McCain’s Endless War Mindset

This morning’s Washington Post helpfully corrects the record on one of Team McCain’s more bizarre assertions from yesterday’s conference call. McCain adviser John Lehman had claimed that dealing with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspirators through the American legal system was “a material cause” of the 2001 attacks, because, he claimed, sealed evidence was not shared among intelligence agencies.

The Post wrote today that “the report of the 9/11 Commission…disagreed with Lehman’s version of history” :

The commission’s final report, which Lehman endorsed as a member of the panel, gives no indication that any failure to share information on the bombing with the intelligence community had “significance for the story of 9/11.”

Instead, the report cites political and intelligence failures to understand the scope of the terrorist threat after the 1993 attack, as well as a failure to fully analyze the implications of the available information. It also blames the FBI and the CIA for failing to effectively communicate with each other, problems that were later addressed in the USA Patriot Act and the reorganization of the intelligence community.

Despite Team McCain’s frantic strawmanning, Obama is precisely right about the prosecutions of the 1993 World Trade Center bombing conspirators being a model of how a democracy should deal with a terrorist attack. The investigation of that crime produced a huge amount of background information that formed much of the basis for our understanding of Al Qaeda. The problem was that this information was not understood in the correct context of a global terrorist threat, until too late. The fault for this is bipartisan.

In addition to the wealth of information about Al Qaeda, by granting the conspirators due process, the prosecutions demonstrated to the world the strength of American ideals. On the other hand, the Bush administration’s lawless treatment of alleged terrorist detainees represent a betrayal of those ideals. By treating the attackers as mere criminals, rather than as righteous warriors in an apocalyptic showdown between Islam and the West, the 1994 prosecutions prevented the convicts from becoming martyr-superstars. Bush’s policy of Endless War on Terror has done precisely the opposite: By treating Al Qaeda as the standard bearer in a transcendental struggle for the future of mankind, Bush confirms bin Laden’s own propaganda, and effectively does Al Qaeda’s pr for them. McCain proposes to continue this policy.

This gets at the real difference between the Obama’s and McCain’s approach to anti-terrorism. As I wrote yesterday, Obama’s approach — as demonstrated by, among other things, his advocating strikes against Al Qaeda hideouts in Pakistan — involves intelligently analyzing and appraising the nature of the threat, breaking up terror networks, and going after terrorist leaders where they are. John McCain’s approach, on the other hand, is simply more of what we’ve already seen from George W. Bush: A lot of reckless talk, followed by reckless wars that get tens of thousands of people killed, and that divert resources and attention from actual threats while creating completely new threats that require ever new troop surges to deal with.