Saturday, September 10, 2011

We are all survivors

Horoscope for September 10, 2011

Taurus (April 20-May 20) “You may feel nostalgia for the past, though you also realize that the time to be alive is now. The opportunities are many, and you have more control over your life than ever before.”

I was in the West Bank at an Israeli checkpoint preparing to do a stand-up about the Palestinian intifada when the planes struck the World Trade Center. I remember our deputy bureau chief Mark Abrahams called me and said, “You can come back to the bureau. You aren’t going to be on the air for a while. Some planes just hit the World Trade Center.” Mark was only partially correct. I was on the air that night talking about why this was likely Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and taped a piece for America’s Most Wanted about a shadowy Hezbollah leader named Imad Mughniyeh. We prayed that there was no Palestinian connection to the attackers, realizing it would be the end of the Palestinians should it be their suicide bombers. The Palestinians didn’t help themselves that day by celebrating in the streets the fall of the towers and finding themselves on the wrong side of history by continuing years of suicide bombing attacks against Israel.

As soon as I got back to the Jerusalem bureau, I called my Mom, who lives in Alexandria and was on the phone with her when American airlines flight 77 hit the Pentagon. She ran up to her attic bedroom window and could see the smoke rising from the burning building.

On Thursday night, three days before the 10th anniversary of September 11th, as I was about to leave for a speech at a Washington synagogue about the book my husband and I had just written on those years in Jerusalem, we got word that the intelligence community had a credible threat about a possible plot to strike Washington and New York. Law enforcement agencies were preparing a bulletin about the possibility of attackers preparing to use vehicle-borne bombs to mark the tenth anniversary of 9/11. We broke the news and then I raced through the rain 30 minutes late to the speech. Our moderator had lived in Jerusalem with us and lived through the heaviest suicide bombings. She recalled how it was never a good idea to invite journalists to dinner parties in those days in Jerusalem because they always stood up and left in the middle of dinner en route to a bombing. I thought as I sat there how could I be feeling those same feelings in Washington? It was a feeling that we and every Israeli knew during those intifada years. Deja vu all over again.

Now the terror alert seems to be a possible goose chase. I sit here writing this listening to an iconic Michigan-Notre Dame game, preparing to head to the Pentagon at dawn to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11.

A few things strike me...everyday at the Pentagon they relive 9/11 all over again. 9/11 never ended for the 100,000 plus troops and their families deployed right now in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier in the week in his first on the record meeting with journalists after taking over as Army chief, General Ray Odierno told us something surprising when I asked his thoughts about Pentagon plans to leave 3000 troops in Iraq after the end of the year. I expected the American general who has spent more time in Iraq than any other to push back and tell me that such a force would be too small to capitalize on all that America had sacrificed in Iraq. Instead he said something that I would more likely expect from an Israeli peacenik. General Odierno said he had warned former Defense Secretary Robert Gates not to leave too large a presence in Iraq to avoid the perception of being an “Occupier.”

10 years later Americans and the Pentagon have learned some tough lessons about fighting wars in the Middle East.

I wasn’t at the Pentagon on 9/11 but I sure am glad that I was there when they killed Bin Laden. I slept in the Pentagon that night and reported straight for 36 hours.

Americans need to remember, “We have more control of our lives than ever before.” The terrorists didn’t win. “You may feel nostalgia for the past, though you also realize that the time to be alive is now.”