Paul Greenberg

It was ages ago - namely, September of 2001 - when the president of the United States went before Congress and a nation still in shock to ask for the full panoply of wartime powers. Remember?

"We will direct every resource at our command," the president vowed, "every means of diplomacy, every tool of intelligence, every instrument of law enforcement, every financial influence, and every weapon of war - to the destruction and to the defeat of the global terror network."

Every tool of intelligence.

That phrase tends to be forgotten in the current hubbub over whether the president has violated the privacy of suspected terrorists who may be making calls to and from this country. That seems to be the burden of the latest accusation against this president.

But back then, it was clear the president - and the country - intended to take the terrorist threat seriously. And so did Congress - back then. It may have been September of 2001, but it felt like December of 1941. Congress moved swiftly to approve the Authorization for Use of Military Force, the functional equivalent of a declaration of war.

Not that the president and commander-in-chief needed congressional permission to defend the country, thanks to the foresight of those who wrote the Constitution. But in a joint resolution passed three days after the September 11th attacks, Congress made the point explicitly, recognizing that "the President has authority under the Constitution to take action to deter and prevent acts of international terrorism against the United States."

Remember all that?

Well, forget it. Because we've avoided another disastrous attack on American soil for so long - more than four whole years - that now we can relax and turn on each other instead of the enemy.

Today the president's more vociferous critics claim that his power to defend the country ends at the water's edge, at least if the issue is whether the government can monitor international calls to and from these shores without a warrant.

Welcome to this new era - and this new concept of war in which enemy prisoners, even illegal combatants captured in the field, are entitled to habeas corpus. In this new kind of war, the country's defenders need a warrant to spy on terrorists plotting our destruction - if said terrorists will just take the precaution of doing so in a call to this country.

We're told that FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, doesn't allow warrantless wiretaps on such calls. "It's that simple," we're assured by The New York Times.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.