October 11, 2006 | National Review Online

Take Ten: A decade’s worth of analysis.

Editor's Note: In the last ten years, how has the world changed, and how has it remained the same? As we mark our tenth anniversary here at National Review Online, we asked a group of commentators to reflect on these questions. Here's what they came up with.

Mona Charen
Ten years ago I thought of the Arab world as a dusty, primitive backwater; a part of the world that (except for its relations with Israel and perch above an ocean of oil) was largely irrelevant to the great currents of history sweeping the rest of the planet. If you had asked me in 1996 to predict which nation or region would present the greatest threat to this country, I would probably have said China.

Yet now, while I continue to believe that the Arab world is dusty and primitive (in some respects), I cannot think of any other question that preoccupies me more than the Muslim world's clash with ours. A fever of extremism has spread throughout the Islamic world — lubricated by Saudi wealth — and it hasn't crested yet. Gentle Morocco, always the most moderate of Arab nations? The New York Times reported recently that women are starting to cover themselves and jihadism is on the rise. Turkey, the great hope of modernizing Muslims? More radical every day. In May, a gunman shouting “Allahu Akbar” stormed into the Council of State, a senior administrative court, and shot five judges who had upheld a ban on headscarves. From Bali to Mumbai to London to Haifa, the Islamists are loosing their fury.

And Europe, the cradle of our civilization, is on the very cusp of Islamicization. With birthrates plummeting, it is a matter of only a few years before sharia becomes the law of Holland and France and Sweden and Italy. We are witnessing the suicide of the West and now, more than ever before, one hears Lincoln's words echoing in our heads: “We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth.”

Mona Charen is a nationally syndicated columnist who blogs on “The Corner.”

Robert P. George
After the attacks of 9/11, perhaps the most noteworthy fact of the past decade is that there have not been additional successful attacks on our homeland. Who would have predicted that five years would pass without another one?

On the day al Qaeda struck, Albert Gore might have been president. He was not — only because the Supreme Court of the United States prevented the supreme court of Florida from enabling Democratic officials in Florida counties to flip the 2000 presidential election. 9/11 itself has obscured our memory of the events of November and early December 2000. We forget how close the Gore forces came to carrying off an extraordinary electoral high jacking. Had partisan Democrats been able to apply inconsistent standards in deciding whether to count questionable ballots — and for whom to count them — it would have been Gore rather than George W. Bush deciding how to respond to bin Laden's attacks.

Of course, some people think it would have made no difference. Some even believe that Gore would have been more effective than Bush in prosecuting a war against international terrorists. These seem to me to be dubious propositions, to say the least. It is true that U.S. forces have met difficulties and suffered setbacks — some attributable to mistakes by the Bush administration — in the effort to transform Iraq into a stable and peaceful democratic republic after U.S. forces accomplished their mission of removing Saddam Hussein. These problems have led many to question the wisdom of Bush's decision to topple the tyrant, and the president's approval ratings have collapsed. While I think that removing Hussein was the right thing to do, I myself have been sharply critical of some of the administration's policies. Yet I have no doubt that history will judge Bush, rather than Gore, to have been the right man in the Oval Office when Islamist terrorists struck.

The Left may continue to insist that Bush v. Gore was an “illegitimate” and “anti-constitutional” decision. When the dust settles, however, Americans will remember the Supreme Court's decision with gratitude. It overturned the truly illegitimate and anti-constitutional rulings of state supreme court justices in Florida, and it ensured that the house at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was occupied by a man of steely determination when an unprecedented war of terror was launched against us.

Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence and director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton. George serves on the President's Council on Bioethics.

Mark Goldblatt
If you'd have told me ten years ago that Muslim terrorists were going to knock down the World Trade Center towers and murder 3,000 Americans, during a Republican administration, I'd have recoiled in horror — for the victims, of course, but also for the populations of Baghdad, Tehran, and Tripoli, which cities, I'd have supposed, would soon be reduced to rubble, their nighttime skies thereafter streaked by Black Hawk helicopters blaring “Welcome to the Jungle” at 125 decibels.

