It's been, as analyst Ralph Peters wrote, a winning time for terror.
The threat of terror today is as great, if not greater, than ever. As technology proliferates, it's almost inevitable that, at some not-too-distant time, terror groups will get their hands on weapons of mass destruction. And in Afghanistan, the enemy is using new, sophisticated tactics that have made the future of that country a question mark, at the same time that support for the Afghanistan war has dwindled in the United States.
We have recently seen troubling developments. First, Scotland released the imprisoned Lockerbie bomber to his home country of Libya, where he received a hero's welcome, despite assurances that he wouldn't. Then, the Obama administration announced that the Justice Department would reinvestigate CIA officers for possible abuse of detainees in the years after the 9-11 attacks. Even with President Obama conceding that Al Qaeda is planning new attacks against us, we're destroying the morale of our first line of defense.
And the administration also announced that the questioning of terror suspects was being taken out of the hands of the CIA and placed in a vague inter-agency unit called the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group, with direct White House supervision. Under the group's very restrictive rules, according to Dan Henninger of the Wall Street Journal, "the class of person who blows up skyscrapers, American embassies or the USS Cole would spend less time under a bare light bulb than a domestic robbery suspect."
David Rivkin, a former Justice Department official, said, "This is a full return to a September 10th mentality."
Part of this phenomenon can, of course, be attributed to the passage of time. It's been eight years since the 9-11 attacks. Young people entering college now were 10 years old when the planes struck. The tragic day is becoming a distant memory.
We've been here before:
- Put in World War II terms, today is to 9-11 what 1949 was to Pearl Harbor. By 1949 World War II had been over for four years.
- After the end of that war, also wanting, as the current phrase goes, to "move on," the United States disbanded 90% of its armed forces. By 1950, when we chose to resist Communist aggression in Korea, we didn't even have a jet fighter equal to that of our enemies, and we had to scrounge around for ships to supply our troops.
- After the bitterness of the Vietnam War, Congress turned on the CIA - shades of today - and paralyzed the agency's usefulness by a series of investigations and restrictions.
- And of course, a wall of separation was built in the 1990s between the FBI and CIA, making it nearly impossible for them to exchange information vital to protecting us against terrorism.
Today, there is a growing sense that the administration's new actions, its attitudes, its underlying commitments, reflect something more than a change in tactics. They reflect a way of looking at the world, and at their own country, a way that is troubling, and leads inevitably to the politics of appeasement that produced catastrophe in the past.
What must be done? What must be done is a reset - not of our relations with Moscow, which is the context in which the term is most used these days - but a reset of Washington's relations with the world, and with its own people. These must be the terms of that reset:
1. We must reassert our right of self-defense, including preemptive action. In the nuclear age, the notion that we must wait for the murderer to be inside our front door is absurd. In recognizing our right of self-defense, we must also recognize the importance of an industrial base devoted to defense manufacturing.
2. We must reassert American leadership. Yes, yes, we're all for "multilateral" action, but, in the end, free nations look to the United States. Even Madeleine Albright, President Clinton's secretary of state, called America the "indispensable nation," and she was correct.
3. We must reassert our belief in democracy. It's very well for so-called "realists" to ridicule a commitment to democratic reforms, but, without an assertion of democracy, America isn't America. The president's sluggishness in responding to the recent freedom demonstrations in Iran, and the negative reaction to his indecision, showed what is expected of American leaders.
4. We must not shy from the word "victory." When did that become an obscene expression? Of course we should strive for victory. Churchill, in the midst of the greatest war in human history, did not speak of "coming to a multicultural understanding with those who differ from us." Just as we must assert the importance of victory, we must understand the consequences of defeat.
5. We must once again educate our young generation in the nation's brave heritage, and the importance of their participation in it. It is disgraceful that many young people have never met a soldier, and it's a sad fact that many are educated in schools and colleges that have an antagonism toward the military.
6. We must reject, passionately and firmly, the notion that we are required to respect or accept "other cultures," and that we must not be "judgmental." As free people, we are not required to respect cultural practices or attitudes that we find abhorrent. And we insist that "to judge" is the basis of civilization. To govern is to choose, to make judgments, and we will do so. Those who argue against "judgmentalism" are using a kind of code language to weaken our resolve.
7. We must reassert the American character. We are not an ideological nation, but we are an idealistic nation. When we stray from the American ideal, we begin to shrivel, and we end up like everyone else, which is clearly not who we are.
There is, obviously, work to be done.