Pain muted, but loss remains 7 years after 9-11

The stinging sadness and wide-eyed wonder many Americans felt on the days and months after Sept. 11, 2001, are gone.

No longer are we incredulous that people can hate America – and Americans – so deeply, as the followers of Osama bin Laden did when they hijacked four planes to kill as many of us as possible. No longer are we surprised at how easily terrorists reached our shores and trained among us to do their deeds.

But by that first anniversary, we had learned important lessons. We learned that unfettered travel and wide-open borders made America a much too easy target for those who would do us harm. We learned that our geographic isolation from strife in the Middle East was no buffer. We learned how much we needed to learn about the radical believers of Islam, whose political repression, poverty and hopelessness had become a powerful recruiting tool for terrorists.

Back then, we vowed to aggressively address those issues, and we have made some progress. But on this seventh anniversary of the 9-11 carnage, when crashed hijacked planes left more than 3,000 in America dead and countless others injured, too much attention has been diverted from those vital issues.

Today, the war in Iraq has become the main focus of the U.S. response to 9-11. Yet none of the hijackers came from Iraq, and Iraq's alleged ties with the Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network have been discredited. Since the U.S. invasion, Iraq has attracted al-Qaida operatives and become embroiled in a civil unrest that now requires U.S. presence.

But experts say a broader strategy is needed. Much more focus is required on tackling those issues the U.S. identified early on – particularly understanding and addressing the reasons behind radical Islam and what leads some Muslims to become violent terrorists to this cause.

Seven years later, the profound sorrow we felt as a nation on the morning of Sept. 11 no longer exists. But the loss remains. Today, we should remember, and once again find unity in our loss and in our commitment to finding the best ways to secure our safety.