Security brushed aside

Safeguarding our nation against terrorism takes a back seat to less-important issues on campaign trail

October 27, 2008|By Douglas MacKinnon

Politics of late give us not the flavor of the month or the week but of the moment. The American people have recently been force-fed a steady diet of "financial crisis," and whether they admit it or not, it's a flavor that has been quite beneficial to Sen. Barack Obama's campaign.

But flavors of the month, week or moment can be fleeting distractions from issues or threats that should permanently hold our attention. One such threat that has merited little or no notice from the media of late is terrorism.

Now, some conspiratorial friends of mine have said that as much of the media is hoping for an Obama victory, they don't want to report on stories that play to Sen. John McCain's perceived strength. Others have said that the economy is the story and that the media would be irresponsible if they did not give it blanket coverage.

There is a bit of truth to both theories, but regardless of political affiliation or ideology, terrorism is a subject that should never be ignored or labeled yesterday's news. If we make a fatal mistake on this issue, will it really matter how your mutual fund is performing?

As the candidates and the chattering class point fingers of blame with regard to the financial meltdown and whose economic plan will be better for "Joe the plumber," Pakistan - with its nuclear arsenal - is on the verge of implosion. Beyond that, a secret report detailed in a London newspaper this month warned that the terrorist threat facing Britain from homegrown al-Qaida agents is higher that at any time since Sept. 11, 2001.

Two major developments involving terrorism and national security and nary a peep from anyone. Why?

Of the two, the Pakistan story is by far the more chilling. According to a report first published by the McClatchy News Service, a top-secret National Intelligence Estimate portrays the situation in Pakistan as "very bad," with one U.S. official saying it was "very bleak" and that Pakistan was "on the edge." The report further detailed that the Pakistani military was less and less willing to confront Islamist militants operating in the tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and thought to house Osama bin Laden's terrorist hierarchy.

While some in both parties and both campaigns may say otherwise, terrorism is not a partisan issue. The first World Trade Center attack happened during the first days of the Bill Clinton presidency but was planned during the closing months of the administration of George H.W. Bush. While the second World Trade Center attack happened less than eight months into the George W. Bush administration, it was planned during the waning months of the Clinton administration. Intelligence experts who study al-Qaida and its offshoots will tell you that these terrorists don't care if you are liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat. If you are an American, you are the enemy.

During Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin's first major interview as Senator McCain's running mate, Charles Gibson of ABC News raised a topic that has been brought to my attention repeatedly by some Pentagon officials and some of my former Pentagon colleagues. They wonder and worry about what happens to the much-maligned "Bush Doctrine" - which basically amounts to (in conjunction with our allies) destroying these terrorists and their cells where they eat, sleep and plan - should Senator Obama win in November. These officials - a number of whom are not fond of Mr. Bush - worry that if a President Obama drastically scales back or seeks to repeal the Patriot Act, outlaws electronic eavesdropping, extends habeas corpus rights to terrorism suspects and deems aspects of the Bush Doctrine to be criminal, how long before the terrorists reconstitute themselves and hit the U.S. homeland again? It's a legitimate concern that has been all but ignored by debate moderators, the candidates and the media.

In terms of complacency, these officials feel our nation is mentally back to Sept. 10, 2001. One hopes that after the election, when politics is largely out of the way, we can restore terrorism to the "flavor of the present" - and our coming future.

If not, a financial meltdown may be the least of our problems.

Douglas MacKinnon, a former White House and Pentagon official, is author of the new novel "The Apocalypse Directive." His e-mail is douglas.mackinnon@verizon.net.

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