From where I sit, former vice president Dick Cheney had the easier case to make today.
His speech had a lot of phrases I loved; when Cheney said that the New York Times was “publishing secrets in a way that could only help al-Qaeda. It impressed the Pulitzer committee, but it damn sure didn’t serve the interests of our country, or the safety of our people,” the audience emited a few “oohs” like they had just watched a blindside blitz level a quarterback.
But in a nutshell, the Cheney argument is, “it worked.” And when he notes that after 9/11, the administration and all of the various government agencies managed to prevent another attack on American soil for 2,689 days, it’s a rather illuminating figure. Early on, Cheney also quickly repeated the list of al-Qaeda’s hits from the 1990s both on U.S. soil and abroad: “In 1993, they bombed the World Trade Center, hoping to bring down the towers with a blast from below. The attacks continued in 1995, with the bombing of U.S. facilities in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; the killing of servicemen at Khobar Towers in 1996; the attack on our embassies in East Africa in 1998; the murder of American sailors on the USS Cole in 2000.” That’s six major bombings, with many casualties, in six years.
But the unspoken contrast goes beyond U.S. soil . . . In fact, since 9/11, have we seen any indisputably successful al-Qaeda attacks on American targets outside of our borders, besides Iraq and Afghanistan? I recall a grenade being sent through an embassy window in Athens. I know they attacked the British consulate in Istanbul, and a not-terribly-successful attack on our consulate there, as well as an attempted attack on our consulate in Jiddah. Gunmen tried to attack the U.S. Embassy in Syria. I suppose you could consider the attacks on the hotels in Amman stand-ins for American targets. Looking back, we see fatal attacks outside the consulate in Karachi and at a housing compound for westerners in Riyadh.
But nothing on par with what al-Qaeda did in the 1990s.
The standard has been set; Obama is now tinkering with the methods. They’re betting a lot – not just their chance at a second term, but the lives of you and me – that they can get the same results with different methods. We will see.
Obama can make a decent case on what these methods have “cost” us — bad press, criticism from other nations, inflaming the oh-so-hard-to-inflame Muslim world, a sense that we’re doing things that are morally unpleasant. There are times where his case does get weaker; essentially he argues we should feel guilty and morally tainted about waterboarding the man who beheaded Daniel Pearl, denying Pearl’s child the chance to know his father.
If there is another successful and terrible terror attack, either on U.S. soil or on a U.S. target abroad, the immediate moment will be too terrible to hear the words “I told you so.” But if, God forbid, that day comes, we will know that indeed Dick Cheney did tell us so.