September 14, 2002
Nation Set To Move On
By George E. Condon Jr.
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE
WASHINGTON – After a week of coast-to-coast retrospection,
tears and remembrance of last year's terrorist strikes,
Americans turn now to a future of likely war in the Persian Gulf,
more terror alerts at home and an inexorable refocusing of the
national conversation on "return to normal" domestic issues.
President Bush left little doubt at the United Nations that he
intends to wield America's military might to topple Saddam
Hussein from his perch in Baghdad – with or without the
sanction of the world body.
That guarantees Iraq the top spot on the national agenda,
pushing to the background matters flowing more directly from
the terrorist attacks remembered so poignantly this week.
In some ways, the war against terrorism is going underground at
the same time the war against Iraq is taking center stage.
The war against terror is being waged "on many more fronts"
than anyone knows, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said
in a recent interview. "There are different kinds of successes, and
some we can talk about and some we'll never talk about."
But there is no shortage of talk about a war against Iraq that
administration hard-liners were aching for long before any
planes were crashed into iconic American buildings.
In coming days, Iraq policy will be debated fiercely in foreign
capitals, by diplomats at the United Nations and by Congress.
With fewer headlines but higher stakes, the debate will be at its
most intense inside the Pentagon, where there is great
reluctance to take on another war while so much remains to be
done to keep Bush's promise to bring to justice those behind the
Sept. 11 attacks.
That debate, heated though it will be, will not be enough to stop
the nation's drift back to issues, habits and practices eclipsed in
the months after last year's attacks.
Despite the moving ceremonies of recent days marking the
anniversary of the attacks, the focus increasingly will be on what
comes next for a nation determined to get back to normal life.
"There is this unspoken but widely held sentiment that, while we
will never forget, it is time to move on, to rip off our rearview
mirrors and look ahead," said Republican pollster Kellyanne
Conway, who has extensively sampled public attitudes toward
Michael Mandelbaum, director of foreign policy at Johns
Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies, said the shift
is not surprising and was inevitable, particularly regarding the
White House and politics.
"The effect is wearing off because although the war on terrorism
was and is a war, it is not a big war," he said. "It is not on the scale
or scope of the great wars of the 20th century, and it also is not a
war that by its very nature can have a concluding point or V-J
Mandelbaum, who has studied the effects of Sept. 11 in his new
book, "The Ideas That Conquered the World," added: "It defined
the Bush presidency for a year. But it's not a big-enough war to
define the entire presidency. And we see that with other issues
coming onto the public agenda."
Nowhere is that shift clearer than in Washington, where – to the
delight of Democrats – the fast-approaching congressional
elections are being waged more on the economy and corporate
conduct than on terrorism. In the wake of the president's U.N.
speech, Republicans now hope they can get voters to focus more
on Iraq and foreign policy, a landscape more to the GOP's
There is a danger, though, that this new focus on Iraq will make
it more difficult to follow through on doing the things Bush has
said are necessary to protect the homeland and finish the job in
Though the White House would like to cast Iraq as the next front
in the war against terror, no links have been found between
Baghdad and those who hijacked the jetliners last year.
Ironically, some of those most interested in tracking down and
punishing suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Osama bin Laden are
now most worried about Bush's plans for Iraq.
"We're not doing nearly enough to secure Afghanistan so that it
can be rebuilt and so that it does not again become a haven for
terrorists," Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., recently told the Senate.
That same concern was expressed less bluntly this week by
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who frets that the Americans
will walk away from his country before the job is done.
It is not just in Afghanistan where much remains to be done in
the current war on terrorism. At home, Bush's proposed
reorganization of the federal government with its creation of the
Department of Homeland Security remains stuck in Congress.
In the courts, there are growing challenges to the
administration's denials of certain legal rights to those suspected
of terrorist sympathies.
And, despite polls showing the American public overwhelmingly
disinterested in blame-placing investigations of what went
wrong last year, a House-Senate Intelligence Committee is
prepared to resume its long-stalled hearings on intelligence
failures that led up to the Sept. 11 attacks.
