It's exactly six months since al-Qaida terrorists operating from bases in more than a dozen nations attacked the World Trade Center and Pentagon and killed more than 3,000 American civilians on their own soil. A month later -- after nearly a decade of inaction against al-Qaida attacks -- America struck back. In less than two months, al-Qaida's host regime in Afghanistan was destroyed. This victory was accomplished with a minimum of casualties; an international coalition against terror was forged. No small accomplishment for America's commander in chief. (Last week's flare-up near Gardez was a predictable last gasp for Taliban and al-Qaida forces, and it was put down within days, despite equally predictable cries of doom from the media and the left.)
But there are some who can't take yes for an answer. In some quarters President Bush, the leader responsible for these triumphs, is himself under siege. Even Salon, after initially praising the president and his handling of the war, has gone on the offensive. Its regular Bushed! column seems dedicated to the notion that the president hasn't done anything right since the military victory in Afghanistan, and overall, wasn't up to the job of president in the first place (I've asked in another column how Salon can praise Bush's handling of the war and still think he's stupid, and still haven't received an answer.)
These attacks come in an environment of ongoing danger that makes them even more difficult to comprehend. There are an estimated 100 al-Qaida cells operating within the borders of the United States. During the last decade, 100,000 terrorists have been trained in al-Qaida's terror camps from the West Bank to Afghanistan. Fighting in Israel has spiraled out of control, and there seems no end to the crazed suicide bombers who will kill themselves and innocent Israeli civilians in the name of the Palestinian cause.
From the beginning Bush told the American people this war would be a long one. In this, as in other matters affecting this conflict, the president has told the truth -- no small matter as far as our security is concerned, and after eight years of the Clinton presidency, a wonderful trait. Al-Qaida first bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, and Clinton did not even visit the site. Even after that wake-up call, he failed to identify the threat to this country from Islamic extremists. For eight years the Clinton government did not inform the American people what government intelligence showed: that our country was under attack by an international army of religious fanatics whose backers included half a dozen nations armed with weapons of mass destruction. Nor were the most basic security measures undertaken -- at airports for example -- to prevent the loss of American life.
Where are the articles about Clinton's incompetence in liberal publications? (OK, Salon ran one, Andrew Sullivan's, but has devoted far more stories to documenting Bush's shortcomings.) Where is the contrast between Clinton's not being up to the job as commander in chief, vs. Bush's masterly response to the war against us?
As we face this enemy -- even post-Afghanistan -- our borders are still porous and our airport security systems a feeble joke. Domestic surveillance -- our only real defense -- has been hamstrung for decades by laws that prevent the FBI from looking at groups dedicated to destroying the United States unless they can be shown to have acted on their agendas, i.e., already committed criminal acts. The ACLU and other groups are fighting a rearguard battle to preserve such restrictions.
But in the midst of this unprecedented national crisis, which unites all Americans as potential victims, and only six months after the initial attack, the political left is in full bore attack -- not against al-Qaida or its domestic allies or the gaps in our security that put us in danger, but against Bush, his administration, and in particular Attorney General John Ashcroft, who is attempting to reform a system that permitted the slaughter of 3,000 Americans.
In other words, politically it is business as usual on the left. Go up to the Web site of the Nation, which supported every Communist enemy of the United States during the Cold War -- from Stalin through Mao, Ho and Fidel -- and behold its priorities. Its editors are currently featuring "Enron at Home and Abroad," a Nation series attempting to "Enronize" the Bush administration, an article about reparations for a race riot in Tulsa in 1921, several articles demonizing Attorney General Ashcroft, and a "Prayer for America" by Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. This prayer is in fact an attack on the commander in chief and a hope that America will not defend itself in this war: "The trappings of a state of siege trap us in a state of fear, ill-equipped to deal with the Patriot Games, the Mind Games, the War Games of an unelected President and his unelected Vice President."
Notice that Kucinich does not concede that we actually are in a state of siege, but suggests instead that the Bush administration has put on the "trappings of a state of siege" (and done this with the intention of trapping Americans in a state of fear). This is exactly what domestic Communists -- and the Nation -- said about the Truman, Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations as they attempted to ward off the Soviet threat.
