Colonel's Corner: Telling It Like It Is!

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan
September 8, 2006

As we remember the victims and horrific tragedy on this fifth anniversary of 9/11, the president is telling Americans that this battle is far from over. He's right, of course, and no amount of nitpicking, complaints, or concerns about how we've responded to that day, who we've gone to war with, how we've treated detainees, or whether or not we should be listening in on Americans' telephone calls is going to change it. This is a war we are in for the long term — unless, of course, we decide to cave in early.

The fact is, that we're having trouble in Iraq and things are difficult in Afghanistan. That's not what the administration is saying. Instead, it's what our own military is saying. But does that mean we should pick up and go home? We'd best hope not. Instead, we should reflect on how most Israelis were feeling on July 11 of this year. In general, things were quiet in Israel. Sure, Hamas and the militant Palestinians were up to their standard tricks, and all Israelis were as vigilant as ever about possible suicide attacks. But generally speaking, life was going on as normal, Before Hezbollah crossed the border from Lebanon, killed six Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others.

Today, almost two months later and after 33 torturous days of fighting, Israel is still trying to sort out what happened. One thing is certain, though — they met an enemy who had spent the last six years preparing for battle. As the president is trying so skillfully to warn us, there are enemies out there who have spent the last years since 9/11, indeed the last 20 years, preparing themselves for their next attacks on us. And if the attacks don't come this year or next, we shouldn't construe that to mean we've won. Our enemies will take as long as it takes to plan, organize, prepare, and then attack. Some of those attacks will be successful — hopefully, others will not be.

The president is also absolutely right when he says we're safer now than we were prior to 9/11. Of course we are. But again, as he so aptly points out, we will never be completely safe. Somehow, someday, someone will get through our defenses, just as they sometimes get through the Israelis' defenses. And when they do, be it during this administration or one in the future, we'll adjust to that vulnerability just as we have adjusted to aviation vulnerabilities in the aftermath of that terrible day in 2001. At the same time, we'll see how much terrorism is, or isn't, the centerpiece of political football, as whichever party is out of power castigates the one that's in power for its failures. Meanwhile, gleefully watching, our adversaries will continue to diligently plan for their next attack.

To this date, our successes in the war on terror have come about because the president was decisively willing to engage the enemy on his turf — not ours. Our failures have come about because we're still learning, as we fight a war unlike any we've fought before. Success sometimes only comes about through trial and error. To be sure, there will be many more successes. And unfortunately, there will likely be many more errors.

In the final analysis, neither this president, nor any one in the future, will be able to completely defend us against terrorists. They're sly, cunning, and quite capable, and while we shore up our defenses in one sector, they're already out looking for our vulnerabilities in another. Hopefully, at some point we'll truly be able to bond together again as we did immediately after 9/11. We need to recognize that this war against terrorists needs to be fought as one country serving its own interests — without bickering, bartering politicians and naysayers. President Bush is right on track as he tries to pull all Americans together to recognize the long road ahead.

Lt. Col. Bill Cowan is a FOX News Channel contributor and internationally-acknowledged expert in the areas of terrorism, homeland security, intelligence and military special operations. He spent 11 years doing undercover operations in Lebanon against Hezbollah and Syria. Read his full bio here.