Listen Up

Posted: Jan 07, 2006 12:05 AM
The best insults are quietly devastating, such as when Winston Churchill described his successor Clement Attlee as “a modest man who has a good deal to be modest about.”

Of course it’s not easy to pull off a putdown like that. Remember when former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill described President Bush as “a blind man in a room full of deaf people?” Sure it sounded bad, but as columnist Michael Kinsley wrote, “what on Earth does it mean?”

Because it’s so difficult to craft a subtle putdown, many on the left go in a different direction. Their insults are often loud and personal. But, sadly, no less confusing than O’Neill’s attempted slam.

Here’s liberal blogger Daily Kos describing conservatives: “These blowhards pretend they are macho even as they piddle on themselves in abject terror from every ‘boo!’ that comes out of Osama bin Laden’s mouth.” In typical fashion, the post went on to make another two references to urine, giving new definition to the expression “Potty mouth.”

Kos is fired up because of the latest Washington “scandal,” over whether the Bush administration should be using its ability to monitor some communications within the United States. Like the O’Neill putdown, listening in sounds bad at first. But in reality, it makes a lot of sense.

As Vice President Dick Cheney put it this week at The Heritage Foundation, one “vital step the President took in the days following 9/11 was to authorize the National Security Agency to intercept a certain category of terrorist-linked international communications. There are no communications more important to the safety of the United States than those related to al-Qaeda that have one end in the United States.”

Cheney noted that one problem cited by the 9/11 Commission was the fact that our spy services were unable to uncover links between terrorists at home and terrorists abroad. “The activities conducted under this authorization have helped to detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks against the American people. As such, this program is critical to the national security of the United States,” he said.

Of course, to believe that Cheney’s correct, you’ve probably got to believe we’re in the midst of a war. Conservatives seem to recognize that, but some on the other side aren’t so sure. As liberal moneyman George Soros wrote in September, “The war on terror as we have waged it since 9/11 has done more harm than good.”

Soros wants to change our approach. “When we use military force, we risk playing into the hands of terrorists,” he wrote. “Terrorism is abhorrent because it kills innocent civilians for political goals. War, by its nature, claims innocent victims. By using military force, we run the risk of doing the same thing as the terrorists.”

That, of course, gets reality exactly backward. Americans are fighting for freedom, while terrorists are fighting to kill free people. We’ve freed people from tyrants in Afghanistan and Iraq and started a process that encouraged people in Ukraine and Lebanon to demand their freedom. Meanwhile, terrorists continue to set off bombs in Iraq, because they’ve got nothing to offer except murder and mayhem.

Finally, Soros wrote, “the war on terror is even worse than an ordinary war because terrorists try to remain invisible so the chances of hitting innocent victims are even greater.” Well, there’s something we can agree on. Indeed, the terrorists try to remain invisible. That’s why we must occasionally use extreme measures such as wiretaps to track them down. This doesn’t have anything to do with Americans surrendering our freedoms -- it has to do with protecting our freedoms from those who want to kill us.

Congress, of course, should maintain oversight, and the administration should cooperate completely. That’s been happening all along. Lawmakers acknowledge they’ve received frequent updates on the NSA program. In fact, Rep. Peter Hoekstra, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, says senior administration officials often asked him whether he needed more information to evaluate the program. The president has nothing to hide here.

When it comes to “hiding,” it’s bin Laden who’s got that down. While most Americans go about our daily lives, he’s hiding in a cave somewhere. Assuming, that is, that he’s even still alive. We haven’t heard from him since he endorsed John Kerry in October 2004, and his silence is becoming deafening. By any measure, he’s more afraid of us than we are of him.

The war on terror will end, because we will win it. And we’ll keep extending our liberties to the rest of the world, which, presumably, will give American lefties even more to holler and complain about. To quote their former front man, “Bring it on.”