A Debate We’re Happy To Have

Seriously, the deja vu couldn’t be more defined; the latest salvo in the current national security debate in the presidential election so frighteningly similar to the nature of the debate four years ago it’s enough to make your head spin.

And at the heart of it, despite all the talk that McCain is somehow a different form of Republican, he’s already telegraphing that he intends to use the dirtiest of the Republican dirty tricks.  Not push polls, not whisper campaigns, but the politics of fear.

Somehow, I’m simply not all that shocked.

When you pare it down to its barest components, the argument remains largely unchanged since the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001; Democrats are too weak to defend you, and if you vote for them, you’re going to die.

The specific exchange runs like so.

Obama:

Well, but the fact that they disagree does not mean that they’re right on this. What it means is, is that they have been willing to skirt basic protections that are in our Constitution, that our founders put in place.

And it is my firm belief that we can track terrorists, we can crack down on threats against the United States, but we can do so within the constraints of our Constitution. And there has been no evidence on their part that we can’t.

And, you know, let’s take the example of Guantanamo. What we know is that, in previous terrorist attacks — for example, the first attack against the World Trade Center, we were able to arrest those responsible, put them on trial. They are currently in U.S. prisons, incapacitated.

And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, “Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims.”

So that, I think, is an example of something that was unnecessary. We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that was consistent with our laws.

The McCain campaign’s response:

“Barack Obama’s belief that we should treat terrorists as nothing more than common criminalsdemonstrates a stunning and alarming misunderstanding of the threat we face from radical Islamic extremism. Obama holds up the prosecution of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 as a model for his administration, when in fact this failed approach of treating terrorism simply as a matter of law enforcement rather than a clear and present danger to the United States contributed to the tragedy of September 11th. This is change that will take us back to the failed policies of the past and every American should find this mindset troubling.”

[Bold added for emphasis]

Of course, one could challenge the factual assertions brought on by the McCain camp; specifically those that argue that it is Obama who exhibits a “September 10th” mindset, that such an approach to combating terrorism would only make us less safe.  The implication is that it was this kind of thinking, that silly adherence to our own laws, that resulted in the terrorist attacks that resulted in the death of three thousand Americans six and a half years ago.

The argument itself is fallacious, as anyone who has read the 911 commission report, along with other excellent works such as Richard Clarke’s Against All Enemies, should rightly be able to attest to.  The failures that led to one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in our nation’s history are far too complex to be so easily categorized as falling victim to a “September 10th mindset”.  It’s almost laughable that seeking to not simply defend, but uphold and follow the constitution has a single iota of anything to do with it.

Which is at the very heart of what Obama was saying.  As he said, quite plainly might I add, no need to add context, “We could have done the exact same thing, but done it in a way that is consistent with our laws.”

This becomes the nature of the argument.  All Obama is arguing, at this point, is that we follow our laws; that we continue to aggressively pursue terrorism, but we do so shockingly enough, in accordance with the constitution.

The McCain campaign ignores this argument almost entirely, seeking to mischaracterize Obama’s argument.  Putting words in the Democratic candidate’s mouth, they try to force a repeat of the dust up back in 2004 with John Kerry’s “nuisance” argument (which itself was a solid argument that was grossly taken out of context and then flogged to death).  This they do by using the term, “common criminals.”

Obama never said “common criminals,” but the McCain campaign goes with it anyway to portray Obama as someone who doesn’t understand the terrorist threat before us.

As has been discussed time and again, the irony of the “September 10th mindset” argument is that it wasn’t necessarily a specific mindset that resulted in the attacks on September 11th.  There were procedural barriers, and communication hurdles, and a slew of systemic problems that needed to be addressed, but there was also massive widespread negligence as shown by the ignoring of the PDB that warned of Osama bin Laden determined to strike in the US, or by the fact that outgoing Clinton administration officials warned the incoming administration that Osama bin Laden and his brand of terrorism would be their chief National Security concern, yet those words went unheeded.

But arguments such as those put forth by the McCain campaign aren’t intended to be intellectual arguments made in good faith.  They are fear tactics, plain and simple.  McCain, to be sure, has actually done little to prove that he himself is adequately prepared to combat terrorism; he hasn’t really managed to explain an anti-terrorism program, let alone the working theory behind it, and when it comes to radical Islamic terrorism, can we really say he knows what he’s talking about when he continues to confuse Shia and Sunni, and has such a poor grasp of the Muslim world that he can’t rightly say which country would be training which terrorist organizations?

