It has been more than 20 years. For anybody who remembers 9/11, it is quite difficult to imagine that an entire generation has grown up that does not remember the shock of that fateful day that changed the world – forever. There probably has not been an inflection point in the 21st century that comes close to 9/11. The Trump election surprise was big. The coronavirus pandemic was very big. But they came and went, and have left their mark. The impact of the fateful events of 9/11 reverberate to this very day.
There were warning signs before 9/11. But not only did most people not heed them. The idea of an attack of the magnitude of 9/11 was simply unfathomable to nearly everybody in the Western hemisphere. This was based on an outdated assumption that the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans served as the greatest defense barriers in the world. That assumption was indeed true – until the 1940’s or 1950’s. No matter how wild the ideas of Hitler in Nazi Germany were, they had no working plan to attack the West beyond forcing England to submit. Communist expansionism was the major threat, but it focused mainly on Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. North and South America were rather immune to Soviet influence – until Fidel Castro.
By the early 1960’s, both Democrats and Republicans understood that Cuba, a short boat ride away from Florida posed a major potential threat to the United States. Had Richard Nixon won the 1960 election, (some argue that he indeed did win the election) Khruschev’s plan to employ ballistic missiles in Cuba may not have happened. Or, had Khruschev tempted Richard Nixon as he did with John F. Kennedy, World War III would have very well begun in 1962. Every child in North America learned that missile attack on their cities was a real possibility, and had fire drills to duck under their tables.
From thereon in, there should have been a clear understanding that the Western hemisphere is not safe from attack from the East. But one major event changed the mindset of the West. The end of the Cold War between 1989 – 1992 led the West, especially the United States into a state of smug indifference to security threats from abroad. The United States was the only superpower left, so there was no need to be worried.
This was wrong – dead wrong. First of all, China had been gradually building itself up to become a major economic and military superpower. But more insidiously, the threat of radical Islam was proving itself to be the smaller, but more lethal immediate threat that to world stability and safety in the West.
China was not outwardly anti-American. It was pro-Chinese. But radical Islam was 100% anti-Israel and 100% anti-America. There was no mistaking their threats. But the failures of the American CIA and other international intelligence bodies that cooperated with the CIA to penetrate Al Qaeda were the main failures of 9/11. One must look back to the administrations of George H. Bush and Bill Clinton to investigate what went wrong.
The main lessons of 9/11 are to never be smug in reference to the safety of the West versus threats from abroad. Secondly, never underestimate radical Islamists, violent countries, or other terrorists who threaten the world with destruction. Lastly, invest heavily in CIA activities that monitor dangers that lurk anywhere and everywhere.