February 19, 2008

It Depends On How One Views Death

E.J. Dionne wonders whether John McCain may have his priorities askew in the upcoming election. By focusing on terrorism as the "transcendent challenge", McCain may misunderstand the concerns of ordinary Americans in 2008 and make himself irrelevant, Dionne argues:

Whether McCain is right or wrong matters to everything the United States will do in the coming years. It is incumbent upon McCain to explain what he really means by "transcendent challenge."

Presumably, he's saying that Islamic extremism is more important than everything else -- the rise of China and India as global powers, growing resistance to American influence in Europe, the weakening of America's global economic position, the disorder and poverty in large parts of Africa, the alienation of significant parts of Latin America from the United States. Is it in our national interest for all these issues to take a back seat to terrorism?

McCain makes his claim even stronger when he uses the phrase "21st century." Does he mean that in the year 2100, Americans will look back and say that everything else that happened in the century paled in comparison with the war against terrorism?

But such a debate won't happen unless Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton challenge McCain's assertion directly and offer an alternative vision. There is reason to suspect they might fear doing so. They shouldn't.

Dionne may prove accurate in his analysis. He may see the American public as increasingly tired of fighting terrorists, and more interested in pocketbook issues. Other areas of foreign policy might have more appeal, especially the re-run of the Japanophobia of the 1980s as the Sinophobia of today.

But does that make Dionne right? Let me ask it this way. How many people think that the rise of China as an economic power might kill 3,000 Americans in New York on a bright late-summer morning? Do people believe that the purported alienation of Latin America will bring a car-bomb attack on Americans in Buenos Aires? Will the supposed "growing resistance" to American influence in Europe wind up killing 200 people in embassies in Africa?

Of course not. In truth, the issues that Dionne mentions remain with us regardless of whether terrorists exist or not, and they're addressable at the same time. McCain will undoubtedly address these foreign-policy issues during his campaign. That doesn't make them more important than terrorism, or especially less urgent.

What a difference we see between September 12, 2001 and today! On that day and for the next few years, we couldn't wait to accuse people in and out of government of treating terrorism exactly the way Dionne suggests the Democrats should treat it now. The departure of 3,000 Americans into the dust of New York City put terrorism at the center of our consciousness for the first time, despite a string of attacks on American assets over the previous eight years. We spoke about connecting dots, institutional apathy, and a lack of focus.

Now, six years later, we have forgotten that terrorism kills. It doesn't just put us in a bad trading position, as if tthat's anything new. It doesn't just annoy people in Latin America. Terrorism kills Americans, hundreds and thousands at a time, and terrorists plan on killing many more of us if we get complacent about it. If John McCain reminds us of that and people don't listen, eventually we may discover in a very grisly manner just how right he is -- and just how bad our attention span got after 9/11.


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» Best advice (from a GOP perspective) so far in 2008 for the eventual Democratic nominee from BeldarBlog
Columnist E.J. Dionne, in today's WaPo, gives us an op-ed entitled A 'Challenge' Worth Challenging, in which he writes: [O]ne of John McCain's favorite lines — his declaration that the transcendent challenge of the 21st century is radical Islamic extre... [Read More]

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