Lessons of September 12
President George W. Bush talks with the press about the previous day's terrorist attacks during a cabinet meeting Sept. 12, 2001. Gen. Hugh Shelton is on the far right.
September 12th, 2011
08:00 AM ET

Lessons of September 12

EDITOR'S NOTE: General Hugh Shelton served as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1997 to 2001.  He is a member of the National Security Advisory Council of the US Global Leadership Coalition.

By General Hugh Shelton, USA (Ret.), Special to CNN

As our nation comes together to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the September 11th attacks, we find ourselves with a poignant opportunity to reflect on the lives lost and the dramatic changes we have seen around the world over the last decade.

On that tragic day, I was serving as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the principal military adviser to the President of the United States. I will never forget the personal sense of loss all of us felt as we processed the events of the day – devastation on a scale that had seemed unimaginable even the day before. But what I will also remember is what happened the day after.

In our first National Security Council meeting after the attacks, our intelligence and law enforcement leaders briefed the President, telling him that the attacks were planned and executed by al Qaeda. In the dramatic pause after this information was presented, all the eyes in the room seemed to turn towards myself and the Secretary of Defense. The silent question that hung in the air was obvious – what are we going to do about this?

But before we could respond, the President Bush himself interrupted. He said, we’ll get to the military tools, but first let’s talk about what we can do diplomatically and economically. This was an extraordinary statement, and I believe the first indication of the new, comprehensive national security strategy required in the post-9/11 world. In that moment, we saw for the first time it would take all of the tools in America’s foreign policy arsenal working together in order to keep us safe from terrorists and extremists.

As Chairman, I was a strong supporter of this comprehensive strategy, where development and diplomacy work alongside a strong defense to protect our nation. I had seen firsthand planning a previous operation in Haiti that in order to succeed, you need all the pieces working together. For that mission, we knew capturing and killing our enemies wouldn’t bring a lasting peace. We had to find a way to restore power to the cities and build up a civilian government with a justice system, a police force and a plan for delivering basic services to its own citizens. These are exactly the challenges we face today in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

Our men and women in uniform are the strongest fighting force in the world, and they know how to win wars. But it takes more than just the military to succeed in the type of environment we find ourselves today. Our soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are trained for battle. They are not trained to be development experts, nor should they be. As the President recognized on September 12 and from that day forward, we would need both military and civilian “boots on the ground” to achieve our national security goals.

Ten years later, our country remains under threat from terrorists and extremists and must contend with the problems of a complex and interconnected world. Weak and failing states, natural disasters, poverty and pandemic disease all feed the beasts that threaten our security. We have to be one step ahead of our enemy and that requires us to have the most effective and efficient civilian and military programs in place.

While budgets are tight, the one percent of the federal budget we invest in our development and diplomacy programs is essential in addressing the threats we face and ensuring America remains a leader in the world. To not provide adequate resources to these vital programs through our International Affairs Budget is to risk forgetting the lessons of September 12, 2001.

Filed under: 9/11 • Living With Terror • Opinion
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. Ben James

