When President Bush offered his detailed account of successes in extracting information from captured Al Qaeda terrorists -- information that thwarted numerous attacks at home and abroad -- he was compelling in his defense of the CIA's role in this crucial aspect of the war.
But if his revelations were breathtaking -- and politically bulletproof against Democrats' fire -- they were also slightly troubling in that these are the kind of intelligence details that usually come out after a war is over. Listening to the president publicly discuss such information -- which jihadi told what about whom, and how Abu So-and-so didn't realize how little we knew before he started talking, and how plots were thwarted in what sounded like the nick of time -- I got the feeling it wasn't as important for the public to know all this as for the president to say all this in hopes of garnering support for vital new legislation authorizing military tribunals for jihad-killers. That is, if the president felt forced to tip an intelligence hand, it indicates how grudging political support for fighting the so-called war on terror has become:
We need nitty-gritty details to go forward, not just a robust survival instinct. This underscores the extent to which the war has become ambiguous or inconceivable in the public imagination -- which is exactly where such a long war must be won.
But why should it be murky? Five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II was over, Japan and Germany vanquished. Five years after Sept. 11, we still speculate as to who, or what, our enemy is. We have had a brief fling with "Islamic fascism," a phrase that, in its 20th-century-European political connotations, is misleading about jihad's 1,300-year-old religious roots. But now, in the president's just-released "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," we're back to plain vanilla "extremist ideology." We seem to find a generic comfort in being vague.
Not me -- as even the occasional reader of this column likely knows. The "who" are Muslim jihadists; the "what" is Muslim jihad. There is violent jihad (terrorism), and there is "quiet jihad," the peaceful consequence of the demographic shift of Muslims into the West. Both, however, result in Islamization -- the spread of Islamic law. This is a dire threat to what could have once upon a time been summed up by the word "us."