Jeff Ackerman: Wrong turn derails 9/11 mission | TheUnion.com

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Jeff Ackerman: Wrong turn derails 9/11 mission

Forget politics for a moment. Set aside your partisan preferences just long enough to answer one simple question: Do you feel safer today than you did exactly six years ago this morning?

I don’t mean confident, happy, or satisfied. I mean safer than you did the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, the day most of us stood in horror staring at a television screen as the twin towers collapsed in a mushroom of dust.

I do. I also feel safer than I did when I stood in church the next day, holding hands across the aisles with perfect strangers who were also looking for some semblance of security and comfort.

Churches always do well in times of hopelessness and fear. The prospect of death seems to bring us back to the spirituality of life.

I thought then I had witnessed the beginning of the end of this great nation of ours. Our vulnerability had been exposed in spades and it sent shockwaves ripping through our security blankets. I knew our lives would never be the same again and I suspect millions of Americans shared my assessment.

We needed someone to bring us out of our shock, to assure us that the sun would rise again; that America would prevail, just as it had through world wars, depressions and myriad other challenges.

That someone happened to be George W. Bush. Say what you will about him today (and most of you do every single day), but if you are truthful you’ll admit that his leadership and resolution on the days following that attack helped rally our nation.

And we sit here six years after that attack in relatively good shape, all things considered. That’s why he was re-elected. The other candidates did not instill us with a sense of security, which in the end is what we want most of all. We want strength in our leaders. We want someone capable of making difficult decisions in the face of adversity.

As Bush encouraged us to, we eventually returned to our normal routines following the attacks. There were lots of empty seats in church, football stadiums were filled on game days, missing much of the patriotic flair we saw during the 2001 and 2002 seasons, and the 24-hour talking heads are no longer standing in front of “Situation Room” television graphics. The past six years have provided more wealth and more opportunities (the Dow reached all-time highs and unemployment all-time lows) than we had seen in decades. We turned our attention from “America Attacked” to “American Idol.”

There is no question that our firm resolve and overwhelming pursuit of those who attacked us have so far prevented another attack of the same magnitude of Sept. 11. If you think they would have stopped at the World Trade Center towers, you weren’t paying attention.

Six years ago Bush told us he wouldn’t rest until bin Laden and al Qaida were destroyed. “Tonight the United States makes the following demands on the Taliban: Deliver to the United States authorities all the leaders of al Qaida who hide in your land … Close immediately and permanently every terrorist training camp in Afghanistan, and hand over every terrorist and every person in their support structure to appropriate authorities …”

That speech to Congress was delivered a week after the World Trade Center was destroyed. It garnered more standing ovations than a Celine Dion concert in Vegas. Bush was at the top of his game and I was willing to follow him to the depths of Hell, if that’s where bin Laden was hiding.

We went into Afghanistan and started kicking some serious Taliban tail (read the Kite Runner, if you want to know what Afghanistan was like under the Taliban rule), sending the black-bearded fanatics scampering for holes in the mountains like rats scurrying from a pest controller’s spray can. I suspect bin Laden spent more than a few unpleasant evenings in damp, freezing caves, while we pounded him with what the military described as “bunker buster” bombs.

Then Bush took a wrong turn, like a movie where four friends are on their way to a ballgame until they take a wrong exit and end up in a very wrong side of town. Things end poorly for the four friends. Bush decided to go into Iraq, where Saddam was supposedly hiding WMDs and being a real pain to the United Nations’ inspectors.

Never mind that Saddam was never once mentioned in the Sept. 20, 2001 speech Bush delivered to Congress. The target of that speech was al-Qaida, the Taliban and bin Laden, who by all accounts were operating from Afghanistan, not Iraq. I don’t think Saddam had much use for any of them. He and his sons may have been murderous dictators, but their iron-fisted approach also kept that region’s real whackos in check. Sometimes it comes down to the lesser of two evils.

You could even argue that Saddam was the tough cop that region needed. With him gone, we now have an unchecked fellow in Iran who would love nothing better than to nuke Israel. And inside Iraq we have various mullahs battling it out for a particular brand of oppression, and our presence there has rallied thousands more to al-Qaida’s side.

To make matters worse, bin Laden is still alive, surfacing just long enough last week to mock America and to warn us all that until we bow before Allah we will never be safe. Back at home, Bush has seen his popularity fall to roughly the status of Michael Vick at a Humane Society convention. Now that he has removed Saddam he really doesn’t seem to know what’s next for Iraq, except, “Stay the course,” which is something he should have thought of before he took us off course and into Iraq.

Bush isn’t alone in his Iraq angst. Nobody (not even the Dems) really seems to know what to do with Iraq at this point. As Stan Laurel might have said to his partner Oliver Hardy, “You made a fine mess of it this time, Ollie.”

Cut and run? Nope. We leave Iraq now and we may as well start building fences and bunkers around our borders (and not just to keep the illegals out). Somehow we need to find a way to ensure the government in Iraq is capable of standing on its own (kind of like it was when Saddam was in power). And the religious zealots, or al Qaida, probably won’t allow that to happen anytime soon.

The one thing Bush did say that September night in 2001 is true today. ” This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion.”

I suspect this “war on terror” won’t really end in our lifetimes. I happen to believe this really is a religious war and that a very large and dangerous faction of Islam will not rest until all Jews and non-Muslims are dead (and, by the way, they don’t care if you are a Republican or Democrat). If there has been a silver lining to these past six years, it’s the message that Americans (at least most of them) will only be pushed so far.

The Bush legacy, however, will not be remembered for the leadership he demonstrated when we needed it most, but for steering us to a wrong turn that will likely keep us from ever reaching our original destination.

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Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.