The White House – not to mention the CIA or the FBI – would
love the hearings to go away. But Sen. Richard Shelby of
Alabama, the ranking Senate Republican on intelligence,
promised that the committee will find some answers soon.
"I don't believe we're getting the cooperation from the agencies
that was promised us. We have to extract it one piece at a time,"
he said, setting up a potential showdown with the leader of his
Additionally, more Republicans have thrown their support
behind the drive – backed by many of the families of Sept. 11
victims – for an independent commission to study last year's
With a vote on war looming in Congress before the October
recess, Iraq may intrude in more House or Senate races. But up
to now, those races are playing out largely on domestic issues,
with little debate over terrorism or war.
The agenda in Congress is currently a mix of foreign and
domestic matters, with Iraq vying for attention with
prescription drugs, military spending, the new Department of
Homeland Security, appropriations showdowns with the
president and measures to boost the economy.
Meanwhile, the economy likely will be affected by the bills
coming due from the war against terrorism – estimated at one
point to be $1 billion a day – and the tax cut.
"Our financial situation is going to be even more dire," said
Kathryn Dunn Tenpas of the University of Pennsylvania. "Politics
is all about who gets what, when and how. And people are going
to fight over resources."
As Bush demands more money to fight terrorism, it is almost
certain that resources will be diverted from investments
designed to increase productivity – education, manpower
training and cutting-edge research – in order to beef up
spending on priorities such as defense, homeland security,
anti-terrorism insurance and stepped-up security precautions at
Economists are also unsure how quickly the economy would
recover if there were another terrorist attack in the United
States – something a majority of Americans considers likely in
the near future.
Military policy in the next year is also problematic.
Last year's attack reversed Bush's previous tightfisted approach
to the Pentagon budget but aggravated service leaders' concerns
about the overuse of some military units, including the National
Guard and reserves.
After offering barely enough additional money to match
inflation in his first defense budget, Bush responded to Sept. 11
by giving the military nearly $40 billion more in the current
fiscal year. He then proposed a $46 billion jump – 10.7 percent
– for the next fiscal year, the biggest single-year increase since
Ronald Reagan's Cold War buildup in 1982.
But most of the additional money is going into increased pay and
benefits for personnel and the extra operational costs associated
with the war on terror, as well as to replace munitions expended
in Afghanistan. That leaves little extra to cover the military's
request for a new generation of aircraft, ships and major ground
And, even without a war in Iraq, the additional missions
assigned since Sept. 11 have further strained a military force
already stressed by a multitude of peacekeeping and
humanitarian duties around the world.
In foreign policy, the administration will need to find the money
to strike the necessary deals to win over Turkey and Russia on
Iraq policy and to attack global poverty, said to be a prime
cause of terrorism.
And, said former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, Bush
must find a way to deal with "the level of anger (that) is growing"
between the United States and Arab governments, particularly
Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
"Post-Sept. 11, the relationship has deteriorated quite
dramatically," Indyk said.
Outside Washington, few cultural changes are expected to
persist two years after the attacks. Immediately after Sept. 11,
predictions were made about the change in America, from its
character to its entertainment. Analysts are now reassessing.
"It was probably unrealistic to expect the basic American
character and attitudes and practices to have changed
fundamentally after 9/11," said Karlyn H. Bowman, an expert on
public opinion at the American Enterprise Institute.
But Seema Nayyar, editor of American Demographics magazine,
warned that many predictions made today may also prove
"The long-term effects of 9/11 are still working their way through
the American psyche," she said. "Repercussions of an event so
catastrophic are not often immediate, and it may be impossible
to learn the long-term impacts now."
Copley News Service correspondentsOtto Kreisher andFinlay Lewis contributed to this report. Previous stories from our week of special coverage of the Sept. 11 anniversary are available online at SignOnSanDiego , the Union-Tribune's Web site: www.uniontrib.com.