When Abraham Lincoln received complaints about the hard-drinking, cigar-smoking General Grant, he responded: “I can’t spare this man: he fights.” That could be the last word on George W. Bush in 2004.
There are many things that the President has said and done that I don’t like. But at least he has some awareness of what’s at stake in the war on terror. Since global jihadists want to destroy republican government and the secular societies of the West, anti-terror efforts should enjoy bipartisan support. But instead, they’ve become a political football.
In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations in December, John Kerry declared: “We have a president who has developed and exalted a strategy of war — unilateral, preemptive and, in my view, profoundly threatening to America’s place in the world and to the safety and prosperity of our own society. Simply put, the Bush administration has pursued the most arrogant, inept, reckless and ideological foreign policy in modern history. . . . The Bush administration should swallow its pride and reverse course.”
Reverse course? What that might mean for the war on terror was demonstrated on February 27 in the Philippines, when the Muslim terror group Abu Sayyaf bombed a ferry boat, killing as many as 134 people. Abu Sayyaf may have picked that day for the bombing because it was the day that two members of the group, including its leader’s brother, were sentenced to life in prison for the 2000 kidnapping of an American, Jeffrey Schilling. Schilling was held for eight months by Abu Sayyaf, often in body chains, and was tortured.
Remember that kidnapping? No? You’re in good company. But Abu Sayyaf has kidnapped and even killed other Americans in the Philippines as well. None of these incidents ever made much of an impression stateside. Before 9/11, Americans tended to slough off overseas terrorist attacks on Americans — and even on our soldiers, sailors and Marines. Such attacks were merely passing outrages somewhere out there beyond our borders. When Bill Clinton noted them at all, he treated them as criminal matters, to be dealt with by law enforcement officials. Aside from a few cruise missiles here and there, this amounted to very little. And this indifference allowed our enemy to thrive and grow.
It was the Bush Administration that recognized that we are in a war, and began to fight. As part of a global network of Al-Qaeda affiliates and allies, Abu Sayyaf knows that it is one of the ultimate targets.
No doubt, therefore, the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas in Mindanao are wearing Kerry buttons now — as are the Iranian mullahs. About Iran’s recent sham elections, Bush said: “I join many in Iran and around the world in condemning the Iranian regime’s efforts to stifle freedom of speech, including the closing of two leading reformist newspapers in the run-up to the election. Such measures undermine the rule of law and are clear attempts to deny the Iranian people’s desire to freely choose their leaders. The United States supports the Iranian people’s aspiration to live in freedom, enjoy their God-given rights and determine their own destiny.”
Kerry? He made no statement. In fact, shortly before the Iranian election his campaign sent an email to Iran’s Mehr News Agency which was trumpeted by the Tehran Times as evidence that the Democratic front-runner would, as President, work with the hardline Islamic regime that has trampled upon human rights in Iran since 1979. The email stated that Kerry “believes that collaboration with other countries is crucial to efforts to win the war on terror and make America safer.”
Kerry’s campaign said that they didn’t know how this email message got to Mehr, but by then the damage was done. The mullahs knew what Kerry meant by “collaboration with other countries.” The Iranian Ayatollah Mehdi Haeri, who is at odds with the Iranian regime, told Insight magazine that the current Iranian leaders “fear President Bush.” Bush’s expressions of support for Iranian pro-democracy groups “have given these people the shivers. They think that if Bush is re-elected, they’ll be gone. That’s why they want to see Kerry elected.”
With the war on terror slipping steadily in the polls as an important issue to voters, that’s something to think about. When John Kerry says that he wants to reverse course, he gives heart to the forces of international jihad that are bent on destroying America. That’s why we may not be able to spare George W. Bush, for all his faults. He fights.
Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch and the author of Onward Muslim Soldiers: How Jihad Still Threatens America and the West (Regnery Publishing), and Islam Unveiled: Disturbing Questions About the World’s Fastest Growing Faith (Encounter Books).