Liberal pundit Michael Kinsley once defined a "gaffe" as a politician inadvertently
blurting out the truth. By that standard, Charlie Black, a senior adviser to Sen.
John McCain, committed a gaffe in an interview June 23 with Fortune magazine.
Mr. Black was asked by Fortune editor David Whitford what the impact on the
presidential election campaign would be if there were another terrorist attack on
"Certainly it would be a big advantage to (McCain)," Mr. Black responded.
There followed a hypocritical minuet with which we've become too familiar.
First, the faux angry response from the Obama campaign: "The fact that John McCain's
top adviser says that a terrorist attack on American soil would be a 'big advantage'
for their political campaign is a complete disgrace, and is exactly the kind of
politics that needs to change," said Obama spokesman Bill Burton.
Then, the distancing from Sen. McCain: "I can't imagine why he would say it. It's
Finally, the groveling apology from Mr. Black: "I deeply regret the comments
they were inappropriate."
Mr. Black had said nothing that wasn't true, or that Democratic political
consultants don't say in private. When voter attention is focused on national
security, Sen. McCain benefits. A terrorist attack would focus voter attention on
But the attention of voters is not focused on national security, chiefly because
there hasn't been a terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, 2001. The
number of experts who, on Sept. 12, 2001, would have predicted this happy state of
affairs is precisely zero.
The absence of an attack suggests to some, among them Sen. Obama, that there wasn't
much of a threat to start with. They want to return to the law enforcement approach
to fighting terrorism that prevailed before 9/11, and regard the Bush
administration's efforts to surveil terrorists a greater threat to Americans than
the terrorists themselves.
Since that approach contributed mightily to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the
1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks, the 1998 bombing of our embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole, and, of course, 9/11, it's
no wonder Americans prefer Sen. McCain on security issues.
"Before 9/11, America's counterterrorist capacities were, to put it politely,
disorganized, unfocused, poorly staffed and poorly run," wrote former CIA officer
Reuel Marc Gerecht. "To President Clinton's credit and great shame, he
intellectually understood the nature and horrific potential of bin Ladenism and al
Qaida as he understood, and regularly tasked his senior officials to explain
nationally, the dangers of an increasingly restless Saddam Hussein. Yet he could
not summon the fortitude to strike devastatingly against al Qaida and its Taliban
protector or Iraq."
Doubtless much of our good fortune is due to increased vigilance by the FBI and
other security agencies. And some of it is due simply to good luck. But the
principal reason why we've been safe at home these last seven years has been the war
Sen. Obama describes the war in Iraq as a "distraction" from the war on terror. But
that's not how al Qaida saw it.
In a 2005 letter to Abu Musab al Zarqawi, al Qaida's number two, Ayman al Zawahiri,
described Iraq as "the place for the greatest battle of Islam in this era."
A few months earlier (December, 2004), Osama bin Laden himself said in an audiotape:
"The whole world is watching this war and the two adversaries; the Islamic nation on
the one hand, and the United States and its allies on the other. It is either
victory and glory or misery and humiliation."
For al Qaida, Iraq has turned out to be misery and humiliation. The best of its
fighters have perished there, and so has its standing in the Arab world. Support
for the terror group has vanished within Iraq, and plummeted elsewhere in the Muslim
world. Other Islamic fundamentalists, among them Mr. Zawahiri's mentor, "Dr. Fadl,"
have criticized al Qaida and called for nonviolence.
In 2003, Canadian columnist David Warren hypothesized Iraq would be the flypaper
that would lure in al Qaida, and where it would be destroyed. While I doubt this
was a deliberate Bush administration strategy, that's the way it's working out.
Al Qaida was right that Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, but wrong
about the outcome. America's Democrats have been wrong about both.