October 3, 2007
By Alan W. Dowd
“We don’t need another president of 9/11,” New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman declared in his September 30 column. “We need a president for 9/12.”
Fair enough. Let’s stipulate that the Bush administration, after the trauma of Manhattan’s maiming, became so focused on preventing another 9/11 that it was unable to move beyond that worthy goal and turn the calendar to 9/12.
There are worse things, of course, and one of them is acting as if 9/11 never happened. And that’s the problem with some of the candidates in the 2008 field. These “9/10 candidates” fail to see the world for what it is—a very dangerous place.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich, for instance, was the only House member to vote against a bill that did nothing more than praise “the heroic actions of the passengers and crew aboard United Flight 93,” honor the bravery and sacrifice of the U.S. armed forces, recognize 9/11 “as both a day to remember those taken from their families, loved ones and fellow citizens and a day for Americans to recommit to the nation and to each other,” and reaffirm the House’s “commitment to defeating terrorists and their supporters who threaten the United States.”
Along with Rep. Ron Paul, Gov. Bill Richardson and Sen. Barack Obama, Kucinich wants to withdraw from Iraq as soon as possible and cede the frontlines of the war on terror to the enemy.
Perhaps these men forget that Washington tried that and it didn’t work. In fact, declaring victory and withdrawing—whether from Beirut in the 1980s or Somalia in the 1990s or Yemen in 2000—only emboldened the enemy. But don’t take my word for it. “When tens of your solders were killed in minor battles and one American pilot was dragged in the streets of Mogadishu, you left the area carrying disappointment, humiliation, defeat and your dead with you,” according to Osama bin Laden. “It was a pleasure for the heart of every Muslim and a remedy to the chests of believing nations to see you defeated in the three Islamic cities of Beirut, Aden and Mogadishu.”
Bin Laden and his followers understand what the 9/10 candidates do not—that Iraq is just one theater, one battle, in a truly global war.
For his part, former senator John Edwards rejects the notion that we are even in a war. “By framing this as a war,” according to Edwards, “we have walked right into the trap the terrorists have set.” He dismisses “the so-called ‘war on terror’” as a “bumper sticker, not a plan.”
Edwards promises to close the detention facility at GuantanamoBay and says he will grant detainees the right to take legal action against the U.S. government. Again, that’s the 9/10 way of looking at the world. Common sense dictates that our courts, and the constitution they interpret, exist for American citizens and legal residents—not our enemies. After all, our enemies aren’t impressed by the rule of law or the American justice system. In fact, they are trained to manipulate and abuse it. Moreover, from Pan Am 103 to the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993 to the embassy attacks in 1998 to the 9/11 attacks, a quarter-century of history reminds us that our courts are not equipped to protect us from foreign enemies. If they were, the WorldTradeCenter would still be standing.
In short, while prosecuting terrorists doesn’t work, prosecuting a war on terrorists and their partners and patrons has worked, at least so far.
Edwards is not the only candidate who wants to shut down GITMO, of course. Conflating various issues to obscure one of the very important objectives GITMO has achieved—namely, keeping hundreds of America’s enemies off the global battlefield—Richardson has declared that “Prisoner abuse, torture, secret prisons, renditions and evasion of the Geneva conventions must have no place in our policy…If we want Muslims to open to us, we should start by closing Guantanamo.”
Even some of the more sober candidates advocate GITMO’s closure. Sen. Hillary Clinton argues that “we should address any security issues on what to do with the remaining detainees, and then close it once and for all.”
To be sure, GITMO is an imperfect solution. Sen. John McCain argues that it has undermined “our ability to win the psychological part of the war against radical Islamic extremism.” Yet it has aided the military-security part of the war. In late 2001, as Kunduz, Kabul and Kandahar fell—and the U.S. captured hundreds of enemies bent on killing Americans, many of them willing to sacrifice themselves in the process—GITMO served American interests. And it was far better than other options at the time, such as: setting the prisoners free, sending them back to their countries of origin, summarily executing them, ordering U.S. troops to execute military justice in the middle of a war zone, or perhaps worst of all, injecting the prisoners into our own penal and judicial systems.
McCain, who is anything but a 9/10 candidate, has a 9/12 alternative: “I would move those prisoners to Fort Leavenworth,” he explained in a CBS interview. “And I would proceed with the tribunals.”
Those who think closing GITMO and sending its prisoners back from whence they came will solve this problem should think again. Many of the GITMO prisoners who have been released have been recaptured on the battlefield, which means American troops have had to outlast them twice.
That’s the very definition of self-defeating—and so is the 9/10 mindset that has infected too many of those who want to be America’s next commander-in-chief.