National Security

Forty-Five Foiled Terror Plots Since 9/11 – The Daily Beast

As counterterrorism officials investigate a new ‘credible’ terror threat, records show there have been at least 45 jihadist terrorist-attack plots against Americans since 9/11—thwarted by intelligence work, policing, and citizen involvement. John Avlon reports.

As news of a new “credible” threat swept across the nation on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Americans were abruptly reminded that terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue No. 1.

In the latest case, one report said at least three people—one believed to be a U.S. citizen—entered the U.S. in August to plan a car-bomb attack against Washington, D.C., or New York. The suspected terrorists are thought to have come from Afghanistan or Pakistan, and at least two rental trucks are being sought nationwide. White House officials confirmed that President Obama had been briefed on the “specific” terrorism threat.

Too often, 10 years after the worst terrorist attacks in our nation’s history, we sometimes fall into a false sense of security as a degree of 9/11 amnesia takes hold; a desire to recast the attacks as a tragic isolated incident.

The facts tell a very different story. The record shows that there have been at least 45 jihadist terrorist attacks plotted against Americans since 9/11—each of them thwarted by a combination of intelligence work, policing and citizen participation.

And these are just the plotted attacks that we know about through public documentation—the real number of credible plots is no doubt much higher. No truly authoritative list exists because of the preponderance of classified information, although organizations such as the Heritage Foundation have published detailed lists in the past. An additional problem in coming up with a comprehensive list lies in consistently defining the parameters of thwarted attacks. The plots also are of varying degrees of seriousness, from some that were days from causing mass bloodshed to others that were twisted ambitions caught well before fruition.

The list published below comes as close as I could, using public sources and past lists—and it was reviewed by both government and academic organizations that track terrorist attacks.

Since 9/11, there have been devastating terror attacks in cities like London and Madrid. But America has so far batted 1,000 against the constant stream of civilian-targeted terror threats, though trends show the types of plots are changing to an increase of military targets (think the deadly shooting spree at Fort Hood by Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hassan) and Americans’ training overseas for the purpose of terrorism.

Professor Erik Dahl of the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., and the START program at the University of Maryland has compiled the most detailed list of attempted terrorists attacks to date, spanning a period of 25 years, in his paper “The Plots That Failed: Intelligence Lessons Learned From Unsuccessful Terrorist Attacks Against the United States,” recently published in the academic journal Studies in Conflict and Terrorism.

“Everyone in American national security is amazed that we haven’t had another 9/11 within America since 9/11. A lot of credit has to go to both the Bush and now the Obama administrations for keeping the country a lot safer than anybody expected. That’s the good news,” Dahl tells me. “But the bad news is that we do see this continuing, steady drumbeat of smaller-scale plots and attempted terrorist attacks. So the threat is definitely not gone.”

And what does Dahl believe has most accounted for the extraordinary Homeland Security record of success to date? “When it comes to domestic attacks and securing the homeland, what works is really good, old-fashioned policing—law enforcement, tips from the public, police informants—and not so much spies overseas or satellites run by three-letter government agencies.”

Interestingly, while compiling his list, Dahl found that “about 75 percent of the plots are associated with radical Islamists and about 25 percent are from right-wing domestic, anti-government militia movements.” But for the purposes of marking the 9/11 anniversary, this list focuses solely on the Islamist terrorist plots against Americans at home or on military bases outside war zones overseas.

An additional point of consideration is the cooperation that Muslim Americans have given to police that has helped stop many terrorist plots to date. “Local law enforcement and FBI officials have very good relations with the mainstream Muslim communities in various parts of America,” attests Dahl.

In the absence of another major terrorist attack on U.S. soil, it can be too easy to ignore the heroic efforts that have saved countless American lives over the past decade we have been at war.

It can also be easy to ignore the trends that have emerged, even after the welcome death of Osama bin Laden and the Obama administration’s successful escalation against al Qaeda. “We’re seeing more of an effort to attack U.S. military targets within the U.S., such as the Fort Hood shooting,” Dahl says. “These domestic lone-wolf attacks are not likely to be able to cause the amount of damage that a carefully planned and executed international plot, such as an al Qaeda plot, can do. But they can kill a lot of people.”

We now know that Osama bin Laden had long hoped for a 10th anniversary attack; and the threat of a lone wolf attack may be at the heart of this latest credible threat officials are investigating. But America’s first line of defense will be especially vigilant on this anniversary of the day when Islamist terrorists declared war on the U.S.

Looking to the future, Dahl sees a need to remain focused on the threats we face, while working to achieve the right balance “between reporting on things, the ‘see something-say something’ approach on the one hand, and respecting civil liberties and the rights of individuals to go about their daily lives. We still haven’t figured out just where that balance is in America.” But in our democratic republic’s response to 9/11 and subsequent civic debates we come ever closer to finding the right balance.

After the attacks of 9/11, we swore that we would never forget.  And so, among the memorials on this 10th anniversary that honors the victims and heroes we lost, it is also appropriate to remind ourselves of the need to remain vigilant.  We honor the dead from that day by resolving to do all we can to stop future 9/11s.

First responders have a saying: “Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.”  The civic resilience of the United States in the wake of the attacks of 9/11 is a testament to the power that free people have to overcome the forces of fear. We have been both lucky and good, and—as this rogues’ gallery of foiled terrorist plots reminds us—we all owe the broader counterterrorism community our thanks. America is the land of the free because we are the home of the brave.

1. Richard Reid
December 2001

Shoe bomber.

2. ‘Library Tower’ Plot
February 2002

Plot to attempt a second 9/11-style aerial attack to topple the tallest building in Los Angeles.

3. José Padilla
May 2002

Accused of meeting with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a dirty bomb plot. Sentenced to 17 years in 2008.

4. Earnest James Ujaama
July 2002

Seattle-based terror cell plotted to support the Taliban.

5. U.S. Forces in Germany
September 2002

A man and a woman of Turkish heritage—the man born in Germany—are arrested for plotting to blow up U.S. Army headquarters in Germany.

6. Lackawanna Cell
September 2002

Six Yemeni-Americans are accused of conspiring to help al Qaeda and plead guilty.

7. Oregon Taliban plot
October 2002

Seven Oregonians arrested in plot to join the Taliban and wage war against the United States.

8. Al Qaeda Gas Attack Plot on NYC Subways
Spring 2003

Reported by Ron Suskind in The One Percent Doctrine.

9. Iyman Farris
May 2003

Plot to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

10. Virginia Jihad Network
June 2003

Virginia group trained for apparent urban warfare missions, including training in Afghanistan.

11. Nuradin M. Abdi
November 2003

Plotted to bomb a Columbus, Ohio, shopping mall.

12. Dhiren Barot
August 2004

Plotted to bomb locations in New York, Newark, and Washington.

13. James Elshafay and Shahawar Matin Siraj
August 2004

Plotted to bomb train station near Madison Square Garden in bid to disrupt the Republican National Convention.

14. Levar Haley Washington, Gregory Vernon Patterson, Hammad Riaz Samana, and Kevin James
August 2005

Arrested for conspiring to attack National Guard facilities and synagogues around Los Angeles.

15. Mohammad Zaki Amawi, Marwan Othman El-Hindi, and Zand Wassim Mazlou
February 2006

Convicted in 2008 (PDF) of conspiring to commit terrorism against Americans overseas.

16. Syed Haris Ahmed and Ehsanul Islam Sadequee
April 2006

Gathered surveillance and met with other terrorists about targets in Washington, D.C.

17. Narseal Batiste, Patrick Abraham, Stanley Grant Phanor, Naudimar Herrera, Burson Augustin, Lyglenson Lemorin, and Rotschild Augustine
June 2006

Plotted to blow up Sears Tower.

18. Assem Hammoud
July 2006

Plotted to attack PATH trains between New York and New Jersey.

19. Jetliner bombing plot
August 2006

Twenty-four suspects arrested for plotting to blow up 10 U.S. jetliners with liquid explosives. This plot led to the regulation of liquids on planes.

20. Houston Taliban
November 2006

Kobie Diallo Williams and four other men are charged with conspiring to support the Taliban after training in Texas.

21. Derrick Shareef
December 2006

Planned to set off grenades at a shopping mall near Chicago.

22. Fort Dix Plot
May 2007

The “Fort Dix Six” plotted to attack Fort Dix in New Jersey.

23. JFK Airport
June 2007

Four men plotted to blow up fuel tanks and pipelines at JFK Airport in New York.

24. Ramstein Air Base, Germany
September 2007

German converts to Islam, plotting under the cover of the Islamic Jihad Union, are found to have explosives and plan to target one of the largest U.S. air bases in Europe.

25. Columbus, Ohio
June 2008

Christopher Paul aka Abdul Malek, aka Paul Kenyatta Laws

Pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to blow up targets in the U.S. and Europe.

26. NYC Subway Bombing
Sept. 14, 2009

Najibullah Zazi and three other men are caught days before they detonate explosives in the New York City subway.

