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Why Senator Kerry is wrong on terrorism

By Brian S. Wise
web posted October 18, 2004

Bloomberg reported last Wednesday, "Bush's campaign this week criticized Kerry for saying in a New York Times Magazine article that Americans would feel safe again when 'terrorists are not the focus of our lives but they're a nuisance.'" Next paragraph: "'John Kerry's characterization of terrorism as a nuisance shows that he doesn't recognize the threats facing this country and does not have the vision and determination needed to defeat terrorism,' Bush campaign spokesman Steve Schmidt said."

John KerryAnd on that, the week turned. But opinion columns - at least those written by intellectually honest people - simply cannot be birthed from that sort of blurb (though a thousand surely were). One demands context, and finds it in the exact source, Matt Bai's 8,300 plus word (you read that right) love letter to the junior senator from Massachusetts. "When I asked Kerry what it would take for Americans to feel safe again, he displayed a much less apocalyptic worldview. 'We have to get back to the place we were, where terrorists are not the focus of our lives, but they're a nuisance,' Kerry said. 'As a former law-enforcement person, I know we're never going to end prostitution. We're never going to end illegal gambling. But we're going to reduce it, organized crime, to a level where it isn't on the rise. It isn't threatening people's lives every day, and fundamentally, it's something that you continue to fight, but it's not threatening the fabric of your life."

Let it never be said conservatives cannot be fair to the Kerry campaign.

The problem, of course, is that the comment isn't any less bothersome in its proper context, just bothersome for different reasons. For one thing, what does Senator Kerry mean when he suggests terrorism should be whittled down to a level where people's lives aren't threatened every day? Does he mean American lives? Because you'd be hard pressed to convince Israeli Jews that suicide bombings can be whittled down to an acceptable level, but more to the American point it has only been in the last three years that the specter of terrorism has hung over the heads of Americans, and mainly in cities where attacks seem most likely. (Face it: No one thinks al Qaeda is going to fly a plane into a building in South Bend, Nebraska.)

Bland acceptance of old formula terrorism - and the idea that somehow it couldn't happen here - is what lead us to not only ignore or brush aside growing threats throughout the 1990s, but it's also what lead us to be so surprised by the Tragedies. It can happen here, and will. Senator Kerry is correct in suggesting terrorism cannot ever be fully eradicated (though one wishes he wouldn't have lumped it together with prostitution), but the idea of returning to any form of passivity is morally objectionable.

And yet, the idea of returning to passivity is written all over Senator Kerry's proposed foreign policy. Bringing France, Germany and Russia back into the fold is good stuff for the clones showing up at the rallies, but it's also old school thinking. Nothing will convince those nations (and the United Nations, though one should struggle against lending it legitimacy) that, sometimes, America must and will work in its own best interests. If anyone will come around, it could be Russia - nothing clears the senses and reorganizes priorities quite like subway bombings and school hostage standoffs. By and large, however, Old Europe in general has absolutely no concept of having to defend itself, or of the challenges therein. All it knows is passivity, and is therefore irrelevant.

If tonight I am cornered and commanded to explain the Left's failure to understand, and in so many cases endorse, terrorism and its cousins (totalitarianism, socialism, et cetera), I'm not sure I could. But the Kerry campaign's ongoing efforts to quickly shift focus from Iraq to domestic policy and back masks what it knows is an uncomfortable truth about his willingness to combat terrorism. You combat terrorism by isolating terrorists / terrorist organizations and whipping their asses until their noses bleed buttermilk; anything less that that is lip service.

President Bush will win because voters inherently understand the threat against America is very real, and that Bush is, simply put, more willing to kill large numbers of terrorists in the next four years, and care less about what other countries think about it, than is Senator Kerry. And no matter what these same voters say to pollsters, family and friends, they kind of like that.

Brian S. Wise was the lead columnist at IntellectualConservative.com from January 2002 to August 2004. His twice-weekly column, entitled "In Dissent," is released on Tuesdays and Fridays, and can be found at BrianWise.com.

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