Former New York Gov. George Pataki, who led his state through the 9/11 terrorist attacks that transformed the nation a dozen years ago, tells Newsmax TV that President Barack Obama continues to "lead from behind" while al-Qaida has "morphed into a dangerous organization" that is no longer on the run.
"Sadly, al-Qaida is not on the run, despite the rhetoric of last year's election. Al-Qaida has morphed into a dangerous organization. We see its attacks globally in Benghazi and Mali and Yemen, and al-Qaida is very active in the opposition in Syria," observed Pataki in an exclusive interview on Wednesday.
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"Whether or not we're at greater danger, I can't say that. But I can say that we always will be [in] danger because of our love of freedom and our support for those who believe in freedom," he said. "I'm sure they would try to do it again."
Pataki, who served as governor from 1995 to 2006, spent the morning at Ground Zero with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg remembering the series of events. He said he recalls them at times as if they happened yesterday, while at other times, 9/11 could have happened a lifetime ago.
"We hold the same memorial service, reading of the names, ringing of the bell, and just reflecting back on the magnitude of the loss and also on the individual stories that some of the family members told about their loved ones who died that day," he explained.
"Longer term, this is the 12th anniversary. Being down there at the memorial above the museum just reminded me of what a tremendous, tremendous achievement it has been in creating that memorial that is so moving and so powerful — and the museum, which should be opening next year — will tell the individual stories of the people who died and the people who responded so heroically.
"This is something I know I and most Americans who saw it, whether in person or on television 12 years ago, will never forget."
He said he has been disappointed by President Obama's handling of the Syrian crisis.
"It's disappointing that this president continues to, as he put it, lead from behind," according to the former governor. "It doesn't seem to me to constitute leadership. It's more like a vocation and it's sad when Vladimir Putin looks like a statesman in dealing with the United States."
In 1994, Pataki defied the polls by defeating Mario Cuomo in a gubernatorial upset. He presided over New York’s economic resurgence in the 1990s and had been widely credited in leading New York City back to health after the devastating attacks of 9/11.
"To be perfectly honest, I don't want to talk politics today," he explained of the president’s speech the night before. Pataki acknowledged that he has "no real sense" of Obama’s policies toward Syria after listening to Tuesday’s speech.
"This is something where we are best off supporting our allies as opposed to getting in the midst of that civil war, but I honestly have no real sense of what this president's real policies toward Syria is, other than now going to the U.N. to see what may or may not happen there," he said. "How can you support a policy that in my mind doesn't really exist?"
He worries whether the next mayor of New York will continue to take the necessary steps to prevent another tragedy like 9/11.
"The people of the city understand that they're the safest they have been in generations — not just from terror, but also from street crime," he said. "That doesn't just happen. It takes the proactive effort at every level of government from the city to the state and even with the help of the fed. So I'm hopeful that as New Yorkers look forward, they're going to say, 'Do we really want to go back to the way it was not that long ago, in the early and mid-'90s? Or do we want to continue to move forward the way we have?'"
The New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the New York Police Department over its surveillance of Muslim communities, accusing the police of trampling on religious freedoms and constitutional guarantees of equality.
Meanwhile, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie acknowledged Wednesday that officials have to protect the civil liberties of Muslims in a post-9/11 world, as New Jersey recently signed a law requiring federal entities to notify the state of federal surveillance.
"It's just completely wrong. Twelve years after 9/11, we in the city have been fortunate to have avoided additional attacks because of the proactive policing," Pataki explained. "The [NYPD] has done a tremendous job and they've foiled plots that would have been carried out against the people of New York and the people of America. It just gets to the point where people assume we're going to be safe, and you can create all of these bureaucratic or legal hurdles to get the intelligence we need to keep ourselves safe, and I just don't support that."
Describing Tuesday’s lawsuit as "unfair," Pataki said the city isn’t singling out any religious groups.
"It's not a question of targeting a religious group," he said. "It's a question of going after those and having adequate intelligence against those who engage in radical behavior and threaten our safety."
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