27. Long Island Rail Road Threat
November 2008

American Bryant Neal Vinas gives al Qaeda leaders information to attack the LIRR.

28. Springfield, Illinois Courthouse Bomb Plot
Sept. 24, 2009

Michael Finton

Arrested in plot to detonate a vehicle bomb outside a courthouse and kill federal employees.

29. Dallas Tower Plot
Sept. 24, 2009

Hosam Maher Husein Smadi

A Jordanian man is arrested in connection with a plot to bomb at a skyscraper in Dallas.

30. Quantico, VA
Sept. 24, 2009

Daniel Patrick Boyd

A group of men are charged in plot to attack the Marine Corps base in Quantico.

31. Boston
October 2009

Tarek Mehanna and Ahmad Abousamra

Two men are arrested on wide-ranging charges, including conspiracy to kill U.S. politicians, spanning the past decade.

32. Northern Virginia
December 2009

Five men from northern Virginia are arrested in Pakistan and charged with supporting al Qaeda. Were reported missing by their families.

33. Detroit Airspace
Christmas Day Bomber, 2009

A man tries to detonate an explosive on a flight over Detroit. Also known as the underwear bomber.

34. Chicago
March 2010

Raja Lahrasib Khan

Man is arrested for funneling money (PDF) to terrorist organizations.

35. Times Square, New York City
May 1, 2010

Faisal Shahzad

Failed attempt to detonate a vehicle bomb in Times Square.

36. King Salmon, Alaska
July/August, 2010

Paul G. Rockwood, Jr. and Nadia Piroska Maria Rockwood

A husband and wife compile a list of 20 targets to murder, including military and media figures, arrested as they were set to move into the operational phase.

37. Wrigley Field, Chicago
Sept. 20, 2010

A man is arrested after planting a fake bomb outside Wrigley Field.

38. Air-Cargo Bomb Yemen to Chicago
October 2010

Twin packages of explosives were shipped from Yemen to synagogues in Chicago.

39. Washington, D.C.
October 2010

Farooque Ahmed

Ahmed is arrested in connection with a plot to blow up the D.C. Metro.

40. Portland, Oregon
Nov. 26, 2010

Mohamed Osman Mohamud

A Christmas-tree lighting is targeted by a 19-year-old Somali man, Mohamed Osman Mohamud, busted in an FBI sting operation.

41. Catonsville, Md.
Dec. 8, 2010

Antonio Martinez

Man arrested for plotting to blow up a U.S. Army recruiting center.

42. Lubbock, Texas/National
Feb. 23, 2011

Khalid Ali-M Aldawsari

Man arrested in bomb plot against military and political targets, including former President George W. Bush, in New York, Colorado, and California.

43. New York City
May 11, 2011

Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh

Two men arrested in plot to attack a Manhattan synagogue.

44. Seattle, Wash.
June 22, 2011 (arrest date)

Abu Khalid Abdul-Latif, aka Joseph Anthony Davis, and Walli Mujahidh

Two men are arrested in a plot to attack a military recruiting station in Seattle.

45. Fort Hood, Texas
July 27, 2011 (arrest date)

Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo

A former army private is arrested in a plot to copycat attack at Fort Hood.

American Way: What We Didn’t Learn After Newtown – The Telegraph

Here’s the thing about shock. It fades. Certainly not for the families of the 20 children who were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School one year ago. But for the rest of us, who recoiled in horror at the evil enabled by semi-automatic weapons wielded by a monster of a young man, the shock fades.

The urgency over trying to ensure that such a slaughter “never happens again” – it fades. The calls for new legislation, reasonable restrictions which might make it just a little bit more difficult to kill as many people as fast as possible, grow stale and over time start to seem impractical and implausible. And so conventional wisdom congeals more or less where it was before the massacre.

And guess what? That was the obstruction strategy all along – a smart but cynical bet on civic amnesia, pushed by lobbyists who cajoled congressmen and advised them to resist the wishes of 90% of the American people. Read More…

Border Kids Crisis—Impotent Congress – The Daily Beast

The alleged urgency of the problem is inspiring no action on Capitol Hill. But the failure to deal with the influx of Central American children isn’t inevitable—it’s driven by fear.

Cynicism passes for wisdom in Washington. And despite the urgent optics of the border kids crisis, our D.C. politicos would rather demagogue the issue than deal with it. Our porous borders are seen as a midterm election play-to-the-base appeal instead of a problem to be solved.

Listen to members of Congress and most correspondents who cover them, and you just know that immigration reform is never going to happen this year. After all, the smart money says any controversial action is considered a loser in an election year. And forget the next sessions of Congress—the presidential election will have begun and nothing will get done, as President Bush learned in 2007, when the proto-Tea Party talk radio crowd tanked his bid for a bipartisan immigration reform. Read More…

Hell Week in Boston Shows How 9/11 Taught Resilience – The Telegraph

Monday’s bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon on Patriots’ Day propelled America back to a 9/11 mindset. Tuesday through Thursday were pre-occupied with grief, manhunts and memorial services. Poisonous envelopes mailed to the president and two US senators, along with a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in Texas, only added to the low hum of anxiety.

Then on Friday, the manhunt culminated with the killing of one suspect and the capture of another – two Chechen brothers whose immigrant experience was twisted by radical Islam and turned into a nightmare for the citizens of Boston. The city’s lockdown turned into a spontaneous celebration, with the waving of American flags, applause for the SWAT teams, chants of “U-S-A” interspersed with the Boston Red Sox unofficial anthem “Sweet Caroline.”

It was “a tough week,” as President Obama said in a post-arrest press conference at the White House. But we emerged stronger, if sadder, and more united as a result of all we had experienced.. Read More…

The Military-Industrial Complex Is Real, and It’s Bigger Than Ever – The Daily Beast

In January 1961, President Dwight D. Eisenhower famously warned about the growth of the “military-industrial complex” in his farewell address.

Ed Snowden, late of Booz Allen Hamilton, is just one small expression of its rise. The rest is evident throughout the Gilded Age of the metro Washington area, a boom time of corporate cronyism in the wake of 9/11 that has led to fat contracts amid the outsourcing of national security, complete with the proliferation of top security clearances to private contractors like Snowden. Read More…

NSA Spying Shows Obama’s Machine Out of Control – The Daily Beast

With news that Verizon was required to hand over supposedly private domestic phone records to the government as part of a national security dragnet, the second-term curse just got much more real for the Obama administration.

To date, however, the Obama second-term scandals do not seem carelessly self-inflicted from the top like those of the past, from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Monica or even the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply destructive to President Obama’s legacy. Read More…

How Did ‘Patriot’ Become a Dirty Word? – CNN.com

On Memorial Day, we honor those patriots who gave “the last full measure of devotion” — in Abraham Lincoln’s words — and died defending our freedom and union.

But this Memorial Day is partly clouded by the resurgence of partisan scandal in Washington. At the IRS, employees filtered through the exploding number of tax exemption applications by politically associated organizations by being on the lookout for groups that had the name “Tea Party” and “Patriot” in their name. This was improper, illegal, unethical and outrageous.

But hold on — when did the word “patriot” become a partisan pejorative? How did such a bipartisan positive word get identified as a sign of hyperpartisan politics?

It’s actually an interesting story. Read More…

CNN Podcast: Big Three – Do Muslims Really Hate Terrorism?

CNN Radio’s Big Three: John Avlon, Margaret Hoover and Dean Obeidallah.

Listen to the Podcast here:

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CNN Podcast: Big Three – Terror in Boston

CNN Radio’s Big Three: John Avlon, Margaret Hoover and Dean Obeidallah.

Listen to the Podcast here:

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A Time for Resilience – The Daily Beast

There, with the end in sight, two bombs exploded on Boylston Street.

The shrapnel tore through the cheering crowd, knocking marathon runners down with the force of the blast, turning their moment of triumph into tragedy.

Even hours later, still surrounded by the fog of war, we are not sure of who set off the bombs or why. But whether this terror attack is the work of a lone wolf or al Qaeda or something else entirely, what’s clear is the cruelty of this twisted excuse for a human being. Read More…

GOP’s Cowardly Gun Filibuster Threat – CNN.com

There are days when Congress seems determined to earn its 12% approval rating — and that 14 Republican senators are threatening to filibuster any new gun legislation should make your blood boil if you still have a heart to pump it with.

Four months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School slaughter, the vast majority of Americans still support some sensible new gun laws, but the same legislation has been declared DOA by conservative senators.

It’s enough for some activists to crow that the NRA’s strategy to stall until public attention moved elsewhere has succeeded. The old argument after a mass shooting — “it’s too soon” — has been revealed to be the delay and dodge it always was. Read More…

CNN Podcast: Big Three – Margaret Hoover, Dean Obeidallah, John Avlon

Welcome to The Big Three — a CNN Radio podcast on the big three stories of the week, featuring three contributors who write for CNN Opinion — myself, my bride, Margaret Hoover, and political comedian Dean Obeidallah, who is of no relation (as far as we know).

