Courtesy Reuters

Picking Up the Pieces

For most Americans, the events of September 11 came like a bolt from the blue on that beautiful, terrible morning. But as Strobe Talbott and Nayan Chanda observe in their well-written introduction to The Age of Terror, "the unforgivable is not necessarily incomprehensible or inexplicable." In fact, all three of these books make clear that although the attacks on New York and Washington were unexpected for many, the warning signs had long been evident -- at least to some of those who focus on terrorism.

There was, for example, the report by the U.S. Commission on National Security in the 21st Century (known, for its co-chairs, as the Hart-Rudman report). As several of the essayists in these books point out, in the spring of last year this commission predicted that there would likely be a catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil within the next two decades.

By last summer, it had also become clear to those monitoring Osama bin Laden that al Qaeda was plotting an attack; the only question was when and where. The arrests of al Qaeda associates in Yemen and India in June had revealed plans to blow up the American embassies in those countries, and a propaganda videotape, which circulated widely in the Middle East during the summer, showed bin Laden calling for more such assaults.

Given this forewarning, how did the attacks on America happen? So asks the book assembled by the editors of this magazine. The answers are provided by a list of big thinkers, ranging from Fouad Ajami to Fareed Zakaria. Part of the answer can be found in an essay by Princeton's Michael Scott Doran, "Somebody Else's Civil War." Doran, attempting to explain a subsidiary question -- namely, why do they hate us? -- shows that the United States has been sucked into a struggle within the Muslim world. This battle pits those, such as bin Laden, who seek to re-create the era when the Prophet Muhammad ruled the Islamic lands, against those

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