Central to Obama’s anti-terrorism construct is a foreign policy that focuses on dignity promotion, an intensive theory that would seek to reduce the power of terrorist recruitment through improving the quality of life, while at the same time continuing to go after active terrorists, but in doing so we maintain our actions within the letter of our laws, and we actually go to where the terrorists are (Pakistan, Afghanistan), as opposed to making new terrorists where they weren’t before (Iraq).

John McCain’s anti-terrorism plan appears to be to stick to what Bush did, and attack Obama for being weak.

Noted conservative pundit, George Will, has a pretty solid take down of McCain’s recent flare up over the Supreme Court’s Habeas decision, but while he does a fair bit of the leg work, he fails to bring it to its ultimate, undeniable conclusion.

And this conclusion, one I have made countless times, is where McCain seems almost blissfully ignorant of the true nature of terrorism.  Terrorism is radical and violent action that seeks to enact drastic political changes.  It’s not just about killing people, but about bending those who survive to the will of the terrorists.

The concept of America is based upon its laws and its freedoms.  It is found in our constitution, and is on display not merely when people wave flags, but when people question their government, and exercise their right to free speech and free thought.

When we torture, when we wiretap people without warrant, and when we hold prisoners indefinitely without the rights of Habeas Corpus, this is not protecting America, it is essentially destroying it.  It is destroying the integrity of the idea that makes it what it is.

John McCain’s entire argument is that America is not strong enough neither in the abstract or in the real, to stand against terrorism as it is, so we must change America, we must cede certain rights, and we must forfeit certain principles in order to survive.

In truth, McCain’s lack of faith in America and her laws is a greater act of anti-patriotism than refusing to wear a flag pin could ever be.  And worse still, it is a clear signal that the terrorists have succeeded.  The attack that they launched against us six and a half years ago was proven most successful not because of the three thousand murders committed that day, but because that attack was enough to get America to abandon its core principles.

That is the final conclusion.  If we can no longer adhere to those precepts that make America what it is, that is the truest failure terrorism could hand to us.

Personally, I would kind of like to not lose to terrorists anymore, but then, that’s why I’m voting for Obama.  And like Obama, this is a debate I’m more than happy to have with McCain and those who don’t think America can beat the terrorists.

More at Memeorandum: TPM Election Central, National Review, Hugh Hewitt’s TownHall Blog, Confederate Yankee, Commentary, Althouse, Liberal Values, The Sundries Shack, Marc Ambinder, The Washington Independent, American Street, Hot Air, Political Machine, Israel Matzav, Oliver Willis and Sister.     Weekly Standard Blog, DownWithTyranny!, The Corner, Power Line, Los Angeles Times, Below The Beltway, The Seminal, War in Context, Angry Bear and PoliBlog (TM)

 

2 Responses to “A Debate We’re Happy To Have”

  1. Jimmie says:

    I have to ask you. Which core principles did America give up in 2001? Illegal combatants have never had Constitutional rights before just this past year. We have, in fact, held enemy combatants until the end of hostilities. We have even tried illegal combatants before a military trubunal and executed them – something which has not happened to anyone taken in this war, even those our soldiers saw actively trying to kill our solders while in violation of the Geneva Conventions.

    Which core principle disappeared, then?

    And, as well, our country has never hesitated to monitor communications made between a suspected enemy outside of the United States and any other person, no matter who that person was. You might have heard of our code-breaking techniques during World War II, in which we intercepted communications between an enemy and their own embassies. Certainly that was “spying” as you choose to define it, when part of the communications happened on US soil (which some of it did).

    Which core principle have we jettisoned?

    The truth is that the Bush administration has not done anything that other administrations haven’t also done in the middle of a war. Indeed, what the President has done has been mild compared to other administrations. When it comes to civil rights and domestic freedom, the Bush administration is a kindergarten recess compared even to the peactime government of Woodrow Wilson, who had government-endorsed thugs roaming the streets to enforce his edicts.

    So, really now. Given a little US history education, you should have enough on the ball to know that we haven’t jettisoned a single core principle of this country in the past six years. Not one. It’s a nice little slogan and it riles up the progressives who have forgotten folks like Wilson and Roosevelt and it makes the DNC a ton of cash.

    But it’s incorrect.

  2. whosoever should come must spread peace in the world.

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