We each come to the conversation from a different perspective — center, right and left — but we all share a commitment to smart, funny, civil conversation. And we’re all big Yalta buffs. Read More…

Rand Paul Kicks It Old School in Filibuster Marathon Over Drones – The Daily Beast

Give Rand Paul credit—he decided to kick it old school on the Senate floor and filibuster in person rather than simply filing a procedural motion.

The result was the kind of spectacle we only see in Frank Capra films and Strom Thurmond lowlight reels: a U.S. senator on a one-man speaking marathon designed to bring national attention to an issue he believes is of critical importance to the country and the Constitution. In this case, it’s the Obama administration’s reluctance to say it would not rule out drone strikes against U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. That’s why Paul decided to filibuster the president’s nominee to be CIA director, explaining: “I don’t rise to oppose John Brennan’s nomination simply for the person. I rise today for the principle.”

Things got off to a surreal start around 11:50 Wednesday morning when, a few minutes into his filibuster, Paul asked: “Has America the Beautiful become Alice’s Wonderland?” and then imagined the queen screaming “Release the drones!” This is a scenario Lewis Carroll never contemplated. Read More…

In North Korea, Dennis Rodman Fouls Out – CNN.com

Never fear. While North Korea is a closed communist state, a rogue nuclear power that regularly threatens war and starves its own people in prison camps, Dennis Rodman has just returned from some one-on-one diplomacy with its “dear leader” Kim Jong Un and has good news to report: “I love him. The guy is awesome. He was so honest.”

I’m going to go out on a limb and say this isn’t going to look much better in the eyes of history than Charles Lindbergh vouching for Hitler’s character in the late 1930s.

But say this for the retired rebounding champion known as “The Worm” — he got closer to the young dictator by walking in the front door of North Korea with the Harlem Globetrotters and Vice magazine than diplomats and intelligence services have gotten to date. As former Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Ganyard told ABC News, “There is nobody at the CIA who could tell you more personally about Kim Jong Un than Dennis Rodman, and that in itself is scary.” Read More…

This is How China Hacks America: Inside the Mandiant Report – The Daily Beast

The Chinese government just got caught with a smoking cyber gun.

Cybersecurity consultant Mandiant released a much-anticipated report Tuesday morning, offering the most detailed look to date inside the Chinese People Liberation Army’s direct involvement in hacking into American government and corporate websites.

The PLA Unit 61398 is identified by the report as the most prolific hacking group inside the Chinese government. Dedicated to infiltrating English-language sites, the unit recruits English-language proficient speakers and experts in computer security, but otherwise scrubs any mention of its organization from Chinese-language websites. Operating out of a 12-story, 130,663 square foot facility in the Pudong New Area sector of Shanghai, its building is able to contain as many as 2,000 personnel. Special high capacity fiber-optics were installed by China Telecom when the building was constructed in 2007 and the outfit utilizes over 1,000 servers. Read More…

NRA’s enemies list: Most of America – CNN.com

Question: What do George Clooney, Chaka Khan, the American Medical Association, Bon Jovi and C. Everett Koop have in common?

Answer: They are among the 500 names on the National Rifle Association’s absurd new “enemies list.”

Richard Nixon would be embarrassed to find that his once sinister form of score-keeping has been revived so promiscuously by the NRA. But there is some redeeming social value here: The list illustrates an organization that has become hermetically sealed from society at large, so caught up in conservative debates that it has forgotten how to connect with Main Street America. Read More…

Super Bowl Blackout Should Help Build Momentum for a Smart Grid – The Daily Beast

The 34-minute Super Bowl blackout is just the most recent high-profile example of a growing national problem. Blackouts are on the rise across the United States, with major power outages doubling over the past decade.

The problem is an aging electricity infrastructure strained by skyrocketing electricity use and, as in the case of the blackouts following Hurricane Sandy, the increased frequency of super storms that have knocked out power in some populated areas for weeks.

After Sunday night’s Super Bowl blackout, Newsweek Global editor Tunku Varadarajan tweeted, “Is this New Orleans or New Delhi?”—a reference to the summer subcontinent blackout that affected 600 million. A few beats later, Tunku articulated this widespread anxiety: “Did Chinese hackers trigger the outage?” Read More…

Obama’s Odd New Pals on Immigration – The Daily Beast

This time it will be different.

After repeated failures at the federal level, comprehensive immigration reform finally looks like a real possibility this year. And that’s because a broad bipartisan coalition has been built in the Senate, motivated by both self-interest and national interest. Today in Nevada, President Obama will add his vision to their legislative foundation, officially making immigration reform the core of his second-term agenda.

Obama’s unexpected ally in this effort is the evangelical community—part of an emerging conservative coalition in favor of immigration reform that supporters describe as “the Bible, the badge, and business.” Read More…

Where’s the Retaliation for American Deaths in Benghazi and Algeria? – The Daily Beast

Benghazi. Algeria. This is the ground where Americans have been killed by Islamist terrorists over the past four months. And so far, nothing has been done to avenge their deaths.

“Avenge.” That’s the word President Obama used when he spoke to the widow of Sean Smith after his murder in Benghazi, Libya, on Sept. 11, 2012, as recounted by Michael Hastings in his bracing new book, Panic 2012.

It was a sentiment the president repeated the day after the attack to a campaign crowd in Nevada, saying: “We want to send a message to all around the world who would do us harm. No act of violence will shake the resolve of the United States of America … I want to assure you we will bring their killers to justice.” Read More…

Chuck Hagel Deserves Fair Hearing for Defense-Secretary Post – The Daily Beast

The preemptive strike on Sen. Chuck Hagel’s possible nomination to be secretary of defense has been relentless this holiday season. It is trial by Twitter, character assassination by media narrative, a steady drumbeat of accusations and innuendo all designed to make the Nebraska Republican seem politically toxic.

The irony is that the political logic of a Hagel appointment is to demonstrate bipartisan outreach by President Obama—the appointment of a second Republican secretary of defense to follow in Robert Gates’s pre-Panetta footsteps. While Hagel has strong defenders, pointed critics have come from the far right, and a few from the far left. Liberal Democrats primarily question the need for any outreach to Republicans at all after a decisive election victory, while Republicans who might normally cheer the nomination of a fellow party member disdain Hagel for his outspoken independence during the Bush years. Read More…

Don’t Let This Moment Pass Without Acting on Gun Control – CNN.com

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to make us confront reality.

In the wake of the slaughter of first graders in Newtown, Connecticut, there are signs that the country — and Congress — are ready to confront the cancer of gun violence that kills over 11,000 Americans each year.

More than 200 Americans have been killed in mass shootings in the last five years. After each attack — whether it was Virginia Tech or Aurora, Colorado — we were told that it was too soon to talk about the role of guns. Now, the fever of denial might be breaking.

A new Washington Post/ABC poll taken after the shooting shows that 54% of Americans now support stricter gun laws and 59% support a nationwide ban on high-capacity ammunition clips — meaning those that contain more than 10 bullets.

The big question of course is whether Congress will listen. This has not been an area where politicians have carved out a new chapter of profiles in courage in recent years. Instead, they have run away in the face of the lobbying power of the National Rifle Association.

But in the past two days, two Southern Democratic senators with A-ratings from the NRA have broken ranks to say that it is time to begin a serious, civil and constructive conversation about remedies to mass gun violence — including perhaps a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and a restriction of high-capacity clips.

West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin — who famously took aim at a cap and trade bill with a high-powered hunting rifle in a 2010 campaign ad — told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the Newtown shooting “changed me. … I don’t know of anybody that goes hunting with an assault rifle. I don’t know people that need 10-, 20-, 30-round clips.”

Add to this chorus of conscience Virginia Sen. Mark Warner — a fellow former governor and current senator. He told a local Richmond TV station: “I believe every American has 2nd Amendment right — the ability to hunt is part of our culture. I’ve had an NRA rating of an A. But you know, enough is enough. I’m a father of three daughters and this weekend they said, ‘Dad, how can this go on?'”

These two senators are leaders of the centrist coalition, and their evolution on this issue matters. It is particularly well timed because Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced her intention to submit legislation to reinstate the lapsed assault weapons ban as well as ban “big clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.”

That bill would provide the substantive basis for a new round of reasonable restrictions on weapons that have little purpose other than to kill as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.

To date, there are few Republicans who have newly embraced the need for new gun legislation. Rep. Peter King of New York and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine are influential, but among the few returning congressional Republicans who back the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban and restrictions on the sale of mass capacity magazines. But the senators who have boasted the backing of the NRA in the past have been notably silent since the slaughter in Newtown. That can fairly be read as a hope that this moment will pass.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent, has been leading the gun crusade in recent years through his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns. In many areas, America’s mayors have been leading the policy debate in our nation, and this organization’s message has taken on new urgency, unveiling an effort to encourage supporters to “Demand a Plan” from Washington. In the wake of the Newtown shootings, nine new mayors decided to join the group, including the mayors of Raleigh, North Carolina, and Tucson, Arizona — major cities in the heart of gun country, the South and West.

