Monday offer a bruised America an emotional roller coaster ride
In what I suspect wasn't a rare experience, I learned of the latest tragedy in New York City in circumstances eerily similar to those of two months of Mondays earlier. When the news of smoke billowing from a jet crash in New York first came over my radio, I thought I was hearing a recording from Sept. 11.
Only when I heard reports from other stations did I accept the news. Still, I felt disjointed. It seemed like some science fiction scenario in which we were doomed to replay the terrible events of Sept. 11 again and again.
My assessment was New York City plus jetliner equals terrorist attack. It stretched credibility to believe otherwise.
We're at war, after all, and war especially in its early stages usually isn't a string of victories, ending in the opponent's defeat. Too, administration officials have consistently warned of further attacks.
If Monday's crash wasn't as spectacular or as sophisticated as Sept. 11, I reasoned, that too should be expected. I figured this was a more off-the-cuff act by a weakened enemy. Besides, the very success of the first attack ensured hijackers would never again have access to the controls of airliners.
Instinctively, I looked overhead. The contrails, so visibly absent in the days following Sept. 11 and, until recently, noticeably reduced, filled the sky. Jets weren't going into strange circular holding patterns like they did that day either.
It was a breath of normalcy and was the first signal that successive news accounts wouldn't pile up the bad news with "War of the World" regularity as they did two months ago. Still, I kept the radio on at the office all morning just in case.
Unexpectedly, the news was good, or as good as it can get on a day 255 people lose their lives.
As the day went on, federal officials began to speak with confidence that the jet went down because of engine failure. That's small solace to those on board, their families or airlines trying to recover from public jitters, but it make most of us feel less vulnerable.
In what was honestly good news, it appeared Taliban resistance was crumbling. Opposition forces raced into Kabul.
For the second time in two years, American air power has apparently defeated a foe with our military personnel experiencing very few causalities. That's encouraging, as is the possibility actual fighting will be over soon.
Tempering that optimism is the fact that the Taliban is retreating into what we are told is the home territory. There they will be bolstered by Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda forces, who have nowhere to retreat and can't be expected to defect.
It's impossible to know how effective a fighting force the Taliban remains. The same can be said about its opposition, which is obviously fractured and includes elements that switch sides for their survival or advantage.
Even with a quick victory in Afghanistan, our commitment in this conflict isn't over. It includes the continued search of conspirators in the Sept. 11 attack and vigilance of continued intelligence, but will also require less popular engagement in world events.
We can't let countries slide into the chaos that Afghanistan has experienced over the past decade. That instability gives terrorist organizations that are pariah elsewhere a haven as they support fringe revolutionary elements. Bin Laden settled in another such country, Sedan, before taking refuge in Afghanistan.