Cliff May

It's of little consequence to most of us what historians of the future will say about George W. Bush. More important is whether there will be historians in the future who can work in freedom. That, in turn, depends on the outcome of the war now being waged against the world's free nations.

There are those who will call what I've just written hysterical. They can't imagine the United States being defeated by Islamist regimes and networks. The dismissive question Stalin posed in response to opposition from Pius XII - "How many divisions does the Pope have?" - they ask about al-Qaeda and Iran's ruling mullahs.

The Soviet Union is long gone and the Vatican remains. Moreover, those who believe nations can be destroyed by conventional militaries but not by "asymmetrical warfare" are akin to primitive tribesmen thinking the missionaries crazy to warn about germs: How could such tiny creatures overcome grown men armed with sturdy bows and sharp arrows?

One thing Bush has done right since 2001 is to take the fight to the enemy. The spectacular attacks of 9/11 were planned by militant jihadis operating from a safe haven provided by the Taliban - the Islamist group that ruled Afghanistan in the 1990s. By contrast, terrorists who must hide or stay on the move, who are nervous about communicating by phone or email, who worry constantly that they may be killed or captured are less likely to successfully organize sophisticated operations.

There are those urging Barack Obama to curtail eavesdropping on terrorist suspects abroad, cease clandestine operations against terrorist targets, and grant captured terrorists prisoner-of-war status, and/or the rights enjoyed by defendants in ordinary criminal justice proceedings. To take such advice would invite the next terrorist assault on American soil.

In the current issue of National Review (available on-line to subscribers only, though a related editorial is here), Andrew C. McCarthy - director of the Center for Law and Counterterrorism at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies - writes what may be the definitive rebuttal of the now dominant narrative that the Bush administration violated international law and fundamental morality by not giving captured terrorists "the privileges the Geneva Conventions grant to honorable combatants."

He notes that what we short-handedly call the war on terrorism is complicated by the fact that the existing system of laws and treaties were designed with conventional conflicts in mind. "The animating idea of the Geneva Conventions, adopted in 1949 after the carnage of two world wars, was to civilize warfare," he writes. "Belligerents opted into the system by conduct" - that is, by obeying the laws of armed conflict.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.