National security matters must unite, not divide us

On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, a horrified world watched in shock live images of the most daring and devastating terror assault in history, as al-Qaeda delivered a series of four deadly blows right at the heart of America, killing 3,000 people and causing at least $10 billion in property damage. Four passenger airliners were hijacked by 19 terrorists for suicide attacks. Two, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Airlines Flight 175, were crashed into the North and South towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Within two hours, both towers collapsed. A third plane, American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the Pentagon, home of the US Department of Defence, leaving it severely damaged as its western side partially collapsed. The fourth, United Airlines Flight 93, was targeted at Washington, DC, but crashed into a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after its passengers took on the hijackers.

At 8.30pm, amid the chilling scenes, an emotional yet firmly defiant President George Walker Bush delivered the following address to a nation in shock:

“Good evening. Today, our fellow citizens, our way of life, our very freedom came under attack in a series of deliberate and deadly terrorist acts. The victims were in airplanes, or in their offices; secretaries, businessmen and women, military and federal workers; mums and dads, friends and neighbours. Thousands of lives were suddenly ended by evil, despicable acts of terror.

The pictures of airplanes flying into buildings, fires burning, huge structures collapsing, have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and a quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our nation into chaos and retreat. But they have failed; our country is strong.

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A great people have been moved to defend a great nation. Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America. These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.

America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world. And no one will keep that light from shining. Today, our nation saw evil, the very worst of human nature. And we responded with the best of America - with the daring of our rescue workers, with the caring for strangers and neighbours who came to give blood and help in any way they could.

Immediately following the first attack, I implemented our government’s emergency response plans. Our military is powerful, and it’s prepared. Our emergency teams are working in New York City and Washington, DC to help with local rescue efforts. Our first priority is to get help to those who have been injured, and to take every precaution to protect our citizens at home and around the world from further attacks.

The functions of our government continue without interruption. Federal agencies in Washington which had to be evacuated today are reopening for essential personnel tonight, and will be open for business tomorrow. Our financial institutions remain strong, and the American economy will be open for business, as well.

The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I’ve directed the full resources of our intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice.

Nine days later, on September 20, Bush outlined to the nation and a joint session of Congress his intended response. Amidst all this, the President’s approval ratings soared to 90 per cent, less than a year after his disputed victory over Democrat Al Gore...America’s most controversial and divisive election yet.

It is clear that 9/11 offers some key lessons for Kenya. Terrorism is a global phenomenon, a universal challenge. A nation under attack needs firm, even defiant leadership. It needs unequivocal unity of purpose across the political divide. It does not need blame games or cynical attempts to score cheap political goals. American leaders did not talk at each other; they talked with each other, reasoned together. President Bush reached out, and his political rivals stood with him.

Congress rallied together, and around the flag and the President. Rather than behave like a gathering of emotive petulant juveniles, it accelerated key laws to aid Bush’s declared “War on Terror”. On September 14, 2001, Congress passed the Authorisation for Use of Military Force Against Terrorists, granting the President authority to use all “necessary and appropriate force” against those whom he determined “planned, authorised, committed or aided” the attacks, or who harbored them.

The US launched the War on Terror and invaded Afghanistan to depose the Taliban, which had harboured al-Qaeda. Having evaded capture for years, Osama bin Laden was located and killed by US forces in May, 2011. Good people, if we cannot unite in adversity, what, pray, will ever unify poor Kenya?

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