Commentary Magazine


Seven Years After

Making it through the past seven years without a terrorist attack in the Unites States constitutes a miracle even if Democrats pretend it does not. Such a national security achievement is the result of smart initiatives and the judicious employment of military force, even if President Bush’s critics treat it as sheer good luck. That such luck has selectively eluded Great Britain, Spain, Russia, China, Indonesia, and Turkey (to name but a few) during the same period of time is habitually ignored by those making the case against "the worst president in U.S. history."

While al Qaeda has managed to explode buses, trains and buildings in other world capitals, the United States–the terrorists’ number-one enemy–has thwarted at least 19 terrorist plots and killed or captured thousands upon thousands of Islamist terrorists. Yet, we are supposed to lament the great squandering of world sympathy and national resources foolishly overseen by our President in his misguided War on Terror.

If by "world sympathy" critics are referring to the 24-hour cycle of weeping international headlines that followed the attacks of September 11 or to the cc’s of Yasser Arafat’s donated (and almost certainly infected) blood, then they’re right: George W. Bush failed to put such valuable assets to work for America. And if by "resources" they mean American aid, then they are right there, too: Though Bush did increase international aid by an unprecedented 50 percent in three years, he failed to transform the U.S. – already the largest benefactor in world history – into a pure patron-state devoted to the health and well-being of its enemies. We will just have to live with the legacy of these missed opportunities.

But if by "world sympathy" one means the ethical self-interest of free countries in seeing that America remains the most powerful player on the globe, then President Bush has certainly made the most of a dwindling supply. At the time of the September 11 attacks, some key European countries were under the leadership of uniquely anti-American opportunists. To be sure, French President Jaques Chirac was more interested in the price of oil than the price of freedom, and German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder was adept at exploiting anti-American sentiment in order to consolidate popular support and cozy up to Russia. Even so, France, Germany and other NATO allies contributed to the coalition effort against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Bush even got Russia to provide the hospital in Kabul, used to treat coalition forces and Afghan civilians.

If Afghanistan is supposedly the "good war" and Iraq a disastrous war of choice, then Bush’s critics need to explain why our coalition for the former was so similar to our coalition for the latter. The main difference is that the two most cynical partners in Afghanistan–Chirac’s France and Schroeder’s Germany–bailed out on Iraq for the most cynical reason: financial partnership with autocrats. Happily for everyone, we are prevailing in Iraq without the help of France and Germany, and those two nations can now boast of dynamically pro-American leaders who, for the most part, share our level of commitment to the War on Terror.

In terms of resources, there is no doubt that America has paid a heavy price in blood and treasure to ensure that our homeland has remained safe these seven years. It is this very sacrifice on the part of so many men and women that demands an honest accounting of America’s progress against her enemies. For, even though Democrats use careful language in discussing our troops and they throw around terms like honor and duty, they imply in their every snicker and denouncement that American lives have also been squandered in Iraq. That brand of dishonest sanctimony is conveyed perfectly in something Nancy Pelosi said to Wolf Blitzer in February:

There haven’t been gains, Wolf. The gains have not produced the desired effect, which is the reconciliation of Iraq. This is a failure. This is a failure. The troops have succeeded, God bless them. We owe them the greatest debt of gratitude for their sacrifice, their patriotism, and for their courage and to their families as well. But they deserve better than the policy of a war without end, a war that could be 20 years or longer.

In other words: The troops have succeeded wonderfully in their failure, and by the way God bless them. And if you don’t yet grasp the pointlessness of the Iraq War, let me throw out an imaginary figure of 20 years and see if that does the trick.

The troops deserve better.

After September 11, it became clear that the forces of clerical barbarism in the Muslim world had to be destroyed to the best of our ability. Draining the swamp of theocrats would give Muslims a chance to improve their lot in this lifeand decrease the sick desire to atomize themselves into the next. The troops deployed in Iraq have not only succeeded in deposing Saddam’s Ba’athist regime, but also in defeating jihadists whose ideology poses a singular threat to American existence. Over the course of the war that Nancy Pelosi calls a failure, support for jihad has plummeted all over the Muslim world. Every major poll indicates popular Muslim disillusionment with Osama bin Laden and his nihilistic tactics. As soldiers and Marines, the men and women fighting in Iraq have done nothing less than ensure the continued existence of the free world. As civilians, we’re obligated to let them know we owe them everything.

Every criticism of President Bush’s national security record begins rightly with the charge that Osama bin Laden has not been captured or confirmed dead. Any honest defense of Bush must reckon with this fact. The story goes that in 2003 U.S. forces abandoned the hunt for bin Laden in eastern Afghanistan and shifted their focus onto Iraq, giving the al Qaeda leader a free pass so that we could take up arms against a regime unconnected to the attacks of September 11. Let’s put aside the fact that this is a false choice. And let’s put aside questions about the claim’s legitimacy regarding timelines, intelligence agencies, roaming fighters, Iraq’s terrorist ties, and the dynamics of force deployment, and simply accept the accusation at its most damning. To wit: Bush lost bin Laden by going into Iraq. Okay: If I were offered the choice of taking out one al Qaeda mastermind who had recently been reduced to the status of cave-dwelling spoken-word artist or more than a thousand senior al Qaeda operatives and tens of thousands of armed Islamist soldiers, I would choose the latter a thousand out of a thousand times.

And the proof is in the pudding. Consider the decimated state of al Qaeda and related organizations since they’ve come up against overwhelming American force in Iraq. As CIA director Michael Hayden recently put it, we’ve seen "Near strategic defeat of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Near strategic defeat for al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia. Significant setbacks for al-Qaeda globally." Would the hunt for one man in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan have yielded better results? In answering, don’t forget the debilitating caution employed by the U.S. inside Pakistani territory (at least until recently) so as not to upset Islamabad.

Again, it’s not a real choice, but if the Democrats want to peddle the bin Laden or Iraq line, they should be prepared to say why Bush chose wrong. No, it’s not acceptable that Osama bin Laden hasn’t been killed or captured, but his evasion of American forces has not occurred in a vacuum. What the U.S. has accomplished apart from the failure to get one man has undoubtedly saved countless American lives, freed millions in the Muslim world, and mobilized anti-radical sentiment throughout global Islam.

The truth is something vital has been squandered in the years since we were attacked. It’s not the world’s sympathy or money or American lives. I fear we’ve squandered the chance to remember and relearn what it means to be a part of the longest-running and most honorable revolution in world history. To appreciate not just the fruits of American democracy, but the frustrations and sacrifices that were endured in creating and defending it. Instead of excoriating our president for his blunders and setbacks, we should have been rallying, as a nation, recalling in our history the many times we triumphed in the face of determined and evil adversaries. We’re told we’ve forgotten about the principles of our Constitution, but as Americans sit around and freely describe our elected leaders as fascists and our soldiers as indiscriminate killers, it’s clear we’ve forgotten what it takes to keep those principles alive.

Seven years ago, we all went out and bought American flags and covered everything in red, white, and blue, knowing perfectly well we were heading into years of war. Today, our Democratic nominee for president is at pains to admit to an American victory. Something has indeed been wasted in seven years. But luckily, much as been saved. This is George W. Bush’s last September 11 in the White House, and I’d like to take the opportunity to say, "Thank you, Mr. President."

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