In this and so many other areas, the fact is that Americans are less polarized than our politicians. A poll commissioned by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and conducted by conservative pollster Frank Luntz found that 74% of NRA members supported background checks on every gun sale. The larger point is that there is common ground to be found even on this emotional issue — especially if mental health is part of the civic conversation, because self-control and gun control are intertwined.

There is a responsibility to remember after events like this — a need for sustained focus after the heat of the moment passes. Real change will require constructive civic conversation, the kind that Manchin noted has become rare, saying: “It’s a shame that we’ve gotten so toxic a political environment that today in Washington that you can’t sit down and have reasonable discussions with reasonable people to come out to reasonable conclusions.”

But there is a moral urgency to follow through on this moment. The normal politically convenient amnesia can’t be allowed to set in. More senators need to be pressed on the issue of reasonable restrictions and prodded by the polls.

Feinstein’s proposed bill will no doubt start a substantive debate. As President Obama said in his memorial address in Newtown, “No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society. … But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”

Foreign Policy Should Take Center Stage – The Daily Beast

It is time for the presidential candidates to say what they see as America’s place in the world. Few aspects of the president’s job have as large an impact on as many people as his role as commander-in-chief, and while voters can look to President Obama’s record on the foreign stage, the Romney-Ryan ticket needs to make a clear, coherent statement of its own positions in the next debate.

In my latest column for The Sunday Telegraph, I write on how so far both campaigns have danced around some of the most important international issues that will determine America’s course over the next four years:

“Like Senator Obama four years ago, Governor Romney has little foreign policy experience. At least we knew then that Obama opposed the Iraq war and wanted to ramp up drone strikes against al-Qaeda instead – and now, in regard to killing bin Laden, the phrase ‘mission accomplished’ actually applies.

Read More…

In Virginia’s Crucial County, Military Cuts Worry Swing Voters – CNN.com

Take it from President Barack Obama — Virginia’s Loudoun County is a must-win swing district in a must-win swing state.

“We won last time in Loudoun County, and if we win again, we win Virginia,” Obama declared at a rally in August. “And if we win Virginia, we win the election.”

The final factor affecting many undecided voters in this wealthy Washington exurb is sequestration — massive, automatic cuts scheduled to start taking effect at the the beginning of 2013 after the failure of a supercommittee to come up with a deficit-reduction plan. Read More…

Obama’s Stirring U.N. Speech – The Daily Beast

President Obama can be, if anything, overrated as an orator. Some of his heavily hyped speeches—such as his Charlotte convention address—fall flat or fall short.

That was not the case with his U.N. address Tuesday.

Certainly, the stakes were high—two weeks after the murder of the first American ambassador since 1979, his killers still at large, and the hope of the Arab Spring given to shadows and fog. Read More…

Romney Foreign Policy Attack Was Disgraceful – CNN.com

“Partisanship ought to end at the water’s edge” is a longstanding adage of American politics.

But in the hours after the death of the first U.S. ambassador killed in decades, Mitt Romney — panicked as his poll numbers have slipped — punched hard against the president, unleashing an unwise, inaccurate and unpresidential attack on the Obama administration.

The fog of war applies to the confusion about the timeline of ugly incidents in the Middle East on the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But when the U.S. Embassy in Cairo released a statement condemning the obscure and intentionally inflammatory film that had already given rise to riots, the Romney campaign saw an opportunity to amplify its “Obama-Apologizes-For-America” narrative. Read More…

Former FBI Agent Ali Soufan on Bin Laden’s Death, War on Terror – The Daily Beast

Terrorism is always one bad day away from being issue number one and on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11th terrorist attacks, it can be easy to forget that the terrorist’s war on us hasn’t stopped.

The good news is that we have made measurable progress in this fight – not only with the elimination of bin Laden, but also with the more than 45 attempted jihadist plots foiled in the last ten years.

The Obama administration’s strategic decision to intensely focus on the destruction of al Qaeda has proven especially effective to date, providing a useful contrast to the more unilateral, boots-on-the-ground approach of the Bush administration. This should inform our domestic debates. Read More…

Is It Still Too Soon to Talk Gun Control? – CNN.com

The bodies of the victims are being buried. The court case will continue, without cameras. The horror in Aurora has faded from the front page in favor of Olympic coverage.

So it is worth asking, 10 days after the largest mass shooting in American history, whether it is still too soon to start a conversation about reasonable gun restrictions. What actions could we take to make such slaughters more difficult to perpetrate?

Because if it is true, as the National Rifle Association says, that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people,” then it’s equally irrefutable that people with guns kill people.

Here is the toll, beyond the 12 dead and 59 wounded in Aurora. More than 180 people killed in mass shootings in the past five years, including the 32 people who died in the April, 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech. And dwarfing that total are the 10,000 Americans murdered by gunshots every year. Read More…

Is Israel-Bashing, Dictator-Backing Charles Barron Heading To Washington? – The Daily Beast

New York City Councilman Charles Barron is the real-life embodiment of the paranoid right-wing fantasy about President Obama: a former Black Panther, a backer of wealth redistribution, and an outspoken admirer of leftist dictators worldwide.

But now Barron has risen from a controversial local curiosity, best known for inflammatory statements like calling Thomas Jefferson a pedophile, to the verge of becoming a national newsmaker. He’s running for Congress and threatening to upset the party favorite, comparatively centrist Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, in next Tuesday’s primary that will effectively decide the next representative of a safely Democratic district snaking through Brooklyn. Read More…

Remembering and Honoring America’s troops – OutFront – CNN

CNN contributor John Avlon remembers and honors U.S. troops on Memorial Day in tonight’s E-Block.

The Real Cost of War – OutFront – CNN

In honor of our fallen troops CNN.com has created an interactive Home & Away map which includes information about all of the men and women who have died in war since 2001.

Iranian Plot to Kill Americans – OutFront – CNN

A new report gives terrifying details about a plot by Iranian-backed terrorists to kill Americans. CNN National Security Contributor Fran Townsend comes OutFront.

The Freedom Tower, Rising from Ashes – CNN.com

The World Trade Center is again the tallest building in New York one year after the killing of Osama bin Laden and more than 10 years after the attacks that brought them down.

It is still a work in progress: The hulking steel structure known as the Freedom Tower is still 500 feet shorter than it will be when complete. But it is already a tribute to American resilience, a reminder that whatever devastation we face, we can still come back bigger and better than before.

My wife and I live two blocks from ground zero. The transformation of our neighborhood over the past decade has been inspiring, if comparatively unheralded. The streets that were once covered in ash and smoke are now teeming with life. Read More…

Israeli Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni’s Strong Voice of Reason – The Daily Beast

“I resent the idea that Israel is part of the political agenda in United States’ campaigns, really,” says Tzipi Livni, the Israeli opposition leader and head of the centrist party Kadima.

She is fresh off a flight from Tel Aviv, sitting in a living room of a hotel suite near Lincoln Center, where she’s come to attend the Women in the World Summit.

“I believe Israel is and should be bipartisan—as we always were,” she says, hinting toward the widely reported tensions between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Obama. “I don’t question any American president in terms of his commitment to the security of the state of Israel.” Read More…

Savor this moment, in the name of the 3,000 – CNN.com

I have never been so happy to hear that someone is dead.

It’s not bloodlust — it’s justice.

Ten years ago at this time, Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan planning the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 of our fellow Americans in cold blood.

Now he is dead and the families of his victims can have a measure of comfort. The healing can deepen. And if there’s a celebration in the streets outside the White House and ground zero — just as there was celebration after the death of Adolf Hitler was announced on May 1, 1945 — it is deserved. It is 10 years overdue.

Read More…

Defusing the Terrorists’ Prison Bomb – The Daily Beast

Terrorism is always one bad day away from being the most important issue in America. With election-eve cargo plane bombing plots disrupted by information from a repentant al Qaeda member who was also an ex-Guantanamo detainee, a timely new counter-terrorism report analyzes the most effective means for achieving the “reverse radicalization” of terrorists in prison. Among the countries whose efforts it examined was Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, where President Obama landed Tuesday morning on his Asian tour.

