Friday, January 23, 2009

Terrorism and Politics

JDR ponders the links between terrorism recruitment, national security, and the Bush administration's illegal policies:
Anyway, the Dearly Departed screech that torture and illegal detentions kept America safe from another 9/11. As the same policies help terrorist organizations recruit and gain support. Also, a couple of huge terrorism magnets called military invasions.

But it would be terribly naive to suggest that reversing these policies necessitates further terrorist attacks... oh, thank you Marc A. Thiessen, former chief speechwriter for Bush, in your 
WaPo op-ed from today:

"If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation."

It would be even more terrible, however, if the American people hold Obama responsible for any terrorist attacks in the near future. They would surely be the responsibility of the Bush administration; if not even motivated by the Administration's disastrous policies, than for the simple fact that terrorist plots take time, and would have been hatched and developed on their watch.

Politically, the problem is clear: if there were a successful terrorist attack here in the next 4 or 8 years, it could have nothing to do with the reversals of Bush-era policies on Guantanamo, torture, extraordinary renditions, etc. - but it could retard our progress on those matters indefinitely. 

The correlation between illegal torture and detention policies and the absence of another 9/11 could be entirely coincidental - certainly there have been attempts at attacks (and thank God they weren't successful!), but there's no reason to think that those attempts couldn't have been stopped if the USA had been acting lawfully. 

This is what's going to make the re-establishment of the rule of law so difficult: Bush convinced the right (and more than a few people in the middle) that breaking the law is ok if it keeps us safe. In fact, according to their logic, if the administration breaks the law in order to keep America safe, it hasn't broken the law at all. If you're scratching your head, you're not alone. But if you were paying attention over the last eight years, you shouldn't be surprised: this notion is the work of John Yoo, who infamously asserted that if the president needs to crush the testicles of a detainee's child, there is no law that can stop him. (No, I'm not kidding.) This is why Retired Major General Antonio Taguba concluded in 2008 that there was "no doubt" the Bush administration committed war crimes; the only question remaining is why so few people seem to care. 

So - if the next attack comes, which will prove stronger? Our laws or our illusory goal of complete safety? 

This, by the way, seems like a good time to quote the wonderful Sarah Vowell, who, back in 2006, captured perfectly what was so maddening about Bush's approach to this issue:
Whenever I hear the president mention, oh, every 12 minutes, that his greatest responsibility is "to protect the American people," the insufferable civics robot inside my head mutters: "Actually, sir, your oath, the one with the Bible and the chief justice and the Jumbotron, is to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. For the American people are not mere flesh whose greatest hope is to keep our personal greasy molecules intact; we, sir, are a body politic — with ideals."

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