On Monday -- September 11 -- President Bush marked the fifth anniversary of the worst terrorist attacks ever on American soil. He delivered a prime time speech to the nation in which he honored those who were killed five years ago and laid out his vision for winning the long war against terrorism.
“We are now in the early hours of this struggle between tyranny and freedom,” Bush said. “Amid the violence, some question whether the people of the Middle East want their freedom, and whether the forces of moderation can prevail. For sixty years, these doubts guided our policies in the Middle East. And then, on a bright September morning, it became clear that the calm we saw in the Middle East was only a mirage.” That deadly morning, said Bush, forced America to “change our policies” with respect to the Middle East. From now on, the United States will commit our global influence “to advancing freedom and democracy as the great alternatives to repression and radicalism.”
That speech set off a firestorm of political criticism.
Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid demanded that television networks give them equal air time to rebut the President’s speech. Failing that, they raced to the floors of Congress to denounce the President. “This is a political move designed to tap the overwhelming public sentiment to destroy al Qaeda as a way to bolster sagging public support for the war in Iraq,” said Reid of the president’s speech. Reid was joined on the Senate floor by fellow liberal Dick Durbin who described “an offensive” by the administration “made to justify a war in Iraq.”
The reaction is typical of a Congress that these days seems more preoccupied with the fall elections than with significant debate. Unfortunately, the partisan rancor is threatening to overshadow a very significant constitutional debate that will have a major impact on America’s ongoing ability to wage the ware on terror.
Both the House and Senate have scheduled debate next week on a pair of bills that would ensure the President enjoys constitutional authority that has not yet been explicitly granted by Congress.
One bill would give congressional backing to the administration’s National Security Agency program that intercepts terrorist communications. The other measure would allow the administration to create military commissions in which accused terrorists could be tried outside the U.S. criminal judicial system.
Tim Chapman is the Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. and a contributing columnist to Townhall.com
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