By helping to defeat President Bush’s proposed legislation establishing procedures to interrogate and try terrorist detainees, dissident Republican Senators John McCain, Lindsay Graham and John Warner have bestowed a great gift on both the President’s political adversaries and, much worse, on America’s terrorist enemies. Ce
rtainly, despite their misguided judgments on the legislation at hand, all three Republicans do understand that America is, in fact, fighting a war, and that defeating the terrorists must be our top priority. That distinguishes them from most Democrats, who simply don’t understand the stakes. In fact, Jesse Jackson argued last week that terrorism “is not the worst threat we face” (in his view, climate change, global pandemics and U.S. trade deficits are greater concerns). And Rosie O’Donnell’s inability to distinguish between “radical Christians” and Islamofascist terrorists – as well as Los Angeles Times columnist Rosa Brooks’ equating “militant conservative Islamic extremists” with “militant conservative Judeo-Christian extremists” – highlight the left’s fundamental lack of seriousness about the war on terror.
Even so, by helping to defeat the President’s legislation in the Armed Services Committee, Senators McCain, Graham and Warner have facilitated Democrats’ efforts to portray President Bush’s approach to interrogating and trying terrorists as somehow out of the mainstream. They’ve likewise allowed the Democrats to blur the very real distinctions between the parties when it comes to fighting the war on terror – giving them a valuable opportunity to pretend that their unwillingness to confront Islamofascist terrorism is nothing more than a reflection of the same scruples voiced by McCain, Graham and Warner.
But the political benefit to the Democrats is dwarfed by the boon the McCain/Graham/Warner approach bestows on America’s enemies. By offering terrorists the same status as that accorded uniformed military warriors, the legislation favored by the trio only rewards warfare that glorifies the deliberate killing of innocents and undermines a distinction between terrorist and soldier that should be cherished by all civilized people.
What’s more, the senators’ expressed concern for the opinion of “the world” bespeaks a remarkable naivete about nature of global opinion. What will win the world’s respect is defeating the terrorists as decisively as America conquered the Axis powers in World War II. Those across the world who are predisposed to dislike and distrust America are hardly going to change their minds based on pandering legislative efforts to win their approval. In fact, the war-crimes lawsuits to which the legislation favored by Senators McCain, Graham and Warner exposes American interrogators will only provide a valuable propaganda tool for those intent on sullying the reputation of the United States. Not one American life should be put at risk in a fruitless effort to curry the favor of European intellectuals.
Finally, the senators’ expressed hope that our treatment of detained terrorists will improve the treatment of our own captured troops indicates a fundamental misunderstanding of the psyche of our enemies. Given that the Islamofascists have proven themselves deaf to the pleading of women and the cries of children, it’s unlikely that they will reciprocate any courtesies offered to terrorist detainees. Indeed, humane treatment of enemies, which we understand as the essence of civilized behavior, is interpreted by the terrorists as nothing more than weakness. Osama bin Laden respects the power and charisma of the “strong horse;” to those willing to mutilate and behead their foes, a country that shrinks from “degrading” treatment of terrorists seems like a contemptibly fragile enemy, inevitably doomed to defeat.
Certainly, it would be wrong for the United States to condone behavior that routinely transgresses the boundaries of humanity and the traditions of civilized warfare. But those who would tie America’s hands likewise must understand that it’s unconscionable to place the lives of their fellow citizens at risk because of their own moral vanity, excessive concern about world opinion, or unrealistic hopes about how our treatment of detainees will impact terrorist behavior. It’s time for Senators McCain, Graham and Warner to demonstrate that they care as much about the safety and security of everyday Americans as they do about the “dignity” of terrorist detainees.