Monday, October 11, 2004

When terrorism is a public nuisance

On page 6 of the on-line version of Kerry's Undeclared War, Matt Bai writes:

But when you listen carefully to what Bush and Kerry say, it becomes clear that the differences between them are more profound than the matter of who can be more effective in achieving the same ends. Bush casts the war on terror as a vast struggle that is likely to go on indefinitely, or at least as long as radical Islam commands fealty in regions of the world. In a rare moment of either candor or carelessness, or perhaps both, Bush told Matt Lauer on the ''Today'' show in August that he didn't think the United States could actually triumph in the war on terror in the foreseeable future. ''I don't think you can win it,'' he said -- a statement that he and his aides tried to disown but that had the ring of sincerity to it. He and other members of his administration have said that Americans should expect to be attacked again, and that the constant shadow of danger that hangs over major cities like New York and Washington is the cost of freedom. In his rhetoric, Bush suggests that terrorism for this generation of Americans is and should be an overwhelming and frightening reality.

When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. ''We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,'' Kerry said. ''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.'' [Emphasis added]

I'm already at a point where the jihadists are not the focus of my life, thank you. However, Kerry's vision of "terrorists as acceptable criminal nuisance" is not the kind of film-noir future I want to live in. For one thing, it would coarsen our society, tolerating behavior akin to that of the KKK, lynch mobs, and the Timothy McVeighs of the world.

Mr. Giuliani said it well:
The idea that you can have an acceptable level of terrorism is frightening. How do you explain that to the people who are beheaded or the innocent people that are killed, that we’re going to tolerate a certain acceptable [level] of terrorism, and that acceptable level will exist and then we’ll stop thinking about it?
I don't want to live as they do in Israel, wondering where the next atrocity will be while still mourning the victims of the last blast. That's not acceptable to the people in Bali, Saudi Arabia, Madrid, Pakistan, India, Beslan, Taba, Ras Shitan, or Baghdad either.

I agree with President Bush that the war against the jihadists may take decades. Yet the President is working to build a better world along the way, because he has a vision of leaving a legacy of freedom and democracy in our wake, of "spreading the peace".