The Test of Our Age or a Bumper Sticker Slogan?
Most Americans go about their daily business with few interruptions to routines ingrained well before 9-11. We don't have a legacy of terrorism like the British, although we have been subject to periodic attacks both homegrown (Oklahoma City bombing) and imported (the 1993 World Trade Center attack). 9-11 was a sea change of sorts as our government was fundamentally reorganized (Dept. of Homeland Security), law enforcement authorities were provided with more encompassing power (the ever-controversial Patriot Act), we initiated two wars under its auspices (Iraq and Afghanistan), and air travel became more complicated with passenger screening, liquid bans, even racial profiling.
There remain fundamental disagreements, however, about the nature of the ongoing terrorist threat and the appropriate response. Rudy Giuliani, "America's Mayor," and a leading contender for the GOP presidential nomination, considers "Islamofascism" the test of our generation. Echoing President Bush's initial response to 9-11, he prefers to "play offense" with international terrorists, to fight them overseas to prevent attacks on the home front. This pro-choice, thrice-divorced New Yorker leads the pack in national polls largely because many on the right consider terrorism the overarching issue in the coming election.
John Edwards, the former Vice Presidential candidate and current contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, suggested in a recent debate that the "war on terror" is little more than a bumper sticker slogan. Beyond calling for the immediate withdrawal of American troops in Iraq, Edwards contends that we are less safe since 9-11 on account of misguided and mismanaged wars and an overall failure to combat the issue through law enforcement vehicles, not extra-constitutional means like Camp X-Ray at Guantanamo Bay.
The fundamental question of our continued involvement in Iraq brings all of these issues to a head. Regardless of how one feels about the justification for entering the war, we can all agree that Iraq is in a state of civil war. Will an immediate or phased withdrawal force Iraqi leaders and its military to rise to the challenge and enforce a so-far elusive peace? Or will it lead to bloodshed on the scale of genocide and provide a fertile training ground for international terrorism? Recently departed British PM Tony Blair and President Bush argue the latter, but newly enshrined successor Gordon Brown may bring at least a partial retraction of this position. The entire field of Democrats who would replace Bush universally adopt the former position.
The success of the Democratic Party in the midterm congressional elections last fall serves as one indicator that the American public is arguably closer to the Democrats on this issue, and the coming presidential primaries and caucuses, with the general election to follow, will provide second and third opinions coinciding with the seventh anniversary of 9-11.
Across the pond, Blair's Labor Party has waned in popularity as he stood by his American brethren, and Brown's assumption of the mantle provides a two-year test run of staying the course or scaling back in Iraq. British voters will follow with a verdict of their own in 2009.