by Victor Davis Hanson
That Was Then, This is Now…
The current furor over the three water-boarded terrorists is right out of the old Greek idea of excess leading to hubris leading to nemesis leading to destruction. Do we really wish to revisit 2002?
In that seminal year 2002 — remember Bali, the intifada bombings, the 800 Russian hostages, John Allen Mohammad, Jose Padilla, the Buffalo Six al Qaedists, and the lingering fumes from Richard (”shoe-bomber”) Reid and the anthrax letters? — Democrats were chest-thumping about keeping us safe. To be fair, everyone was. Bush had a 62% approval rating, and gained in the mid-term elections that hinged on matters of national security. The new Department of Homeland Security was having us remove shoes and throw away liquids from our carry-on luggage.
Meanwhile everyone from Thomas Friedman to Andrew Sullivan was advocating an invasion of Iraq to remove Saddam. Democrats were edgy, as the Clinton era was framed as a period of “firewalls” and futile cruise missile attacks that had only empowered al Qaeda. A majority of the Democrats in the Congress, worried about the upcoming November elections, voted in October for 23 reasons to go to war against Iraq. Harry Reid was giving fire and brimstone speeches about going into Iraq. Clinton was toxic, deemed dallying with Monica as our enemies plotted their attacks.
In this context, the country was convinced that radical Islam was on the rise, that another 9/11 was inevitable, that genocidal tyrants like Saddam were whipping up anti-American feeling in the Middle East, and that a popular George Bush was doing all that he could to keep us safe — barely.
So Nancy Pelosi and Jay Rockefeller were briefed on the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that led in 2002 to the waterboarding of the first of three murderers in Guantanamo. Neither at the time objected to the practice.
The Strange Case of Eric Holder
“It seems to me you can think of these people as combatants and we are in the middle of a war. And it seems to me that you could probably say, looking at precedent, that you are going to detain these people until war is over, if that is ultimately what we wanted to do.” Later in 2002 Holder elaborated, “One of the things we clearly want to do with these prisoners is to have an ability to interrogate them and find out what their future plans might be, where other cells are located. Under the Geneva Convention, you are really limited in the amount of information that you can elicit from people…[They] are not, in fact, people entitled to the protection of the Geneva Convention. They are not prisoners of war…Those in Europe and other places who are concerned about the treatment of al-Qaeda members should come to Camp X-ray and see how the people are, in fact, being treated.”
Again, that was 2002, when the Democrats, like the Bush administration, were desperate to show the public that they too could stop another 9/11 and keep us safe.
Seven years of safety at home bred the assurance of perpetual safety from another 9/11-like attack. The 4,000 killed in Iraq created “my perfect three-week war was ruined by your five year screw-up.” Two presidential elections meant every item of the war on terror became politicized. All that and more have led to a new narrative: There was never any real threat. Bush whipped up fear. Democrats were misled. Liberal hawks were duped. We, not a Khalid Sheik Mohammed, were the real problem. Guantanamo was a Stalag. And so on.
But the problem with constantly metamorphosizing to keep ahead of the hourly curve is that one never quite catches up. Barack Obama variously has trashed the Patriot Act, wiretaps, email intercepts, renditions and military tribunals. He promised all troops gone from Iraq by March 2008. And he said our Predators were blowing up innocents in Pakistan and Afghanistan. And then candidate Obama became President Obama and essentially flipped on every anti-terrorism issue, and simply kept the Bush protocols, albeit with new euphemisms (”overseas contingency operation,” “man-made catastrophes,” etc.); his supporters almost magically ceased the “shredding the Constitution” slurs used against Bush. And here we are.
All We Need Now is Joe McCarthy
Nancy Pelosi, after calling for an inquisition, now would find herself right in the middle of it. If a lawyer is to be tried, ruined, or disbarred for offering a legal opinion, then what about a Congressional representative whose oversight allows waterboarding to continue? Will Pelosi want more memos released, à la Cheney, to show that the practice that she authorized by her complicity in the oversight briefings paid dividends by preventing new attacks?
The fact is that, once war is redefined as a criminal justice matter, everyone in government comes under this French Revolution-like reign of revisionism — did Eric Holder once authorize Clinton-era renditions? Does blowing apart suspected terrorists by Predator attacks in Pakistan without habeas corpus constitute executions?
And, of course, if we are hit again by another 9/11 attack, will all the above cease in a nanno-second, replaced by new recriminations of laxity? And would people look back in appreciation that Bush & co kept us safe for years.
If I were the Democratic leadership, I’d move on, so to speak.
Everyone I think knows what is ahead. These mega-stimuli soon will have the effect of kick-starting the economy again — as well as the natural ying and yang of the boom-and-bust cycles that we’ve grown accustomed to, as well as reduced energy costs and global discounting of prices.
And then as the economy starts to inflate, we expect that there will not be prudence and cutting, but even more borrowing and spending to fund everything from cap-and-trade to national socialized health-care. When these mega-trillion dollars are added to the national debt, and as the government absorbs ever more of the private sector, we will sputter again, as inflation roars back, and as taxes punish the entrepreneurial classes. So this time the natural recovery won’t quite come as before and resume the normal American era of growth.
Instead we will be told we are lucky to be a France or the Netherlands. The poorer become wards of an aristocratic technocracy that runs things that sort of work, the entrepreneurial class is content to be of a fossilized middle status, scheming how to avoid government regulations, moonlighting, bartering, and shunning hiring permanent workers, as mass transit, universities, airports, and health care become all subject to periodic strikes. I think we will soon adopt the European mentality — hoping our children will find a good government, life-time guaranteed job rather than become a farmer, contractor, family-practice doctor, etc. — and with it the mentality of the spread-it-around group, not too much of that nor too little of this, happy that we are all becoming alike and nurtured by brilliant overseers who tell us to wash our hands, inflate our tires, and pay our patriotic fair share.
Big Brother comes not with jack boots and May Day parades, but with a kindly therapeutic smile — inviting all of us to accept hope and change and forget what we were.
©2009 Victor Davis Hanson