We reacted to 9/11 by freaking out and invading one too many countries, creating more terrorists. With the ranks of terrorists growing — amid evolving biotechnology and loose nukes — we could within a decade see terrorism on a scale that would make us forget any restraint we had learned from the Iraq war’s outcome. If 3,000 deaths led to two wars, how many wars would 300,000 deaths yield? And how many new terrorists?
Or, by contrast, and Hillary Clinton and John Edwards:
Obama said he first would assure there was an effective emergency response and not a repeat of what happened in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
He then turned his attention to the issue of intelligence. “The second thing is to make sure that we’ve got good intelligence, A) to find out that we don’t have other threats and attacks potentially out there, and, B) to find out, do we have any intelligence on who might have carried it out so that we can take potentially some action to dismantle that network.”
He went on to say that what the United States must avoid at such a moment is alienating the world community “based on faulty intelligence, based on bluster and bombast,” adding that “we’re not going to defeat terrorists on our own.”
His answer appeared shaped by the reaction, at home and abroad, to President Bush’s invasion of Iraq, and he was suggesting clearly that he would not follow that model in confronting a terrorist attack.
But in rapid succession, former senator John Edwards (N.C.) and Clinton offered rather different responses, sounding a far more aggressive tone in their determination to retaliate and unequivocal in their willingness to use force.
I sometimes face some skepticism from people about whether the foreign policy differences between the Democrats really matter. After all, people say, in the wake of Iraq nobody’s likely to just start up a new war for no reason at all. This is probably true. But the essence of national security policy is that the environment is always changing in unpredictable ways. It’s very doubtful that the Bush administration ever would have invaded Iraq had 9/11 not created the political moment in which it could be done. It’s very important that, if the country suffers a terrorist attack under the next administration, that the country be run by a group of people who’ll respond intelligently rather than by a group of people who’ll think Priority Number One should be lashing out to demonstrate “toughness.” Edwards, I think, mitigated his sins on this question by acting very well on the “war on terror” show of hands. Nobody in this race has really won me over on security questions, but Clinton has consistently managed to accomplish whatever the reverse of that is.