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October 11, 2004

Terrorism as "Nuisance"

So, John Kerry wants to think of terrorists as "nuisances" -- at least in the future. The full quote:

''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' the article states as the Massachusetts senator's reply.

''As a former law enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life.''

There are a couple of ways to look at this quote.

One could make the case that Kerry thinks of terrorism as a "nuisance," but that plainly isn't fair. It's partisan and hack and tendentious. He's talking about getting to the point where terrorism stops being mega-terrorism and becomes something we suffer through occasionally, as we did under Reagan, Bush I, and Clinton.

I suppose that's fair enough-- Bush may not say it, but most likely he doesn't figure that victory in the War on Terror will result in a complete abandonment of the tactic of terrorism.

But the quote is nonetheless very troubling.

The suspicion on the right is that the left isn't so much concerned with actually defeating terrorism as it is determined to defeat terrorism as an important political issue. Example: Bill Clinton's appeasement of North Korea didn't actually end North Korea's nuclear weapons program, as we all now know (and in fact which we knew at the time, too). Bill Clinton's appeasement was not a strategic victory, but it was a political victory-- North Korea continued trying to build nukes, but it wasn't reported on the front pages of the newspapers anymore.

We didn't achieve our national goal with respect to North Korea-- we achieved only Bill Clinton's short-term goal of being able to claim that we'd solved it, thereby removing it as an issue from the public debate. They didn't stop building nukes; they just did so secretly, with US connivance. They pretended (barely) to have halted building atomic bombs and we pretended we believed them. This didn't serve the national interest, but it did serve the interests of the Democratic Party.

What bothers me most about Kerry -- and the liberal Democratic Party generally -- is that it seems to take the same tact on Al Qaeda terrorism. They seem less concerned with the issue of terrorism than they seem bothered by the fact that terrorism is an issue-- and an issue that does not play to their political advantage. Kerry's various statements about the threat of terrorism being exaggerated, of being "uncomfortable" calling the War on Terrorism a "war" at all, seem to be gaffes of the Michael Kinsley variety-- i.e., making the mistake of saying what you actually believe.

I'm also very bothered by all this talk of an "exit strategy." An exit strategy, near as I can tell, is a condition which is well short of actual victory -- well short of actually achieving a military goal -- but which allows us all to "declare victory" and go home. "Exit strategy" is just a euphemism for "situation allowing us to pretend we've won."

I never understood the idea of the need for an "exit strategy." After all, if the military goal you seek to accomplish is so secondary or even trivial that you are planning, from the get-go, a face-saving exit short of victory, why were you fighting the war in the first place? It seems to me that if you're going to war, then that war should be a serious business, not some minor little scrape you're willing to half-heartedly fight and then pretend you've won and go back home.

If a war is worth fighting at all, shouldn't actual victory -- the actual achieving of the goals announced before the war -- be the only exit strategy you're willing to contemplate (absent factors that may turn out show the war is unwinnable, etc.)?

What I keep hearing from Democrats -- they don't actually say this, but I hear it nonetheless -- is "Please tell us when we can stop with all this terrible nasty business of fighting wars and killing terrorists. We don't like it. We're willing to go along for a while, because it seems politically popular with the rubes, but honestly, you have to give us a date certain at which point we can stop all this boystuff and get back to the issues that 'really matter,' like health-care."

And John Kerry's statement about getting back to the good old days of "terrorism as a nuisance" seems of a piece with that subtext. He doesn't seem interested in winning so much as he seems like he wants a Nixonian Decent Interval.

Bush and Kerry have two very different schedules for this war. Bush says, and believes I think, that we must fight this war until it is actually won. This is a scary thought-- but even if this turns out to be an intergenerational struggle like the Cold War, it is too important to lose. No matter what the costs, we must win.

Kerry, on the other hand, seems to be addicted to setting conditions for the quick declaration of peace. He foresees not a victory but a meaningless little scrap of paper signed by the likes of Yasser Arafat -- something which is not a victory, and yet can be spun as a victory by Jamie Rubin and Dan Rather.


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posted by Ace at 02:22 PM

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