You can count on the United States Senate to seriously weaken our national security without seriously strengthening our civil liberties, and call the whole mishmash a compromise. Then go back to sleep until the next disaster strikes. At least that's been the repeated pattern since Pearl Harbor, September 11th, and next ... well, we'll see. Congress and the president now have invited that next disaster by handicapping the National Security Agency.
If and when the next crisis explodes, you can bet that some of the same voices hailing this week's "compromise" will be shouting Never Again! and hunting for scapegoats. Just as the inevitable fault-finders blamed Franklin Roosevelt for staging Pearl Harbor and George W. Bush for failing to prevent 9/11. "History doesn't repeat itself," as Mark Twain was said to have put it, "but it does rhyme."
This time the irresponsibles in the Senate, led by Kentucky's quirky Rand Paul, have chosen this moment to put another speed bump in the way of our intelligence agencies -- just at a time when speed will be of the essence.
All those banks of phone data the NSA has accumulated, as a public watchdog should, now will be made the formal responsibility of private phone companies, and access to them will be available only by request and on a case-by-case basis. Anything to slow our guardians down just when they might need to hurry, as on September 11, 2001, or December 7, 1941, when the armed services were reduced to warning Pearl Harbor of the imminent Japanese attack by ... Western Union.
Mitch McConnell, the responsible senator from Kentucky, has warned us: "This is a step in the wrong direction." For this week's legislation "does not enhance the privacy protections of American citizens. And it surely undermines American security by taking one more tool from our war fighters at exactly the wrong time."
Arkansas' junior senator, the irrepressible Tom Cotton, has earned his country's gratitude once again by voting against this "compromise" while his colleague, the state's senior senator, John Boozman, went along with it, as is his careless way.
Sen. Boozman's will be a vote to remember the day after the next sneak attack surprises the country. So will the stamp of approval that John Boehner, the House majority leader, gave this week's deal. Much like Congress itself, both of these gentlemen have failed in their constitutional duty to "provide for the common defense."
The country's defense has been seriously compromised once again, though it may take a while, perhaps only a little while, before the depth of this folly is appreciated. And the clock is ticking. As a wise man once observed, we learn from history how little we learn from history.
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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.