What Is Our Real Situation?

Fr. Thomas Berg of the Westchester Institute asked that question five years ago, and now he's asking it again in a series of columns. The first I bring to your attention because he covers something I meant to write about some time ago when I first read it. Namely, this Bret Stephens column about the Dept. of Homeland Security's fear of using the word "liberty."

In its most eye-catching recommendation (which goes strangely unmentioned in an Associated Press story about the memo), the DHS authors explain their preference for the word "progress" over "liberty."

"The struggle is for 'progress,' over which no nation has a monopoly," reads the memo. "The experts we consulted debated the word 'liberty,' but rejected it because many around the world would discount the term as a buzzword for American hegemony. But all people want to support 'progress,' which emphasizes that there is a path for building strong families and prosperity among the current dislocations of globalization and change. And progress is precisely what the terrorists oppose through their violent tactics and through their efforts to impose a totalitarian world view."

The mind boggles before such cluelessness (what does Mo' Schmo over in Mosul or Kirkuk want but liberty?), but you can read Mr. Stephens for more on that. In the meanwhile, Fr. Thomas sets us up with a few questions for assessing where we are in the war on terror. In part two, he interviews Rick Santorum, who's made these matters his bailiwick now, as to the answers. Is America safe? We have to remain vigilant, but Santorum gives the Administration tremendous credit.

Had someone suggested in late 2001-02 that America would not have seen a major terrorist incident on our soil over the next seven years, he would have been dismissed as delusional. We all were quite convinced that another major terrorist incident was nearly certain. It was not a question of “if” but “when.” While the Bush administration certainly deserves criticism on many issues related to national security, it has not received sufficient credit for preventing another attack.

How do we account for this? Quite simply, following 9/11 we decided to play offense against Al Qaeda and associated jihadist networks, most obviously in Afghanistan, but also in the Philippines, and in the Horn of Africa. We made the jihadis play strategic defense as we went on the strategic offense.

Also, it seems that when Al Qaeda chose to mount a counter-offensive, they decided to confront us in Iraq. They decided that Iraq would be the central front of the “war on terror.” And now, by all accounts we have them on the run there as well. Just last week, CIA Director Michael V. Hayden told us that al Qaeda was approaching strategic defeat in Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and is on the defensive in much of the rest of the world. And Ryan Crocker, U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, has told us, “You are not going to hear me say that al Qaeda is defeated, but they’ve never been closer to defeat than they are now.”

You'll want to read what Santorum says about "dialogue," too.

Update: Here's a good defense of that DHS memo. I still think it's a gross mistake to substitute "progress" for "liberty," but there's a good case to be made in defense of the rest of the memo, particularly the rethinking of the use of terms such as "jihad" and "moderate Muslim."