“When those planes flew into those buildings, the luck of America ran out,” the essayist Leon Wieseltier wrote in the aftermath of our day of grief. We hadn’t been prepared for what, and who, came our way on that day. For a good long decade, we had been mesmerized by the financial markets, by Nasdaq and the high-tech bubble. The gurus of the 1990s had announced the end of ideology, the triumph of the market, the end of history itself. Amid that triumphalism, a self-styled Saudi jihadist of Yemeni ancestry by the name of Osama bin Laden declared war against the United States, called on every Muslim “by God’s will to kill the Americans and plunder their possessions wherever he finds them and whenever he can.” On October 12, 2000, two followers of that man struck the USS Cole as it docked in Aden to refuel. Witnesses say that the assailants, who perished with seventeen of our sailors, were standing erect in their skiff at the time of the blast, as if in some kind of salute.
Now it could be said that we should have taken notice of that “declaration of war,” of the attacks on our embassies in Kenya and Tunisia in the summer of 1998, of the two men in their skiff and of a long trail of anti-American terror. But in our time of hubris, during that long bull run, we had waived it all off. Had we seen the glee ashore in Aden when that skiff had struck our mighty ship, had we been reading the tracts of a new breed of Islamist, had we half-understood the fight between the pro-American autocrats and their disaffected, militant children, we might have readied ourselves for that war. We might have refrained from downgrading our intelligence and military capabilities.