Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Read the Report

The Sept. 11 commission report doesn’t directly address the Iraq war. That’s deliberate. The commission chairmen said they opted for a strict interpretation of their mandate, and they kept the focus on Sept. 11, 2001, and its immediate aftermath.

They frankly admit that doing otherwise would have jeopardized their ability to make a report at all. The bipartisan National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (to call it by its full name), is deeply divided about the propriety of this war. So is the American people. It’s an honest difference that too often devolves into polemics and demagoguery.

But the panel did the nation, as well as itself, a service by sidestepping Iraq. It wrote a saga of Sept. 11 that ranks with the best prose produced in the name of that awful day. To read it is to feel again the grip in the throat and the shock of horror.

And it reminds us that, whether we agree about Iraq, a real and very dangerous enemy attacked us, and intends to do so again.

The tale of the Islamist terrorists and what they wrought in America with box-cutters and credit cards reminds us again how ill-prepared we were, and are, for all our military might, for the new war. Our enemy is a major force in one of the world’s great religions; how do you fight a religion with tank battalions?

As we measure up presidential candidates this summer, much of the focus will be on Iraq. But perhaps the better measure of their qualification is, do they understand Sept. 11? Do they recognize the enemy of that day? Do they have a sane plan to defeat it?