For some politicians, it is tough under the best of circumstances to do the right thing when it comes to national security. Posturing about “peace dividends” chronically results in defense budgets and end-strengths insufficient to deter future acts of aggression – and fight the wars that ensue. Intelligence programs are compromised by self-serving leaks and press-driven legislative responses. Pentagon leaders are savaged in public by legislators who thereby underscore their lack of understanding of the threats besetting our country, and the fact that they have no better answers to the challenges thus posed.
Unfortunately, a congressional by-election season in the second term of a presidency confronting widespread public misunderstanding of, and fatigue with, a global war is far from the best of circumstances. It is in such a season that President Bush confronts the determination of several members of his party in the Senate to do the politically popular – rather than the necessary – thing with respect to legislation that would govern the detention, interrogation and judicial review of captured al Qaeda terrorists and other unlawful enemy combatants.
Worse yet, these Senators – John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham – are not only encouraging their fellow Republicans to join them in breaking with President Bush. They are also giving political cover to Democrats gleeful at the chance to conceal their readiness to do the wrong thing on national security by lining up behind McCain and Company, whose number includes former Secretary of State Colin Powell. The latter supports the McCain legislation that offers enemy detainees more rights and more sharply circumscribes their interrogation than the Bush Administration believes is consistent with the national security since, according to Secretary Powell, the world is less persuaded of the moral legitimacy of our actions.
Unfortunately, as a result of such machinations, a legitimate, important but basically technical disagreement over procedures has been blown wildly out of proportion. To hear the dissident GOP Senators’ partisans on editorial pages and talk shows tell it, their efforts are all that stands between civilized norms of behavior towards al Qaeda and other terrorist detainees and the Bush team’s rampant torture, judicial mayhem and the shredding of international law (notably, the Geneva Conventions).
Frank Gaffney Jr. is the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy and author of War Footing: 10 Steps America Must Take to Prevail in the War for the Free World .
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