9/11 Commission Chair Returns to Drew
Tom Kean tells religious studies classes U.S. is not prepared for next hit
Sophomore Alessio Faiella was writing a political science paper last May when he learned U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden. He joined other jubilant Drew students celebrating the terrorist’s death, but had second thoughts afterwards: Was it right to feel that way? What did Bin Laden’s death mean?
On Sept. 13, two days after the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Faiella asked former N.J. Gov. Tom Kean how he felt when he heard about bin Laden. “I felt good about it,” answered Kean, who was president of Drew when George Bush appointed him to chair the 9/11 Commission in 2002. “This was a man who killed 3,000 people, so I was glad that guy was not in the world any more.” But bin Laden’s death did not eliminate the terrorist threat, he added. “The threat has changed, and we’ve got to change our response.”
The former governor met with religious studies students during a Q&A session at Drew organized by Jonathan Golden, associate director for Drew’s Center on Religion, Culture and Conflict. Most of students asked about American foreign policy in a post-9/11 world. None asked Kean—a Republican who recently co-authored a report saying the U.S. remains vulnerable to terrorist attacks—whether the country was safe.
Kean, whose report criticized the government for failing to implement many of the commission’s key recommendations, seemed far more worried. He told students another attack is certain. “The technology of bombs is ahead of the technology of detection,” he said, noting new body scanners cannot detect plastic explosives.
The political veteran also answered questions about the Tea Party, Libyan-American relations, and the partisan nature of politics. He criticized Tea Party members as isolationists, suggested the U.S. let Libya do its own nation-building, and derided Washington politicians for not knowing how to find middle ground. Kean also said he was saddened by polls reporting Americans have no faith in the future. “That’s the worst thing in the world. We need to articulate our ideals, and build on the unique things about this country,” he said. “Yes, we have hard problems, but people need to believe that our greatest days may be ahead.” —Mary Jo Patterson
Watch a special Drew interview with Tom Kean, hosted by video journalist Ted Johnsen C’07.