As we approach the 5th anniversary of 9/11/1, and an attempt at destroying British airplanes foiled just two weeks ago, it is natural to ask if we are safer now than we were?
I think so for the following reasons.
First, terrorists are not going to hijack planes and crash them into buildings. Not only are passengers being screened more carefully but other, more crucial changes have occurred. One is that airplanes now have heavier doors protecting the pilots. Equally important are the changes in attitude. On September 11, the policy for handling hijackers was treat it as a ransom situation and to cooperate. Now the pilots know that if they open the locked door to the cabin, everyone could be killed. Similarly the passengers know that they will die if they cooperate so they might as well resist.
We are safer from plots in general. Agencies are looking for terrorists and sharing information. This does not stop small, closed groups like the one that committed the London subway bombing last year but it does stop larger, more complex organizations like the one this month. Information was shared between the British, Americans, and Pakistani officials. Threats are being taken seriously and tips are being collected from unlikely sources.
One of the biggest things that has made us safer was George Bush's infamous statement, "You are either with us or against us." Liberals hate this statement but it has made a huge difference in international relations.
Prior to 9/11, Pakistan was openly friendly to the Taliban. In fact the Taliban grew out of Islamic schools in the mountains of Pakistan near Afghanistan. After 9/11, the Pakistani government supported the US. They allowed us to use their country as a staging ground for the attack on Afghanistan, they allow us to pursue al Qaeda and the Taliban in the mountains, they even supported us when we made an air strike against the family of a high-ranking al Qaeda member. And they shared information about the British plot. They also reigned in their nuclear scientists.
While there is still a significant population in Pakistan who is against the US, their government at least supports us.
Libya also took Bush's warning to heart and abandoned its nuclear program. This is important and often overlooked but Libya was close to creating their own bombs.
Does anyone think that the sanctions on Iraq would not have been lifted by now and Saddam would be reconstituting his nuclear program by now if we hadn't invaded? The threat of a nuclear Iran alone is enough to ensure it.
It is worrying that two countries with ties to terrorism, Iran and North Korea are close to building nuclear bombs. It would be even more terrifying if Libya and Iraq were also working on nukes and Pakistan, which has them, was still friendly with terrorists.
So are we safe? No. As I said, small, closed groups of terrorists are nearly impossible to stop. But there are limits to the damage they can do.