And I'd have wondered, in writing, perhaps for NRO, whether there might have been another way. Did we truly have to kill millions of Muslims, many of whom had little or no sympathy for the terrorists? Couldn't we have gone after the tyrants themselves, the ones who regularly sponsored terrorism; couldn't we have taken out the regimes with a scalpel rather than with a terrible swift sword? Couldn't we have ousted a few thugs, upended a few imams, and then set to the tedious work of democratic nation building?

Those were the questions I'd have asked in 1996.

Nowadays, I'm much less naive.

Mark Goldblatt is author of Africa Speaks, a satire of black urban culture.

Claudia Rosett
What's changed is that a war already begun against us more than ten years ago has since been clearly declared. At the leading and most spectacular edge, it is a war of radical Islamists, bent on turning against us our own freedoms and technologies. More fundamentally, in the piñata grab for power that has followed the collapse of the corrosive Soviet empire, it is a clash of despotic systems against the Free World. We face not simply an axis, but a network of evil.

What's stayed the same is human nature, with all its attendant reluctance to grasp that this war is bigger than we have yet come to grips with, and deadlier. While the Bush doctrine has the basics right, our own massive institutions are slow to adapt. If America ten years ago was a sleeping giant, roused five years ago by Sept. 11, we have since hit the snooze button. We are drowsing fitfully in a haze of diplomatic initiatives, six-way talks, hollow United Nations resolutions, and domestic spats. Once again, the clock is ticking — toward the moment when we are roused from this nap.

Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Amir Taheri

Those interested in uchronia, the “what-if” school of re-writing history, might find no better period than the last decade upon which to indulge in their hobby.

What if Western powers had dealt with the break-up of Yugoslavia earlier and more resolutely? What if the United States and its allies had taken Saddam Hussein's return to an aggressive posture in 1995 more seriously and seized the opportunity to topple him? What if the U.S. had not given Pakistan the green light to back the Taliban against the Rabbani government in Kabul? What if the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) had not rejected as “fanciful” the first documented reports about secret nuclear programs in the Islamic Republic in Iran and North Korea? What if President Clinton had recognized the importance of the Jihadist “War Committee” set up in Khartoum with the express aim of “destroying” the United States, soon after the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center? And, what if he had not stopped plans to assassinate Osama bin Laden at the last minute, and on at least two occasions?

This has been a decade of sleepwalking, interrupted by 9/11 that reminded us that we face an existential struggle between the modern world and its many enemies — with the Jihadists leading the way. Sadly, there are still some who wish to resume their sweet slumber. And their number is growing by the day.

Iranian-born Amir Taheri is editor of Politique Internationale, France's leading foreign-policy journal.

Abigail Thernstrom
The tenth anniversary — and every day a treat that so nicely illustrates a truly changed world over the last decade.

Can NRO readers imagine getting through the day without reading what's posted on this fabulous web site? Or on Real Clear Politics, the Volokh Conspiracy, KausFiles, SteynOnline, JamesBowman.net, and discriminations.us — the list is so rich, where does one stop?

There's a running debate in my household over whether we really, truly need to pay good money to read that record of misinformation called the New York Times. So far the answer is Yes, but only because (horrible confession), I like to see pictures of clothes I will never wear; or read “lifestyle” articles that tell me how to live a life that isn't remotely mine.

But one of these days, the answer will be No. Expensive, infuriating, and not needed.

It is remarkable that I can even make that choice. I can do so only because of the emergence of a great democratic political conversation-a true market place of ideas — in the last ten years. The Left would like to jam the airwaves — and for so many years, it did. The now-unstoppable torrent of information on the Internet is the Left's gravest enemy. The bells of freedom are ringing anew — and NRO is one of those indispensable bells.

Abigail Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.