Firstly, I want to express my deepest condolences and sympathies with the People of New York, Washington, and with the families on board the 4 airliners.
From what we have heard, the passengers of UA 93, which eventually went down in rural Pennsylvania, knew about the attacks on New York, and knew that they were headed for a similar fate. The men aboard the flight voted to attempt to overpower the hijackers, knowing that they might have a miniscule chance of surviving, but that at best they would at least thwart the attack on whatever target their captors had in mind. I suppose, once we will have the evidence, it is during the ensuing struggle that control of the plane was lost. Those people aboard that flight, I feel, died as heros. They refused to die without a fight, and fought not only to save their own skins (which they certainly knew were almost certainly lost), but also to save those at whatever their intended target was.
Those aboard the other planes probably had little idea of what was going on, other than a hijacking. As hijackings are usually survivable simply by waiting, nobody can fault them for not having tried (as far as we know) the desperate gamble that occured on UA 93.
New York has never been my favorite town. I visited it a couple of times in the "Bad Old Days" before Guliani came to clean it up (I've heard he has done a tremendous job). But the solidarity and compassion shown by New Yorkers (of all people) seen around the world is a testimony to the deep character of the City, its people and its leadership. It is certainly a city that now, much more than before, I wish to visit, not to gawk at the remains of the WTC, but to see and meet the people that have risen up to this occasion.
President Bush so far has done the right things. He has let local authorites deal with the immediate aftermath, while he did his job rallying world support. His predecessor probably would have been in NYC the same day or the next for a photo-opportunity, getting in the way and causing security and other forces to have to stop the vital jobs they had to search for survivors and maintain order so that they could look after the security of a "tourist". Bush was right in waiting for a few days.
Right now, the Bush Administration has recieved pledges of outright support from most countries, and from others, more ambiguous statements. As Colin Powell said, "This is when we will find out who our friends are." For all of its horrors, this occasion marks an unprecidented opportunity to go after terrorism "root and branch". History will not look kindly at the world's leaders today if they let the opportunity slip by.
This attack has changed the way Terrorism has been seen by everyone. Gone are the days when the worst that could happen was a few dozen casualties - bad enough, but still a relatively small issue mainly limited to areas immediately surrounding an area of strife. Terrorism has now escalated to the level equivalent to an organized attack by a nation-state against another.
The rules, until now, have been to combat terrorism on a "civilized" basis - i.e. surgical strikes only. Knowing the civilized world's weakness in the face of possible civilian casualties, terrorists have used this to their advantage, and have hidden from retribution within non-combative (but often highly sympathetic) populations, while planning their next, even greater attack.
This attack must cause these rules to be changed. Make those populations wherin terrorists hide know that proximity to terrorists makes them targets that will not be forgone due to their presence. Let them know that they have a choice if they know terrorists live in their area - either move away (clearing the field of fire) or inform on the terrorists, allowing a more surgical strike, reducing the probability of collateral damage.
If we try to conduct this investigation according to the "old rules", we will not find the instigators of this attack, and we will not be able to stop them from planning and executing the next attack. It is quite clear that whoever launched this attack has been reading Tom Clancy's books, taking this attack almost directly from those pages. Other such pages describe a terrorist attack using a crude nuclear device, and we know that Bin Ladin has been trying to get his hands on such materials, and that these materials are, if not easily available, are still available.
If the investigation shows that Bin Ladin was indeed the instigator of this attack, Afganistan should be issued an ultimatum: Hand him over, or your nation will be considered as an active accomplice to an attack on another country's territory and civilian population, thus a legitimate object of a declaration of war by the U.S.A. against Afganistan. The bombing will stop only when the Taliban has enough and hands Bin Ladin over, or when there is nobody left to hand anyone over.
If extremist elements in other countries (like Syria, Palestine, Pakistan) start to jump up and down screaming "Jihad", the U.S. should call on those countries to make good on their promises for support. Either they qwell these elements internally, for the good of mankind, or be considered as further accomplices, and subject to the same treatment.
Make no mistake. War has been declared on the USA. By the invokation of Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, the rest of NATO has stated that in effect, an act of war has been committed against them all, and will lend all needed force, military or otherwise. Other nations outside of NATO have made similar pledges.
Could this be a precursor to WWIII? Perhaps. But war is not always evil. The U.S. shied away for over 2 years while Hitler rampaged across Europe - Had the U.S. jumped in earlier in the game perhaps Hitler would never have gone so far as he did. In the end, WWII WAS a battle of ggod against evil, and can you imagine the world today if the Axis had won by default, because the rest of the world did not have the stomach to fight them? And we certainly could not have beaten them had we kept to the current standard of "surgical strikes only".
The rules must change. People will die. But if done with the utmost conviction, this period may well be the last time we see terrorists attacking from behind unassailable protective walls, thus bringing their own existance to an end. The result of a intense, no-holds-barred fight now will ensure protection from increasingly destructive acts of terror. If we don't make a clear signal that terrorism will no longer be fought with one hand tied behind our backs, we will see this kind of attack more and more often.
I'm sure that there are hundreds of terrorists around the world right now, thinking, "I never thought it could be done - let's start planning our strike just like that one (or even bigger) right now!". Imagine what potential targets there are. A 747 right into the stadium during the Superbowl. Buckingham Palace. Parliament buildings in dozens of countries. The towers in Seattle or Toronto. Plenty of targets.