In responding to Senator Barack Obama's stance on the phenomenally ineffective detainee program at Guantanamo Bay, McCain campaign Foreign Policy Advisor Randy Scheunemann had this to say:
Barack Obama's belief that we should treat terrorists as nothing more than common criminals demonstrates a stunning and alarming misunderstanding of the threat we face from radical Islamic extremism. Obama holds up the prosecution of the terrorists who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 as a model for his administration, when in fact this failed approach of treating terrorism simply as a matter of law enforcement rather than a clear and present danger to the United States contributed to the tragedy of September 11th. This is change that will take us back to the failed policies of the past and every American should find this mindset troubling.
And, as if we needed further proof that McCain plans to continue dealing with geopolitical reality with the same fearmongering tactics popularized by President Bush, we soon got to hear from Mr. Noun Verb 9/11 himself, Rudy Giuliani:
Throughout this campaign, I have been very concerned that the Democrats want to take a step back to the failed policies that treated terrorism solely as a law enforcement matter rather than a clear and present danger. Barack Obama appears to believe that terrorists should be treated like criminals -- a belief that underscores his fundamental lack of judgment regarding our national security. In a post 9/11 world, we need to remain on offense against the terrorist threat which seeks to destroy our very way of life. We need a leader like John McCain who has the experience and judgment necessary to protect the American people.
Ah, adorable Rudy, blissfully maintaining that this post 9/11 world sent President Bush on the path to an offensive "against the terrorist threat which seeks to destroy our very way of life," when in fact it's been a path of pure appeasement: abandoning the effort to roll up al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan while providing them, along with every other malevolent actor in the region, with a gaping power vacuum in Iraq to fill.
Still, the disturbing constant between Scheunemann and Giuliani's remarks is this perverse hate for "law enforcement" as a bulwark against terrorism. Since when did our law enforcement professionals become such an object of derision - the weak sister in the security framework? Well, since the first time any modern President had the opportunity to indulge in some wild-eyed, demagogic fearmongering on September 11th. Cast your mind back to March 20, 2004, when Bush was competing against John Kerry in Florida:
BUSH: Some are skeptical that the war on terror is really a war at all. Senator Kerry said, and I quote, "The war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law enforcement operation."
BUSH: I disagree. I disagree. Our nation followed this approach after the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. The matter was handled in the courts and thought by some to be settled. The terrorists were still training in Afghanistan. They're still plotting in other nations. They're still drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers.
It should be noted that before Bush basically called out law enforcement officials for being ineffective, he effusively welcomed them to the event: "The high sheriff is with us today. And thank all the law enforcement people that are with us today." So it's good to know that Bush wanted their votes, even if he didn't want their help.
Unfortunately for Bush - and now McCain - law enforcement has proven itself to be extremely effective in fighting the war on terror. It was law enforcement officials - customs agents at that - that foiled the "Millenium Plot" to bomb LAX. Law enforcement. The British foiled a plot to blow up U.S.-bound planes because of a meticulous, months-long law enforcement operation. And, as far as the role law enforcement might have played in thwarting the events of September 11, I'd imagine that a former law enforcement official by the name of Colleen Rowley might have something more substantive to say about running terrorists to ground than Rudy Giuliani ever will.
Via Steve Benen, we have Will Bunch nicely summing up the scorecard:
Makes you wonder, doesn't it? Most of the big victories in "the war on terror" have been racked up by cops, not by soldiers. Why, it's almost as if terrorism is a law-enforcement problem -- and less of a threat when it's handled well in that fashion.
And while men like McCain run around like molerats, equating - as Bush did in Florida - the work of law enforcement officials with that of process servers, you should remember that the largest institutional failure in advance of September 11 was the agency that held, in their hot little hands, a memo that said that Osama bin Laden was "determined to attack in the United States" and decided that the occasion called for more brush clearing.
One would be remiss to dismiss the work of our military, but the simple fact of the matter is that they are neither trained nor are pre-disposed to the sorts of operations that effectively eliminate terrorist threats, such as infiltration, tracking networks of arms dealers, building racketeering cases, and conducting forensic investigations. And with General David Petraeus taking over at CENTCOM, the mission is likely to shift even further in the direction of pure counterinsurgency strategy, rather than pro-active and deliberate anti-terror efforts.
McCain's lack of respect for the ways in which law enforcement agencies can effectively, and on a long term basis, thwart the efforts of international terrorists, is something that Americans should find disturbing. This is the path Bush took - cutting law enforcement out of the equation because he believed the War on Terror was some primitive contest between militarized alpha-dogs. But at the end of Bush's term, we can use his own words to describe his lack of efficacy: The terrorists are still training in Afghanistan. They are still plotting in other nations. They are still drawing up more ambitious plans. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to fight our enemies with a president bent on continuing Bush's broad mistakes.