The report, “Risk Reduction for Countering Violent Extremism,” was unveiled at the Qatar International Academy of Security Studies on Monday—making it one of the first major counter-terrorism studies sponsored by an Arab nation. The president and secretary general of Interpol attended the briefings on site as well as senior representatives from the U.S. State Department, Department of Defense, FBI, NCIS and the U.S. Marshals Service. It was staffed by an international team of national security experts including Ali Soufan, the former FBI special agent in charge of the USS Cole bombing investigation who came to prominence thru a post-9/11 New Yorker profile and his subsequent criticism of the effectiveness of interrogation techniques such as water-boarding by the Bush administration. Read More…

The Growing Cyberthreat – Forbes.com

First your cellphone doesn’t work. Then you notice that you can’t access the Internet. Down on the street, ATMs won’t dispense money. Traffic lights don’t function, and calls to 911 don’t get routed to emergency responders. Radios report that systems controlling dams, railroads and nuclear power plants have been remotely infiltrated and compromised. The air-traffic control system shuts down, leaving thousands of passengers stranded or rerouted and unable to communicate with loved ones. This is followed by a blackout that lasts not hours but days and even weeks. Our digital civilization shudders to a halt. When we emerge, millions of Americans’ data are missing, along with billions of dollars.

This scenario may sound like the latest doomsday blockbuster to come out of Hollywood. But each of the elements described above has occurred over the past decade as the result of a cyber attack. Cyber attacks are an accelerating threat, still without generally accepted terminology, effective deterrents or comprehensive legal remedies. They are weapons of mass disruption, used by adversaries cloaked in anonymity, that could prove at least temporarily crippling to the digital infrastructure of modern society. This kind of attack is attractive to America’s enemies, not only because it allows weaker entities to take on far stronger ones but because it turns our technological strength into a weakness. Read More…

The Growing Cyberthreat – Forbes.com

First your cellphone doesn’t work. Then you notice that you can’t access the Internet. Down on the street, ATMs won’t dispense money. Traffic lights don’t function, and calls to 911 don’t get routed to emergency responders. Radios report that systems controlling dams, railroads and nuclear power plants have been remotely infiltrated and compromised. The air-traffic control system shuts down, leaving thousands of passengers stranded or rerouted and unable to communicate with loved ones. This is followed by a blackout that lasts not hours but days and even weeks. Our digital civilization shudders to a halt. When we emerge, millions of Americans’ data are missing, along with billions of dollars. Read More…

Obama’s Infrastructure Opening – City Journal

The president-elect can rally support for public works, homeland security, and government transparency at the same time.

The neo-Keynesian fervor sweeping Washington is set to culminate in President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed $775 billion stimulus package. The Democratic congressional leadership has announced its desire to draft and pass the package of new spending, tax cuts, and infrastructure investment so rapidly that it may be ready for Obama’s signature immediately after his inauguration. But given the American people’s healthy skepticism of big-government action after the Great Society, the president-elect would be wise to reach out beyond traditional Democratic constituencies to make his case. A good place to start is the massive infrastructure-investment plan that is at the heart of the stimulus package. Here, in the largest public works project since the New Deal, Obama could find unexpected common ground with conservatives on homeland security and governmental transparency.

We know that terrorists eyed attacks on bridges and tunnels even before September 11; they have frequently struck train stations and other public transportation hubs abroad. Hardening these potential targets by strengthening their physical and security infrastructure reduces their vulnerability to devastating attack, and therefore reduces their attractiveness to terrorists. At the same time, strengthening infrastructure can help communities withstand natural disasters and build a more resilient society. So while Democrats rightly see the breach of the levees in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward as a symbol of the urgent need for infrastructure investment, it’s also a homeland-security priority, as Steve Flynn powerfully argued in his 2007 book The Edge of Disaster.

The simple truth is that America’s infrastructure is aging. Most of it was built between the 1930s and the 1960s. “We have an impending crisis with infrastructure, but it is easy to ignore until you have a catastrophe,” Robert Dunphy, a senior resident fellow at the Urban Land Institute, warned recently. But America can’t afford to wait for a catastrophe, and with a Democratic Washington, the price tag of infrastructure investment is no longer an impediment to action, as it was during the Bush years.

Still, the ever-present threats of waste, fraud, and abuse could render a multibillion-dollar infrastructure project ineffective unless Obama follows through on a campaign promise and insists on accountability and increased transparency. Adopting a concept championed by conservatives like Newt Gingrich, Obama frequently discussed using technology to improve transparency in Washington. As a first-term Illinois senator, he pointed to bipartisan legislation he had sponsored with Oklahoma conservative Tom Coburn as evidence of his commitment: the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act introduced in the Senate in 2006. The bill, sometimes referred to as “Google for Government,” was ultimately passed after being placed on “secret hold” by notorious pork-barrelers Robert Byrd and the now-convicted Ted Stevens. Today, interested citizens can track an estimated $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks, and loans at www.USAspending.gov.

Subjecting the economic stimulus bill—and particularly its notoriously pork-prone infrastructure provisions—to the same heightened transparency would help address concerns that the stimulus bill will turn into just the latest big-government boondoggle. The Obama administration should take a lesson from the $700 billion TARP bailout package, which wasn’t subject to such transparency and has since become the target of a growing public backlash.

The Obama administration can build a more enduring base of support by funding projects that strengthen our homeland security and by imposing accountability through technological transparency. It’s one way Obama can set the promised post-partisan tone at the outset of his presidency. As then-senator Obama said at the launch of USAspending.gov, “We can’t reduce waste, fraud and abuse without knowing how, where, and why Federal money is flowing out the door.” His words are even more relevant now, with the spending floodgates wide open.

John P. Avlon is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics.

An American Honor Killing – New York Post

ON July 6, police say, a Pakistani named Chaudhry Rashid strangled his 25-year-old daughter San- deela Kanwal with a Bungee cord in her bedroom because she wanted to end her arranged marriage. This “honor killing” came not in Pakistan, but in Jonesboro, Ga. – a suburb 16 miles outside Atlanta.

At his arraignment, Rashid said through an Urdu interpreter that he was “not in the state of mind to talk because of the death of his daughter,” but stated “I have done nothing wrong.”

This is not the same as declaring innocence. His attorney, Tammy Long, explained, “My client is going through a difficult time. As you can imagine, he is distraught.” Apparently, it takes a stronger man to murder his daughter without sentiment.

The national media has paid little attention to the story of Kanwal’s murder, though most outlets found plenty of time to debate the cover of The New Yorker.

When a blonde girl goes missing, cable networks stop in their tracks – but when a Muslim woman is murdered by her father, there’s not a ripple of sustained interest. Where’s the outrage?

Maybe it’s muted because we’ve grown reluctant to pass judgment on other culture’s customs – but multiculturalism hits a crossroads when honor killings come to America.

The United Nations estimates that the world sees 5,000 honor killings a year – overwhelmingly in the Middle East, South Asia and Africa, but increasingly among Muslim immigrant communities in Europe.

The United States has avoided this bloodstained trend until recently. Some consider Kanwal’s death the first documented honor killing here. Others point to the murder of sisters Amina and Sarah Said in Irving, Texas, on New Years’ 2007. (Their MySpace page remains up. Featuring assimilated teen culture and American music, it is haunting.) Their father remains on the run from police.

Few doubt that other honor killings have occurred behind closed doors. In upstate Monroe County just a few days ago, a girl was stabbed by her brother for wearing immodest western clothing and wanting to move to New York City. According to court documents, Waheed Allah Mohammad explained the stabbing by saying his sister was a “bad Muslim girl.”

“Honor killing is a misnomer,” author and exile Ayaan Hirsi Ali told me. “The killing occurs because these girls have allegedly brought shame on their family. The paradox is that these are individuals who have emancipated themselves.

“These girls embody the American dream. They want to become self-reliant – deciding who they marry, when they marry and how many children they will have.”

On the surface, this sounds like a classic case for the left – outrages well worth protesting. Honor killings and other tribal customs like female genital mutilation represent a far greater threat to human rights than comparatively benign examples of Western sexism, like unrealistic measurements on a Barbie doll.

But this would require recognizing that the greatest danger to civil liberties in the world today comes not from the United States, but from a medieval tribalism that’s still murdering people around the world under the guise of enforcing piousness.

“America is an assimilating nation,” affirms Ayaan, “and so when immigrant Muslim men assimilate into American society they are applauded for it. But when some immigrant Muslim women assimilate into American society, they find themselves ostracized – beaten and even killed by their own families. And the American public ignores their plight to protect the immigrant Muslim community from stigma.”

There should be wall-to-wall coverage when Rashid’s pretrail hearings begin tomorrow in Atlanta. By any standards, this is a sensational crime.

Instead, the trial may well get dismissed as old news or swept under the rug as just another domestic-violence case. These rationalizations cover up a discomfort with wading into cultural judgment – and a desire to avoid the risk of violence that always comes with criticizing radical Islam.

There’s a cost to such squeamishness. In England, Lord Chief Justice Phillips, the country’s top judge, has said that sharia law should be incorporated into British law, while the Archbishop of Canterbury described such incorporation as “inevitable.”

This slippery slope threatens to undermine liberal democracy and even the concept of civilized norms. America must make a stand, because many Europeans either can’t or won’t.

