The defining moment for this generation

NSBNEWS.NET, VOLISIA COUNTY'S 24/7 ONLINE NEWSPAPER IN NEW SMYRNA BEACH, REMEMBERS 9/11

Walter Cronkite delivers the breaking news out from Dallas on Nov. 22, 1963, that shocks the nation and the world -- the assassination of President Krennedy, a defining moment in history. For a newer generation of Americans, the next defining moment would come on the dawn of a new century with the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks, an act of war that would spill American blood with the deliberate crashing of hijacked planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and a fourth plane crashing into a Pennsylvania field with brave passengers storming the cockpit to avert another target.

The sights of those aircraft striking the Twin Towers and their firey collapse in a welter of rubble and bodies, the plane crashing into the wall of the Pentagon and the sacrificial courage of the passengers on Flight 93 in Shanksville, Pa., are seared into the national soul.

Today we mark the 10th anniversary of those awful tragedies and we ask ourselves, “Where do we go from here?”

Speaking personally, the answer to that question goes back to the pivotal year of 1979. On Nov. 4 of that year, the Iranian mob attacked our embassy in Tehran for the third and final time. They held Americans captive for 444 days, subjecting them to all manner of torment and, in a final insult to President Carter, freed them only at the moment he turned over the reins of government to President Ronald Reagan.

This was intensely personal to me as, earlier in ’79, I had returned from an undercover assignment to Iran. A number of the hostages were personal friends and, seemingly every week, Ayatollah Khomeini’s government would announce the execution of more and more Iranians whom I had known and liked during my first assignment there in the early ‘70’s.

I remained involved during the hostage crisis, as a member of the Iran Task Force in the State Department and as a member of the White House team, under Attorney General Ramsay Clark, sent to try to negotiate the release of the hostages. Unfortunately, the Iranians would not permit us to enter their airspace and, after a couple of frenetic, but futile weeks in Istanbul, we returned to Washington.

As the ongoing crisis eroded America’s image and position in the Islamic world, the Soviets, seeing us tied down in Iran, invaded Afghanistan. They overthrew their puppet government in Kabul and established military control of the country, seeking eventually to add it to their empire.

Over the next 10 years,  the Afghan people, with substantial materiel and financial support from the United States, defeated the Soviets and forced their withdrawal, severely weakening the USSR in the process. But rather than help to stabilize and rebuild that shattered country, the United States stood aside and watched as Afghanistan’s battle commanders engaged in a vicious multi-faceted civil war.

Afghanistan simply fell apart and its people, exhausted by the destruction of war and by years in squalid refugee camps in Pakistan, happily embraced the rule of the xenophobic, anti-Western, radical Islamic Taliban – despite its oppression – as better than constant conflict.

One of the anti-Soviet fighters, who shifted his support to the Taliban, was the wealthy Islamic fanatic from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden. From these two events – the Iranian revolution and humiliation of the United States, and the Soviet invasion/defeat in Afghanistan and subsequent rise of the Taliban – the road leads inexorably to Islamic terrorist identification of America as its primary target. And this leads directly to 9/11.

One of the anti-Soviet fighters, who shifted his support to the Taliban, was the wealthy Islamic fanatic from Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden. From these two events – the Iranian revolution and humiliation of the United States, and the Soviet invasion/defeat in Afghanistan and subsequent rise of the Taliban – the road leads inexorably to Islamic terrorist identification of America as its primary target. And this leads directly to 9/11.

Of course, there had been many acts of terrorism before 1979, mostly directed against Israel.

The slaughter of Israeli athletes during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, and the 1985 seizure of the cruise ship Achille Lauro are among the most memorable. But once the Iranians demonstrated that the US can be attacked and humiliated without serious consequence, the game had changed.

Acting on this realization and outraged by the presence of American troops in Islamic countries, bin Laden worked with the Taliban to set up al-Qaeda terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, where he thought they would be safe from possible American military action. His plan was to set up an umbrella group, with himself as chief planner and financier, to recruit and train new terrorists and to gather in and coordinate the activities of other Islamic terrorist organizations throughout the Islamic world.

