November 13, 2006
The Worst CaseBy J.R. Dunn
The 2006 midterm elections mark the worst defeat for the West since the opening of the War on Terror. What the Jihadis have not been able to accomplish in the field, the American political system has done for them.
Last Tuesday voters were attempting to vote away the war. Not simply the Iraq War, but the War on Terror in general. It's an understandable reaction. For five years the people of this country have had to endure fear and anxiety of a kind they are utterly unused to. These tensions have become focused on Iraq, the most visible aspect of the overall conflict. People can recall a time, tantalizingly close, when things were otherwise. They are unable to face up to the fact that those day are gone for their lifetimes. They needed to strike out at someone. Unable to strike at the Jihadis, they struck at who m ever was closest.
Now the Democrats are in control of Congress, with the tacit implication that things will be different. Their actual plans are not at all clear. The danger is that they'll act now just as irresponsibly as they did during earlier crises. Those of us old enough to remember the Democratic response to Vietnam in the 70s and Central America in the 80s have very little faith in claims of political maturity. (Particularly since the party's progressive wing — no less than 62 representatives — is meeting with none other than George McGovern, the apostle of spinelessness, for the purpose of planning a complete withdrawal from Iraq 'by next June'.)
In both cases, the response was, not to put too fine a point on it, to cut and run. In Southeast Asia, cut and run resulted in the deaths of several million between the Cambodia Year Zero massacres and the flight of the Boat People from Vietnam. The Nicaraguans, Hondurans, and Salvadorans were luckier. The opposition — disdainfully termed the 'Contras' by the American left — held out until free elections took place, unseating the Sandinistas and ending the threat. (And here we have none other than Danny Ortega back in office! How's that for a divine tap on the shoulder?)
But we can't cut and run from the war on terror. The United States proper escaped scot—free from both previous efforts to evade its historical obligations. There's no escape this time. To attempt retreat from engagement with terrorists will be to drag them right back with us.
Some commentators have spoken of a sense of responsibility that will dramatically seize the Dems once they take office. While not inconceivable, it's never happened before. Others point out the number of conservatives (so—called 'Blue Dogs') among the new Democratic congressmen coming in. But the Blue Dogs are freshman, and by definition powerless. The reins are held by the same products of the 60s who have been in control since McGovern's heyday. Their program will be what it always was — anti—military, anti—defense, and anti—American. Asking them to be different is asking a leopard to change his spots, a thing that has never been and will never be.
With a presidential campaign coming up, the Democrats need to appease their MoveOn wing. (Not to mention the ACLU, Amnesty International, Code Pink etc.) This they will do by the simplest means possible: a straightforward assault on the administration's foreign policy. The more conservative freshmen, in concert with the GOP, may well prevent an outright defunding of the war or a precipitous Vietnam—style pullout. But everything else is up for grabs. In a short piece for NRO, Ramesh Ponnuru has put the stakes as clearly as anyone could.
Bad enough. But the main target of the Jihadis is not Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Pakistan. The main target is the United States.
If the Dems remain true to their record, we can expect investigations of virtually every domestic security program put in place since 9/11, if not before. The grounds for these circuses will be the standard 'assault on liberties' accusation used, with considerable success, against the Patriot Act, the financial surveillance program, the overseas cellphone intercepts, and the domestic radiation surveillance program, among others.
The model will be the 1975 Church committee, in which Sen. Frank Church, angling for a shot at the presidency, took on the 'rogue elephant' of the CIA, and through exposure, publicity, and dubious testimony damaged the agency to such an extent that in some ways it hasn't recovered to this day.
The result will be overall paralysis. Counterintelligence operations of the type being carried out against the Jihadis require boldness, initiative, and a willingness to take risks and play hunches. All that will evaporate under the fear of subpoenas or even indictment.
This will not be the result of conscious decision. The vast majority of the individuals carrying out this effort are patriots of the highest order, who would willingly die for this country and its people. But consider the shadowy nature of intelligence to start with, and how difficult it is under the best of circumstances. How do you carry out such operations with hostile, prying eyes constantly peering over your shoulder, ready to pounce on the first mistaken judgment or error of interpretation? The simple answer is: you don't.
With the best intentions in the world, our people will slow down. They will hesitate. They will reconsider. They will check twice or three times where once would have sufficed. Throw in the fact that the leadership will be tied up in testifying or depositions, and it can be easily seen how things will begin to slide. These people have done yeoman work defending the country for the last five years. They have broken up conspiracy after conspiracy — Lackawanna, Lodi, Padilla, Portland. But the era of repeated home runs is now over.
(Clear evidence for this can be found in this article on congressional refusal to pass the bill authorizing warrantless wiretaps. So a crucial program, one known to have detected Jihadi networks, is now on the way out.)
It doesn't matter how it will come. It will come when we least expect it, by some method we never guessed. I would not be surprised if such an attack occurred within six months. I would be very surprised if one did not occur within two years. If it does not, it will be a matter of luck and nothing else. (Dame Eliza Manningham—Buller, chief of Britain's MI5, announced this week that no less than 30 terror plots against the UK were currently being rolled up. How many are active against the U.S.? As has been said so many times that people have ceased hearing it, all the terrorists have to do is succeed once.)
For a time, it seemed that we might get through the current conflict without making the same errors that occurred during the wars against fascism and communism. But it appears that the default position of democracy in long wars is quietism and appeasement, and there is no avoiding the occasional collapse into such a state.
Republican ineptness, Democratic ideology, George W. Bush's inability to ignite a fire, and something contemptible in the American character have combined to bring us to this point. We will not see our way past it without blood, flames, and grief. There are people —— there is no discreet way to put this —— who pulled the lever last Tuesday that began the process of their own deaths.
We need to live with an eye open, as we did in the days and weeks following 9/11. Be careful in airports and in malls. On aircraft, on subways, in the vicinity of tunnels and large buildings. If you see something troubling, tell the authorities, and if they don't listen — and it's possible, considering the tenor of the times, that they won't — get out. We can't save the U.S. from the upcoming series of blows — in truth, it doesn't want to be saved. We have to come to terms with the fact that it will require yet more deaths for the country to take this war seriously.
J.R. Dunn is a frequent contributor to American Thinker.