What were they thinking?

By Hugh Hewitt

Does the remaining leadership of al-Qaida regret the attacks they launched a year ago? The dead ones can regret nothing, of course, and the scum-on-the-run thump their chests via videotape, but in their quiet moments inside this hovel or that cave, do you suppose they ask themselves: “What were we thinking?”

How could they have misjudged America so badly? The America that pauses today to remember its losses and its heroes is not very different from the America of Sept. 10, 2001. The tears for the victims, the vast love of country, the genuine admiration for the political leadership that guided us through the crisis and the deep appreciation for the police, fire and military forces standing watch today – as they do every day – these are expressions of the basic American character that existed prior to the attacks. How could the Osamas of the world have misread it?

My guess is that bin Laden and his crowd mistook the American fringe for the American majority, and also believed the Clinton administration’s fecklessness on foreign policy to be an expression of underlying American impotence.

The fringe is always there. It is there still, in fact. Jill Stewart is widely regarded as one of the toughest journalists in Los Angeles, but her snarling and deeply bitter attack on the country, in general, and Lisa Beamer, in particular, in the New Times is an expression of a widespread loathing of the country’s political center that infects most of elite media today, as it has in the years since Vietnam. In the decade prior to the attacks on America, the media’s dyspepsia over core American values had grown so pronounced that foreigners could easily mistake that self-hatred for a general American sentiment.

It is easy enough for Americans themselves to forget that Phil Donahue draws less than 200,000 viewers a night – even as Rush Limbaugh attracts 20 million listeners a week – and that NPR would fade the moment coerced subsidies stopped flowing its way. The columnists in the unreal world of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times – Scheer, Krugman, Dowd and Rich – are often clever, but never representative of the American pulse. Observers from abroad can easily miss hearing the voice of America when all it hears is Alec Baldwin and Barbra Streisand.

Enemies of the United States might also have watched the Clinton administration’s indifferent responses to escalating atrocity and concluded that the attacks of last year would provoke, at worst, the launch of a couple of cruise missiles followed by subpoena servers. A country that needed U.N. approval in 1991, and which responded not at all to an attack on a ship of its Navy in 2000, is not a country that inspires fear among common criminals much less terrorists.

Would Osama have been wrong to conclude that this country would seek permission from sheiks and dictators before coming after him, and then would only do so from the air, if at all? In any of his plans, could he have foreseen a Special Forces cavalryman charging a Taliban redoubt, or Neil Roberts sacrificing himself for his buddies? (If you haven’t yet read “Never Bring a Box-Cutter to a Jihad,” do so today, and then visit frogfriends.com.)

As Churchill famously put it – and which our enemies often forget – the generations before us did not cross plains, mountains and deserts because they were made of cotton candy. Neither are their descendants.

The anti-American lobby has reopened its offices as of late, and the hand-wringers are once again out front with their posters, and busy with their documentaries. You have to hope that the world no longer thinks Margaret Carlson and Al Hunt stand for any significant segment of public opinion, or that Sandy Berger represents our best thinking on foreign affairs, or that the military might of the United States has been mothballed.

If we are safer now than a year ago, it is because rough men with big guns can move across the globe in days, because powerful ships armed with lethal missiles – and from which pilots can launch – can strike at a moment’s notice, and because invisible planes can take off from America and deliver justice 12 hours later.

It is safer as well because Todd Beamer and his fellow heroes set an example that has already been followed and would be followed again if the circumstances arose, because this president is patient and determined, and because the vast, vast majority of America is not tenured, does not play with words for a living, does worship God and would sacrifice all willingly in defense of their country.

My guess is that, this year, the remnants of al-Qaida know all these things and will never again confuse the Peace Corps with the Marine Corps. Though the war is far from over, the clear recognition of American resolve, American purpose and American power is the guarantee of eventual peace.