aspirin-factory but something that puts those behind it in the crosshairs — this kind of thing won’t happen again. That was the lesson of the Libyan bombing.

This seems to be one area where we got it mostly right. The initial all out attack on Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan, combined with international law enforcement efforts to block terrorists from being able to obtain funding for their actions, was very effective in bringing al Qaeda to it’s knees and effectively destroying its ability to launch the type of massive terror attacks it became known for. While our initial mission in Afghanistan has morphed, mistakenly, into an effort at nation building in a nation that seems to be one in name only, the fact that there have been no successful mass terror attacks on American soil in nine years is a major accomplishment.

“Increased Security” Won’t Work. When you try to defend everything, you defend nothing. Airport security is a joke because it’s spread so thin that it can’t possibly stop people who are really serious. You can’t prevent terrorism by defensive measures; at most you can stop a few amateurs who can barely function.

You need only look at the rather amateurish attempts at terrorism that we’ve seen since 9/11 to realize how true this is. From Richard Reid, to the underwear bomber, to the failed attack on Times Square, it appears that the primary threat right now is from largely untrained, one-off extremists who usually end up getting caught before causing any injury thanks to their own ineptitude.

Reynolds closes his post from that fateful, confusing, emotional day like this:

For now, the terrorists have won. They’ve shut down the U.S. government, more or less. They’ve shut down air travel. They’re all over TV. But whether they really win depends on how we deal with this; hysterically, or like angry — but measured — adults.

As someone might say, indeed.

FILED UNDER: Blogosphere, National Security, Terrorism, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed for too young in July 2021.

Comments

  1. Tano says:

    IP: Airport security is a joke because it’s spread so thin that it can’t possibly stop people who are really serious.

     

    OTB:You need only look at the rather amateurish attempts at terrorism that we’ve seen since 9/11 to realize how true this is.

     
    Your conclusion does not follow. His hypothesis was that you cannot stop serious terrorists. You cannot claim that is confirmed by noting that amateur terrorists have failed.
     

    it appears that the primary threat right now is from largely untrained, one-off extremists..

     
    And this is because we foolishly tried to secure our airports? I don’t follow you logic.

  2. I would say it’s because the people who would be a truly serious threat now know that using airliners is not as practical as it was on 9/10/01. The fact that the Richard Ried’s of the world are the one’s trying to bring down airliners now seems fairly good evidence of that

  3. ponce says:

    “This seems to be one area where we got it mostly right. The initial all out attack on Taliban and al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan,”
     
    It’s funny how two people can look at the same events and draw completely different conclusions.
     
    I saw our attacks on the Taliban (why on Earth did we attack them?) and al Qaeda as weak, poorly planned and ineffective.
     
    As we enter our tenth year of being stymied by a couple thousand poorly armed goat herders it’s going to get harder and harder to maintain the right-wing mythology about the Afghanistan War.

  4. Tano says:

    I would say it’s because the people who would be a truly serious threat now know that using airliners is not as practical as it was on 9/10/01

     
    Right. In other words, the opposite of Reynold’s claim:
     

    You can’t prevent terrorism by defensive measures

     

  5. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Ponce, once again you prove your ignorance.  The Taliban supported al Qaeda allowing them sactuary in Afghanistan.  It would be pointless to try to edify you so I will just ask.  What would have been a solution you would have endorced?  Abandonment of Israel and conversion to Islam?  I hate to tell you this, but Muslims don’t tolerate gays well.

  6. ponce says:

    Zels,
     
    The 9/11 terrorists received far more support and training from Americans in America than they did from the Taliban.
     
    The Taliban also offered to turn bin Laden & Co. over to us after a trial ….but…some “Americans” wanted to piss away a trillion dollars and slaughter thousands of innocent brown people instead.
     

  7. steve says:

    And Reynolds went on to cary water for the administration that carried out everything he warned against. Meh.
     
    Steve

  8. Dave Schuler says:

    You can agree with Glenn’s statement:

    The actual terrorists are hard to reach. But terrorism of this scale is always backed by governments. If they’re punished severely — and that means severely, not a bombed aspirin-factory but something that puts those behind it in the crosshairs — this kind of thing won’t happen again.

    or you can agree with what we did but the two aren’t the same.  The referent of “they’re” in Glenn’s statement is governments.   In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks we removed two governments:  the Taliban government in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq.

    As pointed out above Saddam Hussein was implicated in the attacks only obliquely.  At least two other governments are much more directly implicated (the Saudi government that initially positioned and financed Osama bin Laden cf. here http://www.america.gov/st/webchat-english/2009/May/20090505134735atlahtnevel0.5280725.html and the Pakistani government that supported the Taliban).  These remain largely untouched.

    Arguing that action against the KSA or Pakistan would have been insanity from a geo-political standpoint is reasonable.  However, it’s counter to what Glenn Reynolds advocated.

  9. ratufa says:

    ponce,

    “The 9/11 terrorists received far more support and training from Americans in America than they did from the Taliban.”

    If you’re saying that the Taliban didn’t know about 9/11 in advance, OK. But, they were sheltering Al Qaeda and knew that Al Qaeda had been attacking or aiding attacks against American targets for years.

    “The Taliban also offered to turn bin Laden & Co. over to us after a trial ”

    I have trouble seeing that as other than a delaying tactic — maybe the Americans will calm down after a long trial. And, if he is found guilty, what then?

    “….but…some “Americans” wanted to piss away a trillion dollars and slaughter thousands of innocent brown people instead.”