    Never before, or after 9-11-2001 in the history of the planet has a steel frame high-rise building collapsed as the result of fire and yet it is supposed to have happened 3 times in 1 day on 911.
    WTC Tower 7: Height 642 ft (160 m), 44 Floors, collapsed symmetrically into its own footprint by demolition after a countdown can be clearly heard over 2 way radios to clear emergency personnel from the area of the building. WTC Billionaire owner Larry Silverstein quoted directly on national TV describing what happened to WTC Tower 7 said: "I said maybe the smartest thing to do is to PULL IT. And then they made the decision to PULL, and we watched the building collapse." Clearly the decision to "PULL" refers to controlled demolition. In point of fact unexplained explosions were reported in WTC Tower 7 even before the collapse Tower 1. No aircraft hit Tower 7 on 911 and when the building was demolished it had only 2 small areas of fire secondary to the collapse of Tower 1 which was more than 400 feet away to the south west.
    Flight 77: All of the hundreds of Pentagon security videos have been withheld from the public except one 15 second clip which clearly DOES NOT show a commercial aircraft, but something much more like a drone or cruise missile passing along the courtyard and into the Pentagon. The original hole made by the impact in the Pentagon parameter wall was approximately 19 feet wide and penetrated the outer wall of the Pentagon's E Ring and the damage extended all the way through the inner wall of the C Ring, through the heavily reinforced walls. The aircraft used for Flight 77 that supposedly hit the Pentagon was a Boeing 757-223 which has a fuselage 37 feet in diameter and 2 large wing mounted engines. The hole in the Pentagon wall was only 19 feet wide, and yet the entire aircraft is supposed to have compressed itself, gone into a 19 foot hole and disappeared leaving virtually no trace of engines, wings, tail , passengers, luggage, and seats. It is very, very simple: Why doesn't the Pentagon release the videos being withheld and end the controversy once and for all, unless they are hiding something?
    Flight 93: At the "official" crash site the coroner's examination showed no evidence of human blood or tissue whatsoever. In addition no aircraft engines, luggage, seats, wings, or tail were found at the crash site. In the history of air travel this has never happened before or since. Even when a plane few at full speed into the face of a mountain in Brazil the crash debris contained all the evidence conspicuously missing at the site of Flight 93. The largest fragments at the 93 site were measured in centimeters. Never in the history of aviation has a cash yielded this type of results except on 911.

    September 14, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  2. Roberto

    The Republicans object.

    September 12, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Reply
  3. AmyisalwaysRight

    Morning Bell – Good Article:

    Matt Mayer wrote days after bin Laden's death:
    In terrorist hideouts across the globe, many men with similarly warped views are eager to become the next bin Laden. They know the path to that title [lies] in successfully attacking us domestically and causing substantial death and destruction.

    The global war on terror that began as a result of 9/11 continues, and brave men and women risk their lives daily to protect America and prevent future acts of terrorism. As soldiers return from Afghanistan and Iraq after third or fourth tours of duty, we're reminded that a clear and present danger remains.

    Unfortunately, President Obama isn't taking the threat seriously enough. The embattled debt ceiling policy outcome proved this, delivering a bitter pill of $500 billion in cuts to our national security.

    Heritage's Baker Spring writes of the policy:
    ...the policy established by the debt ceiling law will strip the military of its ability to secure the vital interests of the United States. The law, unless it is altered or repealed, will do irreparable harm to the United States military.

    ... History has repeatedly shown that these kinds of reductions in defense are penny wise and pound foolish, because they often serve to increase the likelihood of conflict. And weakness that invites war is much more expensive than deterring our enemies by maintaining an adequate defense budget all along.

    Without the necessary security, America's position as a world superpower will begin to decline. And still, President Obama and congressional liberals press on, putting our national security in jeopardy. Defense spending is far below its historical average, while money spent on unsustainable entitlement programs eats up two-thirds of the federal budget. America's budgetary priorities are badly mismanaged, and our readiness suffers as a result.

    Heritage's Mackenzie Eaglen writes:
    No military service has been immune from wear and tear over 10 years of constant combat and other operations. According to General Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, Jr., two-thirds of non-deployed Marines are not at acceptable readiness levels. This means they’re unable to respond to unforeseen crises if needed.

    America's military requires the ability to respond forcefully and effectively, and it relies on Congress and the President to provide the necessary resources.

    As Abraham Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address, "It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced."

    September 12, 2011 at 7:20 pm | Reply
    • Seraphim0

      You realize, of course, that the only country who comes anywhere remotely close to us (even after this cut) in military spending is china, right?

      The reason our military spending is so high is because we occupy so many countries and have multiple wars occuring at once. We pull out, as we should, and the defense budget wouldn't be a problem.

      September 13, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  4. terrell m

    search google for a track called real terrorism by krs one

    September 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm | Reply
    • Leon

      hell yeah, KRS-ONE is a beast...

      September 12, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  5. Lester

    The fact that the former CJCS thought it "extraordinary" that measures other than military needed to be put into action indicates the problem with our senior military leadership.

    September 12, 2011 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  6. Justin

    Are we going to hear about what happened the days AFTER 9/11 for 2 weeks now?

    September 12, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
    • Drogo, who bit the dust

      Only if you're lucky.

      September 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm | Reply
    • Jason L.

      Probably for two months.