As Ayaan says: “As an immigrant Muslim woman running for your life, from your own family, I think America is a better place for us, because we know that Americans are individualist enough that they will ultimately chose to protect us – while Europeans choose to stick their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is going on.”

Our ultimate victory in the War on Terror will be to encourage a Muslim reformation by offering examples of successful Muslim-American citizens – especially women – who thrive within the equal rights and open opportunities of American society. For Muslim women who want to live in freedom, America is the last best hope on earth – and we must remain nothing less.

John P. Avlon is the author of “Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics.”

Muslims in the Military – New York Sun

His call sign is “Hadji,” meaning “one who has made a pilgrimage to Mecca.”

“It’s a pilot thing,” explains Colonel Douglas Burpee, the highest ranking Muslim officer in the U.S. Marine Corps. Now in his 23rd year of military service, Colonel Burpee recently returned from flying helicopters in Afghanistan.

“Everyone knows I’m a Muslim. When I fly, attached to my dog tags, I wear a pendant with a passage from the Koran,” he says. “I try to set a good example based upon what I believe…. I can be a soldier and a Muslim at the same time. I have no problem with that.”

In the era of the war on terror, the example of a devout Muslim serving in the American Military is a heartening sign that highlights the difference between America and its self-appointed enemies in this conflict. This is not a clash of civilizations, but a fight between a modern pluralistic democracy and intolerant murders who have hijacked one of the world’s great faiths.

Certainly that’s Colonel Burpee’s view. “These people who commit terrorism have just adopted the face of Islam – nothing they say or do have anything to do with Islam,” he says. “The Taliban is a terrorist organization – they are bad people doing bad things and they’ve attached religion to it. They are ruthless when it comes to killing people, but that’s how you move helpless people around – you use fear.”

Out of the 1.4 million service men and women serving actively in the American military, an estimated 3,700 are Muslim, according to the Department of Defense.

Colonel Burpee’s path to both Islam and the military is not necessarily typical. With blond hair that is now going gray, he was born in America and raised Episcopalian. He converted to Islam when he was 19 for a very American reason: “I met a pretty girl” – an Egyptian woman named Hala who was a fellow student at the University of Southern California in the late 1970s. Three years later he was accepted at the Officers Candidates’ School in Quantico, Va. Now he and Hala and their five sons live in Glendale, Calif.

“We believe in god and family and prayer – the same things as everyone who believes in religion,” he says. But his reaction to September 11th fit a less typical script. “I watched the attacks on TV, like everybody else. The first thing we did afterwards was go to the mosque because people were concerned about a backlash. On the other hand, I had to call into my squadron and ask, ‘Hey, are we being activated?'” Colonel Burpee straddles his two worlds, but he is not typical of Islam or the military.

Perhaps a more typical portrait of a Muslim soldier in the U.S. military comes from Sergeant Youseff Mandour of the U.S. Army. He immigrated to America from Morocco at the age of 17 and joined the army at age 22. Now 25, he just returned from 12 months in Iraq. Like Colonel Burpee, he aspires to a lifelong career in the military. “I’m fighting for a better life and a belief in freedom,” he says. “I had a chance to get involved. I learned the English language and appreciate everything this country has given to me. That’s why I joined the Army. The U.S. is doing great things.”

Sergeant Mandour takes special offense at the terrorists who murder in the name of his faith. “The war on terror is not about Islam. This is a war against criminals who use religion to say they are good people, but they’re no better than the Mafia. They’re just common criminals, many with criminal records … It was great that I got to use my training against people who tried to kill us and who tried to give a wrong idea about my religion.”

Nor is Sergeant Mandour agnostic about the war in Iraq. “We are not there to fight Islam but spread democracy. I feel very ashamed for those like Osama Bin Laden who use the religion of Islam and call for a jihad. You can’t call a jihad against people trying to help, and I believe we are helping people in Iraq. I helped more people in Iraq than I ever did in my life as a soldier and as a Muslim.”

Few people in the world can view the war on terror with more clarity than Muslim soldiers serving in the U.S. military. While figures like Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen try to divide the world by arguing that the war on terror is really a war between Islam and the west, our Islamic soldiers’ example exposes their rhetoric for the lie that it is. The west is not a religion. It is instead a pluralistic place that opens its arms to all people of good faith regardless of race, nationality, or religion. And if soldiers who are proud to be American and Muslim at the same time can help heal some of the existing divides by the strength of their example, so much the better.

These Muslim U.S. soldiers are, in some ways, the point men in this moment in our history, exemplifying the new edge of a far older trend. As Colonel Burpee says, “My family first came here as French Huguenots a few hundred years ago. They were oppressed and they came to America because it allowed them to practice their religion and live in freedom. That is the same reason that the Muslims have come here … So is there a clash of civilizations? I don’t think so. I think you have an old world and a new world. And we are the new world.”

That is exactly where I would want us to be.

The Fines – New York Sun

We swore that we would never forget. And for those still counting, today marks four and a half years and three days since the attacks of September 11, 2001.

Yesterday will be remembered as a minor milestone in our city’s process of grieving and healing for another reason. It was the day that construction formally began at ground zero – as a dozen workers contracted by the Bovis Construction firm quietly showed up to work in the pit at 6 a.m. to prepare the site for the foundation of the memorial and museum.

Outside the perimeter gates a dozen protesters had quietly stood vigil throughout the moonlit night beside the 10 & 10 Firehouse on Liberty Street. Led by the Reverend Bill Minson – former ICM talent agent turned Baptist minister – a collection of fallen firefighter family members milled by a makeshift memorial to their loved ones, passing coffee and comfort, urging passersby to sign their petition to stop the construction process next to a yellow sign which read, “No underground memorial. Don’t bury our memories.”

For some, the construction seemed to begin embarrassingly late. After all, The Empire State Building took just one year to construct. America fought and won World War II in as much time as it has taken to break ground on the construction on the Freedom Tower and adjacent Memorial at ground zero. But for others, the family members still seeking a closure that may never come, the process has felt rushed and corporate, with insufficient consultation.

“My son was killed on 9/11. I buried him on March 9, 2002. I was one of the lucky ones,” says Rosemary Cain, handing out a prayer card emblazoned with the image of her son, Firefighter George C. Cain. “It is not a normal situation.”

One of the unlucky ones to whom Mrs. Cain referred is Diane Horning of Union County, N.J., president of the WTC Families for Proper Burial, which supported a last-minute injunction seeking to stop the construction. Her son, Matthew – age 26 – was a civilian killed in the towers. His body, like so many others, was never recovered. His mother believes that his remains, turned into ash by the collapse and subsequent months-long underground fires, are still interred in the city’s garbage dump at the unfortunately named Fresh Kills, Staten Island.

“It never occurred to me that they would leave our children there,” says Ms. Horning. “I care about this memorial … But how significant is that to me if my son is in the garbage?”

With grief still raw, Ms. Horning is one of the leaders of the family’s group looking for a suitable final resting place for the ashen remains that are known as “The Fines,” so-called because, as members of the medical examiner’s office explained to her, “this is the finest of the siftings that came through.”

The sheer tonnage of The Fines – an estimated 1.2 million cubic yards – has become the source of a grotesque NIMBY battle, at odds with the intended tone of reverence that has accompanied much of the process. Diane and others affected had initially hoped for a burial mound, something “landscaped, serene, with a bell tower, and maybe a lovely gate,” at ground zero. But when the scale of the planned development became clear, “We had to swallow hard and say ‘OK’, but at least take them out of the garbage and take them to a more respectable location … We never even got a respectable response.”

There is currently a bill in the state Legislature calling for such a site to be found, but Community Board One, which represents lower Manhattan, unanimously passed a resolution last month “strongly” opposing “any effort to re-introduce any WTC debris that currently sits at the Fresh Kills Landfill, back to the WTC site or anywhere else.” It is now unclear where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, whose district encompasses ground zero, will emerge on that issue. But one thing is clear – while lip-service and sentiment always favors the 9/11 families, those whose loved ones are believed to be among The Fines are running out of active allies as well as possible locations in the city.

“Far be it from me to understand the depth of the sorrow that the family members feel,” says World Trade Center Memorial Foundation President and CEO Gretchen Dykstra, “but I remember history and the pain and anguish that surrounded the Vietnam memorial – in fact, Maya Lin was on the memorial selection committee – and now it is considered the gold standard.”

The memorial design will include a tomb beneath the reflecting pool symbolizing the unidentified remains. Next to that, adjacent to what is being called “the contemplation room,” the city’s Medical Examiner will be maintaining a climate-controlled room containing all the existing unclaimed body parts – from fingers to torsos – will be numbered and separated in plastic packets. Designs call for a room exclusively for September 11 family members to view the repository, in the hopes that medical advances will allow for future identification. Whether this provides a new measure of comfort is more difficult to calculate. All the choices left in the aftermath of this attack are brutal.

