Do you remember where you were on the morning of September 11, 2001? I certainly do—vividly. I remember pretty much every second. I remember every feeling—horror, anger, and fear are the first that pop into my head. That morning, life in the United States changed in a million little ways. We went from a firm feeling of security to a stunning realization that, yes, even the United States of America can fall victim to the evils we’d gotten so used to seeing ‘somewhere else.’
I just went back and read a piece I wrote on the one-year anniversary of the attacks. The feelings were more raw then than they are today. But while my feelings spurred by the 9/11 attacks may have faded a bit, I am saddened to see that many people have let them disappear altogether. Many have forgotten that, as of that day, we are a nation at war. Many have fallen back into an ignorant belief that the United States is safe and need not take extreme measures to protect itself.
We may be a little bit confused because this war is unique; it is unlike any we have fought before. We’re not talking about one maniacal dictator or a single enemy country—or even a single enemy bloc like the Axis Powers of World War II. This war takes many forms—some ‘traditional’ like Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom in Iraq, and some non-traditional like our battle against al-Qaeda terror cells in the U.S. and abroad. But this is a war, and it is a war in which we are under constant threat of enemy attack.
I can’t reiterate it enough, because many have lost track of that greater context here. The ‘War on Terror’ is not some run-of-the-mill law enforcement project like the ‘War on Drugs’ was, and it does not exist separately from the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq. These are three battle fronts in the same overarching campaign, and despite mistakes that have been made they are all still worthy causes and justified actions.
Given there were no weapons of mass destruction and there was clearly no direct connection between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 attacks, some ask how I can still support Operation Iraqi Freedom as part of the War on Terror. Simple: Iraq is a lightning rod that is attracting terrorists—including members of al-Qaeda—from all over the Middle East. Our brave soldiers can hunt them down and kill them there, long before they make it to American soil. Deposing a maniacal madman and building more free democracies in the region are excellent bonuses too, so I fail to see what the problem is. War is hard; we knew that going into it.
But I’ve gone a bit Off on a Tangent.
My main point is that, when under threat, nations must do things that they would otherwise find distasteful. Military tribunals, secret prisons, domestic spying, and invading foreign countries are all normally antithetical to a free republic, but when dealing with a belligerent enemy some precepts of our society be temporarily set aside in the name of national security. This has been done in every war the United States has ever fought where our security was directly at risk—the Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War I, and World War II. In fact, some of the temporary civil liberty suspensions from these past wars make a little wiretapping look positively inoffensive.
Wartime military tribunals (even those resulting in the immediate hanging of treasonous U.S. citizens) and other past invasions of our peacetime liberties (like Japanese internment during World War II) have rarely, if ever, been ruled unconstitutional. It is unlikely that the domestic wiretapping that’s got so much attention lately would either. It is well established that the Commander-in-Chief has extraordinary power in a time of war, and those who call the rarely-used domestic wiretapping process ‘illegal’ need to read up on presidential war powers and U.S. history in general.
If you’re looking for a potentially illegal domestic surveillance system, look no further than the Clinton-era Carnivore program. The program—implemented by the FBI in peacetime—monitored all email sent from selected servers, ostensibly for the purpose of determining which emails could be legally intercepted. Now, if it turns out that Bush’s wiretapping program listens in on every phone call in an aimless search for a particular caller, maybe then I’ll start entertaining talk of impeachment.
With the program as-is, it seems to me that we should be thrilled it’s being done. I would be a lot more worried if we weren’t engaging in limited domestic surveillance to prevent a repeat of the 9/11 attacks. Not having this program would be an impeachable offense.
We are at war. If it takes a limited, temporary infringement of a few of my freedoms to maintain the safety and security of the United States through this difficult time, I am happy to make that sacrifice. I’m willing to accept that an overseas phone conversation may be accidentally intercepted, the same as I’m willing to accept a thorough search at the airport and a TSA agent rummaging through my luggage. These are small prices to pay for the maintenance of freedom—tiny sacrifices when compared to those made by previous generations in their wars, by the victims of terrorism, and by our armed forces.
So how about we keep this all in perspective, eh?