A leader of the so-called "Progressive Caucus" of House Democrats, Kucinich contrasts America's good to America's bad: "Crown thy good, America. Not with weapons of mass destruction. Not with invocations of an axis of evil. Not through breaking international treaties. Not through establishing America as king of a unipolar world." In other words, what is bad in America is the Bush administration's program (or rather a caricature of that program) for defending Americans against al-Qaida's attacks.
Meanwhile, former president Jimmy Carter -- who has spent much of his ex-presidency continuing the delusions of his own administration by identifying America rather than its enemies as the source of world problems -- has let everyone know that Bush's reference to an "axis of evil" in his State of the Union address was itself the evil: "I think it will take years before we can repair the damage done by that statement," he told an Emory University conference on the impact of terrorism. A phalanx of anti-administration columnists has seconded the charge.
What these Bush critics need is a good old-fashioned reality check. Iran, Iraq and North Korea are regimes whose official hatred of America is not only quite public, but has a religious dimension that makes it a thousand times more serious. Properly understood, North Korea's hatred is also religious -- albeit the religion of Marxism. All three of these countries are not only developing weapons of mass destruction, but intercontinental missiles as well. This is why Bush identified them as an axis of evil: to put them on notice to stop. The Bush administration is racing against time to prevent attacks on America that al-Qaida is already trying to carry out. If this takes preventive war, so be it.
Yet there is a virtual chorus from the left -- including the editorial pages of the New York Times and Democratic Party spokesmen -- attempting to undermine Bush's public base of support on the war. Have they forgotten the lessons of the 1930s, when the demented author of Mein Kampf was not taken at his word? What is so difficult about understanding the fact that this nation is engaged in a life-and-death struggle with people who not only would have no religious compunction about killing all 300 million Americans, but claim to have a religious basis for doing exactly that? While the enemy is busily identifying America as the Great Satan, an entire American political spectrum is busily telling their fellow citizens that they don't really mean it.
These critics adopt a similar attitude toward al-Qaida's allies on the West Bank. Yasser Arafat rejects a peace offer that includes 95 percent of his demands, and does so by bombing women, children and teenagers. Yet these acts are regarded as "tactical errors" rather than as indications of the evil of his cause itself, which is to destroy Israel and the infidel Jews.
Certainly Salon is not the Nation. Salon's editor, David Talbot, has wisely and courageously embraced the war. But at the same time he has also indulged in some facile Bush-bashing he ought to reconsider. Talbot recently wrote an assessment of the war effort's failures so far, identifying the escape of bin Laden and his major lieutenants and the descent of warlord-run Afghanistan into civil anarchy as prime among them. Fair enough. This kind of criticism can make an important contribution to the successful prosecution of America's cause. But consider the terms in which Talbot writes about the president who has led the war effort and his secretary of defense. "Speaking of Rumsfeld, just what is the secret of this man's appeal? ... Are they [the press] relieved that an administration presided over by a goofy and inexperienced leader [Bush] -- someone who still seems weirdly young at age 55 -- has a grown-up at home?"
But if Donald Rumsfeld were actually running the president rather than the other way around, others would be pulling Bush's strings as well. Why did Talbot leave out Cheney, who was the previous candidate for puppet master in chief? And what about Colin Powell, no slouch at bureaucratic infighting himself? If Talbot's assessment were remotely accurate, the White House would resemble the situation in Afghanistan -- battling administration warlords -- which rightly causes Talbot concern: There would not be a leader running this war; there would be chaos instead. Not only would the entire world know of this immediately, but all of us who depend on a commander in chief to make decisions and to make them correctly would be in the deepest trouble we could possibly imagine.
The American people should be grateful for having this particular president in the Oval Office, and not the man whom he defeated, and surely even Salon editors should realize this by now. In the year and a half since his electoral defeat and in the six months since America was brutally attacked, Al Gore hasn't figured out what he should do to help lead his country in its time of need -- I can't imagine how he'd make the tough decisions Bush is making every day.
The American people need George Bush, but George Bush also needs the support of the people. A nation united behind its leader is the only nation that can win a war conducted within its own borders. Eighty-plus percent of the American people understand this and are grateful for a leader who has led so well in the conflict to date. The facile Bush critics -- particularly those who during the impeachment process kept pointing to Clinton's ratings in the polls as a rationale for keeping him in office -- should recognize that on this matter the American people once again are right. Our president deserves their support, in wartime most of all.