Six Years After 9/11: The Petraeus Report and Asking Ourselves 'What If?'

Dear Friend,

Six years ago today, almost 3,000 of our fellow Americas were killed by a homicidal, irreconcilable enemy.

In the five intervening anniversaries of that dark day, we’ve grown used to looking back and remembering what happened on that crystalline morning.

What we haven’t done is look back to 9/11 and ask ourselves, “What if?”

What if our leaders’ decisions had been different after 9/11? What if our national dialogue had been more honest and more comprehensive? What if we had transformed our intelligence, military and foreign policy bureaucracies to meet the new threat?

Our nation changed that day, but our discussion of how to keep America safe has not changed enough.

So, on this sixth anniversary of September 11, I’m proposing that we start a new dialogue. I’m proposing that we ask ourselves, “What if?”

What if we had begun a great national dialogue about the nature of our enemies, the seriousness of their intent, the scale of their capabilities and the requirements of victory over them?

What might then have happened?”

The Petraeus Report: What It Means and What It Doesn’t Mean

I began this thought experiment yesterday in a speech at the American Enterprise Institute. Today, I’m going to talk about some of the highlights of that speech, but you can view and read it here.

Because this rethinking of the past six years is meant to make it easier to be creative about the next six years, I began my speech with a comment about the latest benchmark assessment of our national security efforts since 9/11 — the Petraeus Report.

As I mentioned last week, the Petraeus Report is an important report. The debate over it will be an important debate.

But it is critical that the Petraeus Report be viewed in context.

It is a campaign report about a specific campaign. Iraq is a campaign in a larger war, just as Afghanistan is a campaign in a larger war.

Yet, the Petraeus Report is not a report on “the war.” We are not having a debate in Washington this week about “the war.”

Beyond the Petraeus Report: The Report on the Larger War

Here’s how I put it in my speech yesterday:

The Reagan, Lincoln and Roosevelt Models for Victory

In my AEI speech, I offered three models of American leadership as we ask ourselves what we could have done differently — and what we still might do differently — in the broader war against the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam.

I came upon my third model for American leadership — Franklin Delano Roosevelt — while researching and writing my novel, Pearl Harbor and its sequel, which will be out next year.

FDR’s clarity of strategic purpose, ruthless management of the system and vision of unconditional victory are models of convincing a free people to bring their energies to bear on winning a better future by defeating an evil opponent.

Here’s what I said in my speech:

“As an example of scale, remember that the United States built a two-ocean navy, built more than 299,000 aircraft, built more than 88,000 tanks, mobilized 15,500,000 men and women in uniform, built the most expensive project of the war, the B-29, and used it to deliver the second most expensive project of the war, the Atomic Bomb. Because of the pre-Pearl Harbor preparedness campaign, the United States won the Second World War in three years and eight months — from Dec. 7, 1941, to Aug. 14, 1945.”

What If? Explaining the Larger War With the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam in a Novel Way

Then I built on the Reagan, Lincoln and Roosevelt models of success to ask what a realistic alternative history of the current war might look like now, six years after 9/11.

I asked my audience — as I ask you now — to imagine that we, as a nation, stunned by the bitter blows of the day before, now awake the day after September 11 and embark upon a different course of action.

What if, beginning Sept. 12, 2001, we had taken the following steps?

One: What if, on the morning of Sept. 12, 2001, the shocked national political leadership in both parties had understood the necessity to take a deep, long look at the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam?

Two: What if we had begun a series of bipartisan congressional hearings on the scale of terrorist financing from sources in Saudi Arabia, the degree of Iranian and Syrian support for terrorism and the various propagandizing and recruiting efforts that were underway to attract terrorists at a rate faster than we could kill or imprison them?

Three: What if the news media had begun a series of informative, in-depth explorations of the Iranian war against America and then went on to examine the goals of the various irreconcilable groups and the religious fervor with which they are willing to die for their beliefs?

Four: What if the great bureaucracies of national security and homeland security had immediately begun to place defeating the enemy above protecting their normal routine systems?

Five: What if the Office of Management and Budget had been instructed to set aside its peacetime formulas and attitudes and operate within a war-time footing to facilitate the mobilization and build up necessary to both win the war with the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam and preserve America’s military and intelligence capabilities on other fronts?

