The Politics of Terrorism

by on July 8th, 2006

Judging from the initial responses by both the press and certain politicians to the report that federal anti-terrorism agencies have foiled a terrorist plot in New York City, one might question their political priorities. New York Senator Charles Schumer’s response was a marvel of political legerdemain.

Mr. Schumer’s reputation as a caustic critic of the Bush Administration’s efforts to pre-empt terrorist activities through the NSA’s electronic surveillance program and, most recently, the Swift program that combed financial transactions for terrorist ‘signatures,’ is as universally known as it is championed by his intact New York liberal base.

So, how does he respond to the success these programs have achieved? Working both political angles, he at once commends the outcome and questions the procedures. Ultimately, however, he can’t resist the political undertow and he aligns himself with the ACLU and its legion of supporters at the New York Times and the MSM, but, not unlike his liberal brethren, he always stops short of calling for the programs’ elimination.

The MSM is equally prone to look for political purchase in any otherwise positive development. In a “news analysis” in today’s Times, Eric Lipton clarifies their newest tack on how best to question the integrity and efficacy of the Bush Administration’s approach to mitigating the terrorist threat. The question of when to intercede in an evolving plot is always tricky and fraught with downstream implications that can either abet or inhibit its prosecution. But since terrorists play by a set of ruthlessly amoral rules that prey on innocents, those charged with making such judgment calls can be forgiven for erring on the side of caution.

The Times article raises the question of where that line should be drawn, and if the quote below has a pre-9/11 ring to it you are on to their game:

“…the Miami and New York care are inspiring a new round of skepticism from some lawyers who are openly questioning whether the government, in its zeal to stop terrorism, is forgetting an element central to any case: the actual intent to commit a crime.”

The Times takes the fact that it has absolutely no responsibility to safeguard American lives very seriously and can indulge with relative impunity its predilection to judge terrorists with a criminal justice mentality. Clearly, Homeland Security has no such luxury, as its Secretary, Michael Chertof, noted, in reference to the New York City plot:

“We don’t wait until someone has lit the fuse to step in.”

With the stage set with predictable, if ersatz precision, Mr. Lipton brings on the star of the scene, Martin Stolar, a New York defense lawyer:

“Talk without any kind of action means nothing. You start to criminalize people who are not really criminals.”

Excusing for a moment the left’s propensity to ciminalize thought with its ignoble legacy of “hate crimes,” there, once again is that unsubtle reference to “criminals,” a convenient misdirectional cue that lends an unwarranted credibility to Lipton’s argument because it deftly, if transparently avoids the word “terrorist.”

Enter Carl W. Tobias is a law professor at the University of Virginia, at Richmond, who tracks terrorism cases; Mr. Lipton writes of him that:

“…the modest evidence disclosed so far in some recent cases related to the ability of the subjects to deliver on their threats had caused him [Mr. Tobias] to wonder whether politics might be a factor.”

What we have here is yet another judgment based on a combination of values and trust: Would the American people prefer a president whose anti-terrorist programs were disproportionately weighted in favor of scrupulously protecting the rights of suspects about whom a body of evidence is coalescing that would lead reasonable people to conclude a terrorist plot is developing? Or, would they prefer one, such as Mr. Bush, who aggressively exploits the one reliable tool we have at our disposal–pre-emption–while risking the charge that it may appear to be politically motivated?

The fact that this is even a topic of presumably legitimate debate reflects the deeply cynical and unjustified mistrust the left harbors for the Bush Administration and Republicans in general.

Mainstream Americans, while certainly not naive about nor tolerant of government corruption, are implicitly more trusting of government efforts to protect them and more instinctively able to resist the left’s tendency to craft arguments that allege illegality in the absence of putative evidence.

Mella is Founder and Editor of

Philip Mella