    Of all the major US military endeavours after WW II, the invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 is probably the hardest one to attribute to Americans just “wanting to piss away money and kill innocent people”. Afghanistan had sheltered a terrorist organization that had been attacking US targets for years, and a government that was unwilling or unable to turn the leaders of this organization over to the US, even after an attack that killed thousands of Americans.

    Also, what is it with the gratuitous use of the term, “brown people”, in your post? It really doesn’t help you make a coherent point, but it does make you sound like a left-wing version of Zelsdorf.

  10. JKB says:

    Right. In other words, the opposite of Reynold’s claim:
    You can’t prevent terrorism by defensive measures

    But the defensive measure is the passengers.   Anyone who flies knows if some nut tries to take over, they are dead so aggressive resistance has only upside.  Dead either from the hijacker or from the heat seeker missile locked on to the engines.  So, as we’ve seen as soon as someone takes hostile action, the passengers rise up against them.

  11. Tano says:

    But the defensive measure is the passengers

     
    No need to even consider the validity of your point. You are agreeing that defensive measures, of some kind, can prevent terrorism.

  12. ponce says:

    “Also, what is it with the gratuitous use of the term, “brown people”, in your post?”
     
    Ratufa,
     
    Given the events of the past couple months it’s hard for the American Right to continue to deny the role racism plays in their policies and statements.

  13. ratufa says:

    “Given the events of the past couple months it’s hard for the American Right to continue to deny the role racism plays in their policies and statements.”

    We were discussing the reasons for the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Are you claiming that racism was a factor in the decision to invade?

  14. An Interested Party says:

    “Overreaction is the Terrorist’s Friend”

    “It’s Not Just Terrorists Who Take Advantage”

    *Cough* Iraq *cough*

  15. ponce says:

    “We were discussing the reasons for the US invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11. Are you claiming that racism was a factor in the decision to invade?”
     
    Yep.
     
    Hard to believe we’d have been as arrogant and stupid if Afghanistan was populated by whites.

  16. Tano says:

    Hard to believe we’d have been as arrogant and stupid if Afghanistan was populated by whites.

     
    How do you define “whites”? Afghans are part of the Caucasian race. In what sense are they “brown”?

  17. ponce says:

    Haha Tano
     
    Technically, Mexicans are “white” too but that doesn’t stop the Right from demonizing them, does it?

  18. Tano says:

    No, it doesn’t.
    So is your definition of ‘brown” = anyone demonized by the right?
    Serious question – I’m just wondering what you are trying to convey…
     
    (actually most Mexicans are mixtures of Euro and Asian (native American) “races”)

  19. ponce says:

    “Serious question – I’m just wondering what you are trying to convey…”
     
    That Republican racism isn’t just perverse, it’s a threat to America.

  20. Pete says:

    Ponce, the threat to America is greater from morons like you spreading your own version of ‘racism” through innuendo and hyperbole. You probably reread your posts dozens of times congratulating yourself on how brilliant you are. The real racists in this country are the big government proponents like your self who discriminate against the largest minority in America – The Individual.

  21. Tano says:

    the threat to America is greater from morons like you spreading your own version of ‘racism”

     
    The real racists in this country are the big government proponents

     
    Hmmmm….

  22. ratufa says:

    “Hard to believe we’d have been as arrogant and stupid if Afghanistan was populated by whites.”

    That statement gains much of its plausibility by filtering what people were thinking in 2001 through our experiences of the past 9 years, both wrt the wars in Afghanistan/Iraq and the ongoing political and media frenzies over various issues.

    it’s pretty much impossible to disprove these sorts of “what if?” statements about the past. But, my recollection of the time immediately after 9/11 was that most people I knew, including most of those who were quite liberal (and I work at a university), were in favor of the invasion, even if they may have had some reservations about getting into war. They were in favor of it because they were mad as hell about 3,000 innocent Americans being killed and wanted justice and/or revenge and/or the people responsible not to carry out more attacks.. That the Afghans were not white, for some political definition of “white” wasn’t a major factor — people would have favored attacking Afghanistan even if bin Laden was a white guy, like Slobodan Milosevic.

    Given that reaction to 9/11, you don’t need to posit racism as a necessary condition for making the decision to invade Afghanistan. Bringing up dubious charges of racism in this context is also counter-productive if you want to have people take your other arguments seriously.

  23. wr says:

    I have to admit that I wanted the US to invade Afghanistan and topple the Taliban before 9/11. When they blew up those acient Buddhas, astonishing works of art and history that should properly have belonged to the entire world, I felt that they had abdicated their right to exist on this Earth.

  24. ponce says:

    “They were in favor of it because they were mad as hell about 3,000 innocent Americans being killed and wanted justice and/or revenge and/or the people responsible not to carry out more attacks..”
     
    Sigh,
     
    And if you consider all the innocent Afghans the U.S. military has slaughtered in their quest to  avenge an attack carried out by Saudis you will realize the Taliban will fight us (very effectively ) until we retreat or the sun explodes.

  25. Eric Florack says:
  26. Tano says:

    THereby the phrase… “the best defense is a good offense”

     
    Well, that is a phrase alright. Here is another. The best offense is a good defense.
    I think that if you were to consider all the potential conflict situations that would arise, you would find that both phrases have their value under different circumstances.
     
    The approach you advocate is precisely the approach taken by all those historic invaders of Afghanistan that we are warned about (just to take one set of examples). They all were brimming with confidence, in their technology, their organization, their committment, and their general inherent superiority. And they all came to grief in the face of an enemy who could easily avoid the offensive thrust and exploit all manner of weaknesses.
     
    War, and life, is a bit more complicated. Quite a bit, actually. Reynold’s advice, and yours, has the air of posturing and chest-beating about it. I am old enough to have learned not to place much trust in that.