A mixed report
Six years have passed since 9/11. We are probably safer now than we were then, but we've also made some expensive mistakes that put us at greater risk. This is a good time to reflect on how best to prevent another assault.
We learned that we are vulnerable. For years Americans assumed Washington could intervene abroad without consequence. Now we know better.
The federal government has made some progress on border control. It still isn't satisfactory - and our confused immigration policy makes catching potential terrorists more difficult. Nevertheless, we treat the issue more seriously than in 2001.
At the same time, we sometimes fail to make crucial distinctions. For instance, tougher visa procedures are pushing Kuwaiti students into European rather than American universities. Yet those students who come here tend to become our biggest friends.
The Patriot Act also treats any armed opponent of any authoritarian government as a terrorist. As a result, Montagnards who fought with U.S. forces in the Vietnam War and ethnic Karen soldiers who more recently battled Burma's dictatorship have been refused refugee status in America.
The U.S. is doing better with port security, though the task remains daunting. Airline travel is also less vulnerable, though frequent travelers believe that is despite rather than because of the Transportation Security Administration.
The most important factor is public awareness - passengers no longer would allow a hijacking. The administration and Congress should encourage more pilots to arm themselves.
More complicated is the effect of legislation such as the Patriot Act. The right balance between liberty and security is not self-evident.
Nevertheless, the administration undercut its anti-terrorism efforts by overreaching. The problem was not always its request for new powers, but rather its persistent demand to dispense with oversight by Congress and the courts. For instance, claiming that a U.S. citizen arrested in the United States could be held without charge or trial undermined the administration's entire program.
Most problematic has been the administration's resort to military force. Overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan was necessary because Kabul hosted those who attacked America. But the most common responses to transnational terrorism are usually more like - despite the derision oft dumped on the term - law enforcement.
That is, conspirators need to be arrested. Funds need to be seized. More often than not, good intelligence, cooperation with foreign security services, and diplomatic pressure are the best tools.
In the case of Iraq, military force backfired. The administration prematurely relaxed pressure on Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The ensuing conflict turned Iraq into Terrorism U.
Moreover, the war created another grievance, drawing foreigners to Iraq and encouraging homegrown terrorists elsewhere. Israeli and Saudi researchers found that Iraq radicalized Muslims with no prior jihadist connections. Antagonism toward the U.S. rose throughout the Islamic world.
In this way the Iraq war continues to make us more vulnerable to terrorism.