When President Bush offered his detailed account of successes in extracting information from captured Al Qaeda terrorists -- information that thwarted numerous attacks at home and abroad -- he was compelling in his defense of the CIA's role in this crucial aspect of the war.
But if his revelations were breathtaking -- and politically bulletproof against Democrats' fire -- they were also slightly troubling in that these are the kind of intelligence details that usually come out after a war is over. Listening to the president publicly discuss such information -- which jihadi told what about whom, and how Abu So-and-so didn't realize how little we knew before he started talking, and how plots were thwarted in what sounded like the nick of time -- I got the feeling it wasn't as important for the public to know all this as for the president to say all this in hopes of garnering support for vital new legislation authorizing military tribunals for jihad-killers. That is, if the president felt forced to tip an intelligence hand, it indicates how grudging political support for fighting the so-called war on terror has become:
We need nitty-gritty details to go forward, not just a robust survival instinct. This underscores the extent to which the war has become ambiguous or inconceivable in the public imagination -- which is exactly where such a long war must be won.
But why should it be murky? Five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, World War II was over, Japan and Germany vanquished. Five years after Sept. 11, we still speculate as to who, or what, our enemy is. We have had a brief fling with "Islamic fascism," a phrase that, in its 20th-century-European political connotations, is misleading about jihad's 1,300-year-old religious roots. But now, in the president's just-released "National Strategy for Combating Terrorism," we're back to plain vanilla "extremist ideology." We seem to find a generic comfort in being vague.
Not me -- as even the occasional reader of this column likely knows. The "who" are Muslim jihadists; the "what" is Muslim jihad. There is violent jihad (terrorism), and there is "quiet jihad," the peaceful consequence of the demographic shift of Muslims into the West. Both, however, result in Islamization -- the spread of Islamic law. This is a dire threat to what could have once upon a time been summed up by the word "us."
But there are others -- even conservatives such as The Wall Street Journal's John Fund and National Review editor Rich Lowry -- who dismiss the notion of naming the enemy. As Lowry recently wrote online, "I hate to say it, but I don't think it's too important what we call our enemy. Yes, 'the war on terror' is flawed, but everyone knows what we're talking about. ... My view is the whole naming debate is 'much ado,' and although it's very interesting, its contribution to actually winning this war will be nil."
Maybe that depends on the definition of "winning." And who's "everyone," anyway? And is there agreement on what constitutes an "enemy"? Notice how, in a reporter's summation of a recent presidential speech on the terrorist enemy, The Washington Post saw fit to set off the word "evil" with a pair of quotation marks: "In his speech," the reporter wrote, "Bush said terrorist leaders' statements have made plain their goals, which he called the present-day equivalent of the `evil' aims of Vladimir Lenin and Adolf Hitler."
Maybe this just goes to show that one man's Hitler is another man's Fuehrer. But being vague about the enemy and non-judgmental about evil is not what we should be five years after Sept. 11.
This brings us to the one small bright spot to mark off the anniversary week of Sept. 11 -- an anniversary blackened by the decision to allow Mohammed Khatami, former president of Iran, the pre-eminent state sponsor of terrorism, into the United States. Khatami, who supports Hezbollah and the destruction of Israel, will be speaking on the eve of Sept. 11 at Harvard on -- get this -- "Ethics of Tolerance in the Age of Violence." Bring your own airsickness bag.
But here's that bright spot: Denouncing the Khatami visit, GOP Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts ordered state agencies to refuse to provide assistance during the Khatami visit -- which means no pomp and motorcade for the Iranian stooge. As Romney put it, "State taxpayers should not be providing special treatment to an individual who supports violent jihad and the destruction of Israel." How simple, how true.
Five years later, somebody gets it.