We got exactly the kind of system we paid for. After 911 there was debate about what we should do, but every governor, every state, everybody wanted a piece of the pie … the vast majority of it went to give out aid to state and local governments … every nickel or federal dollar that we gave New Orleans is now under six feet of water.
It’s been four years and a day.
We’ve created a new cabinet-level department. We’ve instituted a new hierarchy for the intelligence community. (Or at least have begun to do so.) We’ve agreed — uneasily, perhaps, but the laws are there — to give up certain civil liberties in return for security. And we’ve fought two wars… and counting.
So, in the wake of this anniversary, and even without a storm-ravaged Gulf Coast foremost in our minds, it’s fair to ask where we are, as a nation, with respect to security and terrorism and, more generally, our ability to deal with disasters of all kinds, be they from devious minds or capricious winds.
Once again the questions pile up faster than anyone can answer: What were we supposed to have learned from September 11? What have we learned? How safe are we? And how safe do we feel, which doesn’t seem like such an irrelevant or unfair question four years into our War on Terror. What exactly has changed since the morning of September 11, 2001?
We want to believe that the national security implications of Hurricane Katrina aren’t as terrifying as they appear. We want to believe that, had there been a radiological bomb attack in the French Quarter instead of a catastrophic storm in the Gulf (a storm that wasn’t exactly a surprise attack), we would have seen a more cohesive response, a more effective evacuation, and more sure-handed leadership. But do we have reason to be optimistic?
The Washington correspondent for the Village Voice
Author of the forthcoming The Five Unanswered Questions About 9/11
[In a studio in Washington, DC]
Senior Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security at the Heritage Foundation
[On the phone from Washington, DC]