The Two 9/11s

We Americans look back to the attacks of September 11th, 2001 with sadness, remembering the innocent lives taken on that day.  But we also look back on that day with a sense of national pride.  Countless ordinary people emerged as heroes to meet the challenges set before us by a small group of Islamic terrorists that were hell-bent on destroying our nation's morale and economy.  But contrary to their ambitions, a firmer, more resilient America was forged on that day.

Part of this can be attributed to George W. Bush, who gave Americans a powerful, direct message on September 12th, 2001.  "Freedom and democracy are under attack," he said, and he made the promise that "America will use our resources to conquer this enemy. We will rally the world.  We will be patient.  We will be focused. We will be steadfast in our determination. This battle will take time and resolve. But make no mistake about it: we will win."

On September 11th, 2012, this enemy attacked America again. Islamist insurgents stormed the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, murdering four Americans, including Ambassador Chris Stevens. Protesting crowds in Cairo scaled the US Embassy walls and tore down the American flag, replacing it briefly with a flag of their own.  

This time, unlike 2001, their identity is less hidden by the shadows.  We know this enemy well. We know that a "black Islamist flag," potentially an al Qaeda flag, flew over the US Embassy in Cairo on the day of the attacks.  And we know that the likeliest suspect in the Libya attack is a "pro-al Qaeda group" like the one that hoisted an al Qaeda flag over a Benghazi courthouse last October.

But unlike his predecessor, who responded to an attack against America with vigorous and determined words, Barack Obama has responded with tepid regurgitations about moral relativism among religions, and ambiguity about the perpetrators of the crime and its aftermath.

On September 12th, 2012, a somber Barack Obama took the podium to address the American people.  Despite my opposition to his politics, I wanted to be inspired.  On this one thing, I hoped we could agree, and he would stand and be the leader our country desperately needs in this hour. 

But within the first two minutes of his address, the president offered the Islamic world a disclaimer, saying that "we reject all efforts to denigrate the beliefs of others," but "there is absolutely no justification for this kind of senseless violence."  Here, he effectively gave a partial condemnation of the American filmmakers whose anti-Islamic film caused Islamists to react violently (and calculatedly, given the symbolism of the date) to protect the "dignity" of Prophet, as one Libyan mosque leader put it.  This is the same silly line of thought has been used by an MSNBC panel to call for the prosecution the filmmakers for their disrespectful portrayal of Muhammad.  

But this relativism, as portrayed by the media and our president, is a farce.  If Christians had reacted in 1987 by murdering people when an artist proudly displayed an effigy of Jesus Christ in a bowl of his own urine (in blatant disregard to His "dignity"), there would rightfully be no calls to prosecute the artist.  There would instead be staunch defense of the right to free expression and condemnation of the religionists responsible for the violence.  So why has the president chosen such wishy-washy and divisive terms to condemn the religionists responsible for the murders in Benghazi? 

More questions ensued as Obama's speech progressed.  Why does he refuse to even acknowledge that the attackers are religionists, or more specifically, Islamists -- or even more specifically and correctly, Islamic terrorists?  He refused to identify the enemy beyond a vague assumption that they are a small, radical group.  Rather, he takes the moment to assuage American concerns about Libya, claiming that "the attack will not break the bonds between the United States and Libya," going so far as saying that concerned Libyans carried Ambassador Stevens to the hospital, "where he later died." 

Ambassador Stevens died at the hospital? Prior to his speech, Americans had seen these pictures of Stevens' corpse being carried in the streets.  Did the "good" Libyans rob his corpse from the hospital morgue and take it to the streets? Was the president simply mistaken, and did he mean to say they carried his corpse to the hospital?  Is this a lie? And most importantly, why is it even being addressed in this setting, if not meant to whitewash American impressions of Libya in the wake of an attack made by Libyans, against Americans, and on American soil?

Rather than lay down a gauntlet to our enemies that have committed an act of war, Obama seemed to be defending his administration's support of the Libyan uprising.  His opponents have been vocal about the shrouded and potentially nefarious elements that could seize influence in the vacuum left by Gaddafi's regime in Libya.  These attacks prove that those elements are indeed a significant threat, and this speech seemed directed at downplaying that threat.  At a time when we needed the president to tell the world that aggression against America will not be tolerated for any reason, he chose to give another lecture about religious tolerance and how a few rotten Islamist apples won't spoil the barrel.

We mourn for the four Americans murdered in this heinous attack, and for the attack on our sovereignty.  But with that sadness, there is no pride beyond the memory of the pride felt eleven years ago-- a pride that was solidified by a leader with the resolve to identify our enemy, look him in the eye, and tell him that he is targeted for his crimes.  Barack Obama is not that leader, and I have never been so ashamed to call someone my nation's representative as I now feel about him in his response to these attacks.

If September 11th and 12th, 2001, were two days in which Americans can be proud of how our resolve was strengthened, September 11th and 12th,2012 are two days in which we should all be ashamed of how that resolve has crumbled.

William Sullivan blogs at and can be followed on Twitter.