Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Then and now

President George W. Bush, address to the joint session of Congress, September 20, 2001:
Americans are asking: How will we fight and win this war? We will direct every resource at our command -- every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every necessary weapon of war -- to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror network.

This war will not be like the war against Iraq a decade ago, with a decisive liberation of territory and a swift conclusion. It will not look like the air war above Kosovo two years ago, where no ground troops were used and not a single American was lost in combat.

Our response involves far more than instant retaliation and isolated strikes. Americans should not expect one battle, but a lengthy campaign, unlike any other we have ever seen. It may include dramatic strikes, visible on TV, and covert operations, secret even in success. We will starve terrorists of funding, turn them one against another, drive them from place to place, until there is no refuge or no rest. And we will pursue nations that provide aid or safe haven to terrorism.
Charles Krauthammer, Fox News Sunday, January 1, 2001 (quoted here)
There's a great irony here. Everybody has been asking of themselves for the last four years why haven't we had a second attack, which everybody expected within weeks or months, certainly years. It didn't happen.

And we knew about the external story. The war in Afghanistan obviously had an effect on Al Qaida. The war in Iraq has diverted terrorists and jihadists into Iraq as opposed to attacking America.

But what we've heard over the last six months with these revelations, these so-called scandals, of the secret prisons where high-level Al Qaida have been held, the coercive interrogation which is under attack in the McCain amendment, and now the NSA eavesdropping -- we have the untold story which the administration could not tell. It knew why we had been protected.

All these defensive measures of gathering intelligence -- we were always weak on human intelligence, and that's why we had 9/11. And we don't have good spies inside Al Qaida. But we had a means, technological, in the NSA eavesdropping, and also other means in capturing these terrorists, of getting information.

It's worked. It's held us safe. And that's why I think in the end the president's going to win the whole argument on presidential power.
I commend also to your reading Dr. Sanity's passionate (and even, perhaps, intemperate) commentary on the Krauthammer quotation.


Blogger Alison said...

Interesting, but I am not convinced yet that the Patriot Act is responsible for the lack of an attack on US soil over the past four years. Prior to September 11, 2001, the last attack on US soil (not including the home-grown variety, who are not exactly the folks targeted by the Patriot Act) was the first World Trade Center attack in 1993. That's eight years, pre-Patriot Act, without a foreign attack on US soil. A four-year stretch seems a rather meager victory given the draconian means of achieving it.

10:16 PM  
Blogger WWS said...

Draconian means, Alison? Hmmm. Maybe, but although I wasn't around, I've heard that another generation of Americans endured much, much more -- and more "draconian" measures from their own government -- in pursuit of a word Bush dares to utter and his opponent seldom will: victory.

I am prepared to believe that Krauthammer is probably right: measures such as (but obviously not limited to) the ex-secret wiretaps have helped protect us from further horrible attacks since 9/11/2001. Of course, the recent betrayal of trust and secrecy may have compromised our efforts enough to give our enemies an opening. And no defense is ever perfect: there will probably be other terrorist attacks, of both foreign and domestic origin, in the future. But who can fail to be thankful for four years of homeland defense so far?

Still, terrorists are not our only enemies, and their bombs are not the only dangers we will face. The danger of abuse of executive power is real, especially in wartime, and an unaccountable executive may one day be a greater threat than Osama (my grandchildren will ask, "Osama bin-who?"). The framers of our constitution knew that the government itself must be restrained by law if it is not to become tyranny. I think it is a dangerous path to allow a president to employ our considerable intelligence apparatus outside the law. Imagine President Hilary with such a precedent as cover!

Oh, and one more thing. The most recent revelations of eavesdropping unencumbered by legal warrants have (as far as aI can tell) nothing at all to do with the Patriot Act, which is a proper law duly enacted by our elected officials. It is one thing to allow extraordinary (but legal) measures to be used against evil enemies. It is another altogether to say that our enemies are so evil that we cannot be bothered with any laws in our fight against them.

11:08 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

"It is one thing to allow extraordinary (but legal) measures to be used against evil enemies. It is another altogether to say that our enemies are so evil that we cannot be bothered with any laws in our fight against them."

There I agree with you 100%. I do find the Patriot Act draconian (what can I say - I am married to a librarian), but at least there I know what I am up against.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

As the librarian in question, I'll say that there are portions of the PATRIOT (acronyms should be capitalized) Act which are perfectly reasonable, and some which I'm sure have been proven to be productive, if extraordinary, measures.

Some provisions, however, are neither reasonable nor productive. These provisions must be allowed to expire. In our system, it's the government's job to defend regulation of constitutionally protected activity.

In secret matters, this puts the government at quite a disadvantage. How can you prove a negative without even disclosing your "secret" evidence? But this is the system which we wanted: one in which the government was accountable to its people.

It is the government's job to present evidence of a causal relationship between its activities and the historical outcome. It is not our job to assume their assertions to be truth.

Krauthammer has played into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. Absent actual evidence of an attack prevented by specific evidence gained, it is no less logical to assume that Bush's economic policy of tax cuts has provided us with 4 attack free years.

(Of course, the best evidence shows that the New York Yankees have failed failed to win the World Series since 9/12/2001. However, between 1993 and 9/11, they won it 4 times. It's the expanded executive power of the Sox, Marlins, Angels, and Diamondbacks which actually protects us. After it, therefore because of it.)

6:43 PM  
Blogger aram harrow said...

Um, there have been attacks on Americans almost every day since our invasion of Iraq. Just because Americans are blown up in Iraq rather than in the U.S. doesn't mean that they're any less dead. You might say the economic damage is lower, but that seems dubious to me too.
(Not to mention that if you care about the deaths of all humans, rather than only humans with American citizenship, than the war on terror has killed many many times more than 9/11.)

Also, there are few foreign fighters in Iraq. It's not "terrorists and jihadists" getting "diverted" into Iraq, it's ex-Baath and other disgruntled Iraqis turning towards violent anti-American resistance. This has led to a death rate in Iraq probably higher than under Saddam and a training and recruiting center for terrorists that is now exporting them worldwide (e.g. Morocco).
And opinion of America has plummeted to an all-time low throughout the Muslim world, hampering the cause of all liberal politicans there (e.g. Iran).

And outcomes aside, can we agree on how disgusting the "flypaper" strategy is? Let's turn Iraq into hell on earth so that it's Iraqi civilians who are collateral damage rather than American civilians. Even saying that this strategy makes "us" safer is profoundly racist and divisive (like Dr. Sanity): "us" should include both Iraqis and Americans, and if Iraqis die from reckless American interventions, then it is humanity as a whole that is the loser.

10:37 AM  

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