And it worked – for a time. Soon there were a string of attacks on American targets – the first bombing of the Trade Towers, the attack on the warship Cole and the bombing of embassies in Kenya and Tanzania to name only three.

These incidents demonstrated the new international reach of al-Qaeda as the New York bombing was directed by an Egyptian clergyman resident in New York, the Cole attack was carried out by a Yemeni terrorist affiliate of al-Qaeda while the embassy bombings were conducted by an associate group called the Egyptian Islamic Jihad. (It is worth noting that the present head of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is an Egyptian).

Some 60 percent of the leadership of the EIJ was eliminated in retaliation for the bombings. From the American perspective, the evil growth of the Islamic terrorist movement culminated on 9/11. But it did not end there.

We should never forgive and never forget the slaughter of the innocents which bin Laden’s terrorist henchmen carried out on 9/11. We should take pride in the extent and success of our revenge.

On April 18, 1988, in the largest US naval engagement since World War II, we destroyed a third of the Iranian navy. We crushed the Taliban Government of Afghanistan and drove its remnants into exile in Pakistan and remote parts of Afghanistan where they enjoy tribal support.

To my knowledge every member of the al-Qaeda leadership who helped plan 9/11 is either dead or in our hands. Bin Laden died hiding in a filthy little room with a SEAL’s bullet in his head. President Obama’s expanded use of predator drones has eliminated extraordinary numbers of the leaders of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist outfits.

To my knowledge every member of the al-Qaeda leadership who helped plan 9/11 is either dead or in our hands. Bin Laden died hiding in a filthy little room with a SEAL’s bullet in his head. President Obama’s expanded use of predator drones has eliminated extraordinary numbers of the leaders of al-Qaeda, the Taliban and other terrorist outfits.

Still, Iran remains our implacable enemy, aiding various terrorist organizations and working to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems. The Taliban and its tribal supporters in both Afghanistan and Pakistan remain in the wings ready to overthrow the Kabul government as soon as American and NATO forces leave the country.

Al-Qaeda offshoots are strong in Yemen and Somalia and so-called “lone wolf” terrorists are believed to exist in numbers in all Western countries. In short, our terrorist enemies have been weakened, but they are not finished.

Therefore, we and perhaps our children as well should keep in the forefront of our minds the fact that we are engaged in a long unconventional war. It is not a war of our choosing, no more than were Pearl Harbor and World War II, but it is a war that we must win.

We face an insidious enemy who prefers to attack the defenseless, who seeks to frighten us into limiting our liberties to better protect ourselves against him, who carries out the most horrific acts of terrorism yet demands the protections of civilization when caught, and who hides among others of his faith who want nothing more than to be upstanding and productive citizens of the countries where they live.

I have lived among Muslims most of my adult life. I know them to be both good and bad, like any other people of any other religion. And I know that there have been times in history when fanatical movements like the current terrorist movement have appeared in the Islamic world. They appeared, grew, exercised a degree of power for a time and either faded or were destroyed.

One day, perhaps decades from now, Islamic terrorism will have receded into the mists of history. It is our task, and the task of the other Western nations, to hasten that day by weakening or removing governments which support terrorism and by destroying as many terrorist groups and killing as many perpetrators of terrorism as we can find.

One day, perhaps decades from now, Islamic terrorism will have receded into the mists of history. It is our task, and the task of the other Western nations, to hasten that day by weakening or removing governments which support terrorism and by destroying as many terrorist groups and killing as many perpetrators of terrorism as we can find.

But at the same time we absolutely have to establish and maintain good cooperative and mutually beneficial relations with friendly Islamic governments and peoples so that they and we have a compelling basis to live together in harmony and mutual respect.

This will be very difficult and will take many years, but anything less risks a clash of civilizations which could destroy us both.

Stanley Escudero
10 September, 2011

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The Guidepost By Stan Escudero
Stan Escudero is a career diplomat and businessman, who lives in Daytona Beach Shores with his wife, Jaye.

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