      September 12, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  7. krehator

    Lesson learned: Never elect another person like Bush.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • JustACommonGuy

      Yeah, we all know the great job Billary and Nobama have done. One couldn't finish anything and the other is making Jimmy Carter look like a genius!

      September 12, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Reply
      • Norm - not that one

        and your response is: distort & blame democrats, whine, cry, bellow totally irreverent lies and bull – and ignore the point made?
        Bush has done more to "screw" this nation – since 9/11 – than Osama bin Laden EVER could even imagine!

        September 12, 2011 at 3:11 pm |

    We should have learned (if we didn't already know) not to trust our government. Ignored information, misinformation, flat out lies,......whatever you want to call it, our government failed us. Everytime we turn around we see more epic failures on the part of our government. We can't seem to trust our government for anything. The system that has been set up to keep the masses enslaved serves only the rich. When will the masses realize the federal government is not your friend, does not care about you and has no interest in helping you. What does the federal government do for you? Takes your money, lies to you, cuts any pathetic benefits you may have had and probably paid for, sends your kids off to get killed for oil, gives themselves raises (seemingly every 6 months), takes several weeks of vacation (while your lucky to get 1 week), destroys our envoronment. I could go on and on for hours. Hopefully this "civilized society" is near its end.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Reply
    • Jbanker

      You hit the nail right on the head....couldn't of said it any better if I tried. It's scary to think about how corrupt and unfair the government is, specifically to the lower/middle class. On a side note, has anyone seen the recent documentary of Pat Tillman the ex-NFL player (another example of the government lying)? He was killed by "friendly fire" and the government instructed everyone involved (soldiers, military personnel, etc) to lie and deceive his family and the entire country. Little did they know the truth would surface and the government would be exposed yet again for blatantly lying to the entire country. The government's corruption excelled when the Bush family stepped into office, for more on that check out some of these facts: http://www.rense.com/general14/bushsformer.htm...very sad.

      September 12, 2011 at 2:53 pm | Reply
    • Jon Michael

      Please explain to me how being wealthy, or increasing your wealth, comes at the expense of the "poor"? Economics is hardly a zero sum game. The "poor" do not pay taxes to begin with, so I fail to see how the "rich" are to blame. The "rich" man does not take a larger piece of the pie at the expense of others partaking. Instead, he goes and buys the incredients to make his own pie. Then when he wants to keep his pie exclusive to his family, we label him as greedy or as keeping down the little guy. He made the pie; if he wants to share it, give it all away, or keep it for himself then that is his perogative. If the "little guy" wants a bigger piece, then he should go and buy the ingredients and make HIS own pie. Instead, you expect the "rich" to keep making more and more pies that can be given to those who just stand around waiting for the next serving of pie to which they are "entitled". Go make your own damn pie 🙂

      September 12, 2011 at 4:06 pm | Reply
  9. Pliny

    Nice article on 12-Sep.

    It fails to mention that BEFORE 11-Sep, President Bush wouldn't read the Daily Presidential Briefing that had the BIG BOLD LETTERS on the front of it, saying "Bin Laden Determined to Attack Within the USA".

    I'm not religious. But I hope there's a hell....for Bush and Cheney.

    September 12, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  10. brown

    "the one percent of the federal budget we invest in our development and diplomacy programs is essential in addressing the threats we face and ensuring America remains a leader in the world. To not provide adequate resources to these vital programs through our International Affairs Budget is to risk forgetting the lessons of September 12, 2001."

    We will never pay extortion money to feel safe! If our government represented the U.S. people honorably, we would not
    need to worry about terrorism. Instead, the U.S. politicians are bought and paid for by international conglomerates and very well financed political action groups. Our politicians do the bidding of these special interest groups around the world ... THIS IS WHY THE USA HAS A TERROR PROBLEM!

    September 12, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Reply
  11. RealTorr

    With all due respect for the general, I think the lens of time has developed some deformations in this rendering of history:'Civilians on the ground' worked out as 'Halliburton', not as 'Doctors without borders'.

    September 12, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  12. Globe2020

    It would have been fabulous if they were celebrating the Yorishima and Nagasaki in the same manner.

    September 12, 2011 at 11:18 am | Reply

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