As we enter another year of extreme international danger, the one threat that solely is within America's power to reduce or eliminate is our lack of national unity.
There may be no more agonizing weakness for a nation than major internal division during a time of war, because, unlike the conduct of foreign nations or forces, a lack of internal unity is exclusively our own collective fault.
Particularly for a country as powerful and robustly provisioned as America, it is also the weakness that leads to all other weaknesses. If we had national unity, we could quickly make up for any current military manpower shortages (after Pearl Harbor, young American men rushed to sign up, and the draft was overwhelmingly seen as a needed part of our national defense). If we had national unity, we would not have a prominent national leader and Marine veteran such as Congressman John Murtha advising our young men and women not to join the military.
If we had national unity, government employees and the major media would not think it their patriotic duty to leak or publish classified war secrets. (Only traitors or the careless would be releasing such information, as opposed to today's perhaps subjectively well-intentioned, if objectively misguided, releasers of such information.)
If we had national unity, Congress and the president could be motivated and able to set spending priorities. But today, no interest feels any obligation to give up a single dollar of the taxpayer's largesse. Everybody is getting theirs -- and let the national deficit and debt be dammed. If the war or national defense effort is short-changed -- well, about half the country won't see it that way.
Most damaging of all, America's loud, nasty and publicly displayed disunity heartens our enemies around the world -- as well it should. Whether the enemy is a terrorist operative in Fallujah, Frankfurt or Falls Church, Va., he knows that defeating our will is the supreme strategic goal. Once we are more concerned with defeating our domestic opponents than our foreign enemies, the downside potential for America is almost unlimited. The enemy now lives in justifiable hope -- as we slip into increasingly justifiable despair.
The foregoing is not an argument against dissent. It is an argument for voluntarily persuading our fellow Americans of the nature of the danger and the broad strategy for defeating it. Clearly, it is a job too important to be left to the politicians.
We could wish that President Bush and the last two congresses could have found the means to build that national wartime unity. There is surely blame enough to go around.
The president's opponents would blame him, his instinct for unilateral action -- and preeminently his decision to open up the Iraqi front in the war against radical Islamist terrorism.
The president's supporters would blame Democratic partisanship and a liberal media that is partisan, wrong-headed, addicted to collecting Republican political scalps and oblivious, or worse, to the genuine foreign dangers facing the country.
Of course, events partially may mend the problem. If the Iraqi front develops favorably this year, the president may be able to rebuild public support -- at least for that part of the war -- up to the 60 percent plus levels that existed earlier. If events develop unfavorably in Iraq, this country soon will be even more deeply riven between what will be called deserters and last ditchers.
But even if Iraq goes well, fundamental differences in public perception of the nature, magnitude and imminence of the threat from radical Islamists are likely to viciously divide the country on the necessity for measures such as NSA-type surveillance, the extension (or even expansion) of the Patriot Act, the role of the military in domestic security, the need for a much larger active military force (and likely future conventional wars), the need to secure both the Mexican and Canadian borders, and the spending of scarce taxpayer dollars for substantially increased homeland security operations.
As it is the natural condition of people to be divided and querulous with each other, the burden of persuasion falls on those of us who believe there is a rational and persuasive case to be made for seeing the magnitude of the radical Islamist threat -- and the concomitantly needed increases in security, spending and sacrifice.
As the president and other national politicians have failed to make that case, it is time for convinced members of the public (including prominent figures) to organize at a much higher level than exists a broad-based, well-financed operation to try to move the better part of the American public to a unity of purpose in the face of the present danger. Any takers?