And so, four and a half years later, the battles continue. They are mostly skirmishes now, between protesters and bureaucrats, and attract less attention. The temptation to want to forget the inconvenient if heartbreaking loose ends is understandable but insufficient. With some industriously focused on binding the still-open wound in our city’s sky-scape, others feel powerless in the process, and feel their still-unhealed scars are being ignored. The debate as to whether ground zero should be primarily a “soaring memorial” or a revived commercial site remains unresolved. For those left only with ashes, the passing of time only adds insult to injury.

Buy Danish – New York Sun

As Danish embassies come under attack around the world in misplaced retaliation for the four-month old decision by a Danish newspaper to publish satirical cartoons of Islam’s prophet, Mohammed, it is a time for choosing.

It is a choice between freedom of speech and violent intimidation. It is a choice between tolerance and intolerance. It is ultimately a choice between civil society and theocracy. Fear is the only argument for neutrality.

But what can the average American do besides shake their head at this sadly absurd new chapter in the clash of civilizations? Vote with your wallet. Buy Danish.

The Arab boycott of Danish goods is by far the most civilized register of displeasure at the content of the cartoons. It can and should be responded to in kind. Seeking out and supporting Danish industry is a peaceful way to express solidarity with the besieged values of freedom and pluralism.

Denmark is an extraordinary country, simultaneously civilized and libertine, boasting its own aesthetic of high design, Hans Christian Andersen, and a respect for tolerance that borders on the reverential. It is a sad irony that this small country of 5.2 million – which has welcomed over 200,000 Muslim immigrants – should become a flashpoint for intolerant Islam.

So far the violent protests that have set fire to Danish embassies abroad have not yet jumped the ocean to America, though the NYPD has stepped up security at the Danish consulate in New York. I spoke to the Danish consul general in New York, Torben Gettermann, who said, “We’ve gotten reactions both negatives and positive. We’ve gotten some expressions of protest, but also a lot of support for the freedom of speech and those people who want to know where to buy Danish products or make donations to Danish charities.”

Despite 1.3 million ethnic Danes in the United States, not one of our city’s 18,000 restaurants is exclusively dedicated to Danish food, although excellent Scandinavian restaurants such as Aquavit abound. Danish design products are available in the gift shop of the Museum of Modern Art, the company Knoll sells Danish furniture at stores throughout the city, Georg Jensen offers silverware and jewelry, Skagen makes excellent watches, while Bodum sells high-end kitchen-ware. The Danish dairy producer Arla, which has been disproportionately affected by the Arab boycott, owns the Wisconsin cheese company White Clover, while traditional Danish foods such as Carlsberg beer, Danish Ham and Havarti cheese can be found in stores or from importers on the internet. The children’s building toys Lego come from “Leg Godt,” which means “Play well” in Danish. Supporting Danish goods isn’t likely to lead to world peace, but it just might provide a demonstrable counterweight to the chaos going on overseas.

We don’t want to fight fire with fire – literally, as it turns out – in this conflict. But neither should we buy into arguments about unbridgeable cultural differences or moral equivalence. One clarifying example can be found in the extreme double standard of cartoons used in the crisis. CNN caught violent protestors outside the Indonesian embassy brandishing a cartoon drawn on a bedsheet showing Muslim clerics cutting off the head of a generic Danish businessman. This is a great deal more hateful than the instigating cartoons, one of which depicted the prophet Mohammed trying to warn a suicide bomber off from the gates of heaven saying that he was out of virgins. As the world knows after videotaped executions in Iraq, the threat by radical Muslims to cut off someone’s head is not empty; a point that was further driven home by a street preacher in Gaza who, according to Reuters, said “we will not accept less than the severing of heads of those responsible.”

The Arab street may perhaps be forgiven for conflating the idea of attacking the Danish government for the actions of a free and independent Danish press. After all, in countries that have taken diplomatic action against Denmark – such as Saudi Arabia and Syria – state-controlled newspapers are the rule and not the exception.

In this extremist enabling-environment we should not ignore the lonely but hopeful voices of the more assimilated European Muslims who are quick to say that the spiraling violent street protests do not speak for them. One prominent example is the Palestinian-born Danish Member of Parliament Naser Khader, who said to the offending Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, “To be a practicing Muslim is not the same as being an extremist. I’ll fight the people who think they can tell me and others how to be a good Muslim. That is a matter between Allah and individual Muslims.” Such voices of moderation need to be given more attention, for it is from them that we might find a way to redeem the promise of peaceful coexistence in a pluralistic society.

Tolerance is a two-way street: it implies not only mutual respect but a live and let live attitude that is absent from Muslims’ reaction to these cartoons. The violent protestors that have taken to the streets around the world are providing evidence of mass psychosis rather than being witnesses to one of the world’s great faiths.

At protests in London, cameras caught sight of two signs that cut to the heart of why this is a time for choosing. One sign said “Freedom Go to Hell” while another read “Learn from 9/11”. By standing up to this controversy in the spirit of civility, in defense of a universal rather than culturally determined right to freedom of speech, we are showing that we have learned the lessons of 9/11. We will not be intimidated by threats of violence. Instead, we will stand up and defend the multicultural civil society.

Remembering the Good Occupation – New York Sun

It is remembered as the Good Occupation after the Good War.

Even among the crowd that can’t find anything right in Iraq, the American military occupation of Germany and Japan is mistily regarded as an unqualified success. With good reason: Within five years, the conquered countries were largely stabilized and recast as liberal capitalist democracies. Within 15 years they had thriving national economies that would soon compete alongside the United States. In remarkable time, our bloodsworn enemies were among our strongest allies and trading partners, stabilizing forces in their region and responsible citizens of the world.

All this is perhaps too much to expect from the Middle East, but given the widespread – and to cynics, anticlimactic — success of elections in Iraq last week, maybe it’s time to look to the longterm markers of success with a sense of hope and history. A look at the rebuilding of Germany and Japan — detailed in books such as “Embracing Defeat”by John W.Dower and “The Conquerors” by Michael Beschloss — unveils a series of best practices employed by America in winning that peace, which as we’ve seen, can be even more difficult than winning a war.

Economic Stabilization is Essential: When American troops took Tokyo and Berlin, generals were understandably more interested in revenge than rebuilding — but facts on the ground soon forced a change in strategy. “Technically our instructions prevented us from doing anything to help with the Germans financially or economically,” recounted the commanding American general, Lucius Clay. But soon Clay asked the Joint Chiefs in Washington for “sufficient freedom here to bring industries back into production,” adding apologetically, “I hope you won’t think I’m … getting soft.” Clay understood the stakes of an economic recovery quickly translated to Cold War practicalities, saying “There is no choice between becoming a communist on 1500 calories and a believer in democracy on 1000 calories.”

Purge Some, Work With More: General Clay ordered his government to pursue the 4 D’s — demilitarization, decartelization, democratization, and de-Nazification. After two-dozen members of the Nazi high command were tried at Nuremberg, Germans ran the sector level tribunals that convicted 117,000 people out of the 3 million considered chargeable under the Law of Liberation from National Socialism. In Japan, Tojo was executed along with six of his leading generals, but much of the non-military cabinet and the Emperor were spared and instead co-opted to support General Douglas MacArthur. U.S. occupying forces reluctantly realized that stabilizing the country depended on a functioning state apparatus — and that depended upon working with the managers who understood how the apparatus worked.

Resist Reparations: The Truman and Eisenhower generation were determined to break the cycle of violence that had been perpetuated by the failed peace following World War I, where the primary emphasis on gaining reparations destabilized Germany, shrunk the middle class and opened the door to demagogues such as Hitler. Instead, German export earnings were first used to pay for essential imports and only afterwards, for reparations.The Marshall Plan provided the ultimate example of reaching beyond reparations toward the larger goal of rebuilding, with America providing loans and aid totaling over $8 billion in 1946 and 1947. Crucially, private relief organizations such as the Red Cross were brought in to give food, clothing and healthcare to refugees, while organizations such as the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration assisted as well. By the early 1960s, Germany and Japan’s economy were self-sufficient enough to pay their wartime reparations.

Encourage an Entrepreneurial Culture: Both Germany and Japan had well-developed economies before World War II, but their manufacturing efforts had been redirected toward the war effort and dominated by a closed cartel of conglomerates. Breaking up the largest cartels created opportunities for new firms like Nikon, Sony,and Honda to compete in peace-time industries. Detroit banker Joseph Dodge, who served as Japan’s post-war economic tsar, established a fixed exchange rate that undervalued the yen to stimulate exports. In another attempt to jumpstart the Japanese economy, the American market was opened to Japanese exports while the Japanese were allowed to keep their own markets closed to foreign imports in order to protect their infant industries.

Have Another Enemy: Healing the wounds of war between nations is a painful process, but the presence of a new common enemy amid increasing economic prosperity heals those wounds faster. Consider this the geopolitical equivalent of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” dynamic. In both Japan and Germany, fear of notoriously harsh Soviet reprisals made occupation by the Americans seem comparatively desirable. The presence of wars against communism in the immediate post-World War II years had galvanizing effects on the loyalties and economies of the occupied nations. This was most dramatically seen in the U.S. Army’s $2 billion of Korean War-era procurements from Japan, which some Japanese leaders referred to as a “gift from the gods.”