An Alternative History Since 9/11: The Key Decisions for Victory

Imagine that we had asked — and answered — these key questions starting Sept. 12, 2001. With these realizations as a starting point, it’s relatively easy to imagine how an alternative history of the last six years might have involved the following key decisions having been taken and systematically implemented.

Again, quoting from my AEI speech:

Decision No. 1 — Defining the Enemy and Understanding the Threat: “First, in the days immediately after 9/11, senior political leaders decided that since the American people are the center of gravity in any American war, an all out effort would have to be made to educate them about the dangers (nuclear and biological attacks, large scale civilian attacks) and the motivating forces behind those dangers.”

Decision No. 2 — Establishing an Effective Homeland Defense: “Second, after 9/11, since the defense of America is the top priority, a serious and effective Department of Homeland Security was immediately established. The department was organized to address three major functions: protecting the border, preparing to recover from a nuclear event and preparing for an engineered biological attack.”

Decision No. 3 — Mobilizing Public Opinion at Home and Abroad: “Third, as the President prepared for his historic Sept. 20, 2001, speech to a joint session of Congress, it was decided that since a sound effort to defeat the terrorists would have to begin with the support of allies and world opinion, great effort was going to have to be made to mobilize and sustain world opinion and to work closely with every government willing to fight to sustain civilization and the rule of law. The lessons of World War II and the Cold War in developing both overt and covert Public Diplomacy were applied to winning this new struggle.”

Decision No. 4 — A Military Buildup and Dramatic Replacement of Outdated Institutions and Bureaucratic Processes: “Fourth, within the revised framework of strategic communications, defense and diplomacy, a major revolution in the national security capabilities of the United States was undertaken post 9/11. The national security system had been grossly under funded in the 1990s. The intelligence community had been particularly weakened and was suffering from a generation of abuse going back to the Pike and Church Committees. The military itself was preparing for the wrong wars using the wrong doctrine. The State Department had been left under funded, under staffed, under trained and under supervised “

The Wrong Debate About the Wrong Report

The purpose of this alternative history is very simple: To spur America and our leadership to a deeper, more meaningful consideration of the threat we face.

Six years after the attacks of 9/11, we are having the wrong debate about the wrong report.

We need a blueprint for reform and success. It is not acceptable that we have more impediments to action than enablers for action.

We need a strategy — not a campaign — to rationalize ends and means to achieve our objectives in this long war against our way of life.

I will close my message to you today the same way I ended my speech yesterday:

Newt Gingrich

P.S. — A few weeks ago I introduced you to the citizen leaders who are changing America. I’m still looking for more of those leaders to join American Solutions and host a Solutions Day workshop on September 29. I hope you’ll join me in creating a better future for our children and grandchildren.

P.P.S. — Speaking of Solutions Day, my book with co-author Nancy Desmond, CEO of Center for Health Transformation, Implementing the Art of Transformation: The Workbook will be the must-read for active participants and curious onlookers alike. You can get a copy here.

P.P.P.S. — My friend and colleague at the American Enterprise Institute, Michael Ledeen, has a new book out about one of the greatest threats we face in the battle against the Irreconcilable Wing of Islam: Revolutionary Iran. It’s called The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots’ Quest for Destruction. National Review Online calls it “required reading for anyone — which ought to mean everyone — desirous of understanding the existential threat we face and why its beating heart is Tehran.”

P.P.P.P.S. — A Miracle Walk and a Chance to Help.

My daughter Kathy discovered she had rheumatoid arthritis when she was 25. There were times when she could barely get out of bed. However, modern science and research have led to breakthroughs that gave her a new lease on an active life.

Her husband Paul is a tennis coach, and they worked with a trainer to build up Kathy’s muscles and her endurance. Now, to my amazement, Kathy and her sister Jackie are going to Greece this November for a 26.2-mile walk from Marathon to Athens.

That’s right, the combination of training and new therapies has enabled Kathy to participate in a walking marathon. This last week, she walked 20 miles in her buildup to get ready for November.

Kathy, Jackie and friends Cynthia, Jeanne and Phyllis are walking to raise money for the National Arthritis Foundation.

If you would like to help them and help the Arthritis Foundation, click here.