Is the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks not “just about us” as Americans? Was the attack itself “just about us”? The New York Times got an advance look at the Obama administration’s detailed guidelines to federal agencies and diplomats about the observance of the upcoming observance of the terrorist attacks:
The guidelines list what themes to underscore — and, just as important, what tone to set. Officials are instructed to memorialize those who died in the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and thank those in the military, law enforcement, intelligence or homeland security for their contributions since.
“A chief goal of our communications is to present a positive, forward-looking narrative,” the foreign guidelines state.
Copies of the internal documents were provided to The New York Times by officials in several agencies involved in planning the anniversary commemorations. “The important theme is to show the world how much we realize that 9/11 — the attacks themselves and violent extremism writ large — is not ‘just about us,’ ” said one official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe internal White House planning.
That approach of making 9/11 about more than just America caught the attention of the Drudge Report, and will likely be a hot-button debate issue over the next two weeks. Some will argue that the attacks and the anniversary are all about the US. After all, al-Qaeda had specifically targeted the US in a series of attacks over almost a decade leading up to 9/11, and the most damaging attack was on one of our most prominent symbols of economic freedom and global integration — the World Trade Center. Of course, they also attacked the Pentagon, the center of American military might and security. Critics of the Obama administration may object to a perception that the focus on this day will shift in some measure from American victims of the attacks.
However, it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t really a change from the Bush administration’s position. George W. Bush certainly made the argument during his tenure at the White House that the 9/11 attacks were an attack on the West, and the entire free world. The Bush administration never hesitated to point out that the victims who died in that attack came from around the world to work in New York, and that all major religions and many nationalities are represented in the lists of those whom al-Qaeda murdered. Both administrations have been consistent in pointing out that mass attacks like the kinds perpetrated in Madrid, Bali, Mumbai, and so on involve all of the free world, and not just the specific nation targeted in a single attack.
Indeed, we need to remind our friends and some of our foes that the free world takes 9/11 as an attack on global order and freedom, and not just one particular nation. Otherwise, we will find ourselves fighting the forces of terrorism and totalitarianism alone as other nations think that only the US and Israel are at risk, and our enemies will be emboldened even further.
The White House also leaked to the Times that they plan a low-key approach to the remembrances:
Some senior Obama administration leaders had advocated a lengthy program of speeches and events to mark the anniversary, but the final decision was for lower-key appearances by Mr. Obama and other senior leaders only on the days leading up to the anniversary and on Sept. 11 itself. …
That may be, but some American counterterrorism and intelligence officials are complaining that the White House missed out on tying together the 10th anniversary with recently announced strategies to combat terrorism and violent extremism into a more coherent, longer-term plan. “They don’t do that kind of long-term planning,” said a senior counterterrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid disciplinary measures from the White House. Mr. Rhodes rejected that criticism, saying these themes have threaded through many of Mr. Obama’s speeches in recent months.
They will also warn Americans that AQ wants to conduct a remembrance of their own by launching another terrorist attack on or around the tenth anniversary. That’s a good point to remember, and Americans should heighten their vigilance and communicate any suspicious activity to law enforcement.
Update: In my haste to make my point, I unintentionally left out a mention of the attack on the Pentagon. I’ve corrected that above, and apologize to our readers. It’s also worth pointing out that United 93 was almost certainly circling back to Washington and probably aiming at either the Capitol or the White House.