There are, of course, many differences between the rebuilding challenges facing Iraq and post-war Germany and Japan. Then the larger struggle was over,while today’s reconstruction occurs amid an ongoing global conflict against terrorism in which Iraq has emerged as a primary front. But the lessons of the rebuilding indicate that making Iraq not only an oasis of democracy but also of actively American-supported industry will be key to that nation’s stabilization and success. When General Eisenhower left his post as American commander in 1945, he told his staff, “The success of this occupation can only be judged 50 years from now.If the Germans have at that time a stable prosperous democracy,then we shall have succeeded.” More than a half century later, we know how that story ended, and history can provide some comfort and guidance as we determine to meet the challenges of our own time.

Unacceptable Lack of Urgency – New York Sun

‘Unacceptable.” That’s what the Captain of Rescue 1, Terry Hatton, would say when the New York City firefighters he was training would drop the ball in potentially life-threatening situations.

And that’s what deserves to be said about U.S. government’s failure to implement the public safety improvements recommended by the 9/11 Commission – it’s just unacceptable.

More than 4 years after the attacks and more than a year after the commission’s exhaustive 567-page report, 9/11 commission members said yesterday that the U.S. government deserves an overall failing grade for implementing its 41 specific recommendations.

“It’s not a priority for the government right now … a lot of the things we need to do really to prevent another 9/11 just simply aren’t being done by the president or by the Congress,” said the commission’s chairman, Thomas Kean, a former Republican governor of New Jersey, on “Meet The Press.” The bipartisan commission cannot make it any clearer: out of 41 specific recommendations, they gave 5 Fs, 12 Ds, and only one A-.

For example, the Commission gave an “F” for the effort to allocate Homeland Security funds based on risk instead of the conventional congressional pork barrel formulas that direct more money per capita to Wyoming than New York City. The Senate is currently debating whether to adopt funding changes in committee – among the votes holding up progress are those of Senators DeWine, Rockefeller, Roberts, Leahy, and Hatch. All represent largely rural states, but it is time for them to step up and allow sensible provisions already passed by the House to get a fair vote in the Senate. It is particularly absurd that the chairman and vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee – Senators Roberts of Kansas and Rockefeller of West Virginia – should be among those holding this common-sense reform hostage.

The commission gave the government an additional F for the failure to establish a single radio spectrum for emergency responders. Adequate technology now exists, but broadcasting industry lobbyists are blocking the adoption of a national frequency because it might cut into their potential profits. Congress is poised to vote on this measure in the coming weeks – but with a 2009 implementation date. Some action is better than none, and a “yes” vote would not only help improve future disaster response but help remind lobbyists that the airwaves are owned by the public, not their industry.

The list of disheartening deadlocks goes on. A consolidated terrorist watch list has not been compiled to improve airline passenger prescreening. A National Infrastructure Protection Plan was submitted this past month with “no risk and vulnerability assessments actually … made; no national priorities established, no recommendations made on allocations of scarce resources.” Non-proliferation efforts to secure nuclear sites have been given a luxurious 14-year timetable for completion. Information sharing between government agencies remains stubbornly resisted on a bureaucratic level. There has been no action taken to responsibly declassify the overall intelligence budget in an effort to gauge its effectiveness and apply accountability. Recommendations to “support reform in Saudi Arabia” and “support secular education in Muslim countries” received an anemic “D” rating. And the Commission’s sole “A-minus” grade – for efforts against terrorist financing – was given with the cold splash of water caveat that “the State Department and the Treasury Department are engaged in unhelpful turf battles, and the overall effort lacks leadership.”

Even the most high-profile success to date, the establishment of a director of national intelligence, was adopted over initial administration reluctance during an election year.

Part of the problem has been the lack of consistent focus on homeland security action items in a time of competing priorities, such as tax cuts and the war in Iraq. But there seems to be a deeper resistance to adopting these unanimously recommended bipartisan reforms because of the paranoiac political atmosphere in today’s hyper-partisan Washington. There is an instinctive allergy to outside recommendations, a sense that exterior voices are hostile and partisan – suggestions are seen as oppositional instead of supplemental to the administration’s overall efforts in the war on terror.

When Democrats crow over the commission’s findings in an effort to score partisan points, they just deepen the problem. This is about national responsibilities, not partisan politics. And the reality is that none of the 9/11 commission’s recommendations can be characterized as simply Democrat or Republican. There is no Democrat or Republican way to protect the nation – just responsible actions and inaction.

And because the prospect of another terrorist attack is a matter of not “if” but “when” and “what magnitude,” there will be blood on the hands of the administrators and legislators who have failed to follow through on behalf of the American people. There is no excuse for having no sense of urgency. We should not need another wakeup call.

This is on the verge of being a national scandal with a real body count. The American people have every reason to be outraged. The people who died in the attacks of September 11th – including Rescue 1 Captain Terry Hatton – deserve far better. Those of us who are still alive have every right to expect more, so that further attacks do not occur without us knowing that we did everything in our power to stop them. After all, those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.

No Evidence of Moral Equivalence – New York Sun

Earlier this summer, Private First Class Stephen Tschiderer – a medic attached to the 101st “Saber” Cavalry Division in Iraq from Mendon, N.Y. – was standing patrol on a street corner in Baghdad when he was hit square in the chest by a sniper’s bullet.

The insurgents responsible for the attack were filming the incident as a snuff movie intended to build morale among murderers.

Their camera was unsteady, but the recovered footage shows Private Tschiderer collapsing under the force of the bullet, then springing back up, adrenaline surging, his life saved by the protective body armor worn beneath his uniform. His fellow U.S. soldiers returned fire as Private Tschiderer sought cover behind their Humvee.

The insurgents were hit and scrambled to get away. They were caught, and Private Tschiderer handcuffed and applied medical treatment to the man who had tried to kill him minutes before.

No moral equivalence

If there is a better story of forgiveness and grace under fire in this war, I have yet to hear it.

This little-known incident, first reported by the Army Times, is fresh evidence of the fact that there is no moral equivalence between the sides in the war on terror.

War does not make much room for St. Francis of Assisi-like behavior, but Private Tschiderer’s actions may stand out as among the least sordid acts ever recorded on a battlefield. In the long history of humanity, a far more normal thing to do would have been to blow your attacker’s head off with extreme prejudice.

The stark contrast of this Hippocratic oath in action was not just a matter of personal kindness, but also American military training.

Our troops may not be perfect – we are human beings at war, not angels in heaven – but there is no moral equivalence between terrorists who target innocent human life, and the soldiers of the civilized world who try to bind the wounds of those who have just tried to kill them in combat.

London redux

On a battlefield diary level, this attack and its aftermath replayed the larger contrasts seen during the London subway terrorist attacks last month.

On one end of Great Britain, the elected leaders of the civilized world were meeting to discuss ways to alleviate global poverty – in what amounted to world history’s largest charitable gift – while on the south side of the nation, radical Muslims targeted their fellow citizens with homemade bombs designed to kill as many people as possible as they quietly commuted to work.

Actions speak louder than words, and apologists who like to paint this war as a misunderstanding between essentially peaceful peoples at the hands of equally intolerant leaders are not paying attention with any sense of perspective.

Iran – U.S. contrast

Another lens to use to view the clash of civilizations is the recent election of a new president in Iran.

Reformist forces were dismayed when the mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, appeared to win what many believe was a rigged election. This disappointment was thrown into sharper relief when former American hostages identified Mr. Ahmadinejad as one of their armed captors during the 444-day siege. Photographs later emerged corroborating their allegations, despite strenuous denials from the Iranian government.

In a darkly comic way, with serious long-term geostrategic implications, this elevation of a war criminal to the presidency of Iran offers yet another useful cultural contrast in the war on terror.

In the United States, youthful indiscretions usually tend toward fraternity parties, cheerleaders, and smoking pot. In the world of Islamic fascism, a youthful indiscretion is about storming embassies and taking hostages. It is a matter of freedom versus fanaticism.

Meaning of Private Tschiderer’s response

When the history of the war on terror is written, the attempted murder of Private Stephen Tschiderer and his morally courageous response may not rise to the textbook level, but as an anecdote it confirms what has been true since the attacks of September 11 – we are meeting the worst of humanity with the best of humanity.

When the will gets weak and the purpose gets murky, it only takes a quick step back to recognize that this is a conflict between a culture of death and a culture of life; the differences cannot be more stark or the stakes higher.

John Avlon, b. 1973, worked on Bill Clinton’s re-election campaign, then was Mayor Giuliani’s chief speechwriter from 1997-2001.  He is the author of Independent Nation (Crown / Random House, pbk. 2005).