Paper Tiger Watch?

I have to disagree with Debra Saunders slightly, here. After discussing Bush’s administration – both the good and the bad – she concludes that history will favorably judge the outgoing President on what did not happen:

Osama bin Laden once told Time magazine that the U.S. withdrawal from Somalia after the murder of 18 U.S. troops on a humanitarian mission made him realize “more than before that the American soldier was a paper tiger and after a few blows ran in defeat.” Members of al-Qaida have told intelligence officials they never thought Washington would respond to the 9/11 attacks as ferociously as Bush responded. They expected a few bombs to be dropped, no boots on the ground, a swift withdrawal if casualties mounted — the usual short-attention span foreign policy that warped Lebanon, the Persian Gulf War, Somalia, the African embassy bombings and the attack on the destroyer Cole.

Bush showed America’s enemies a country that does not retreat in fear, does not bomb with impunity, and most important, does not desert civilians or foreign governments that trust us. If you think that doesn’t matter, look at Libya, which disarmed its weapons program. And see how much easier Obama’s presidency will be because Bush kept the faith.

Osama bin Laden may live, most likely quivering in a cave. And no one thinks America is a paper tiger anymore.

The problem is the word “anymore.”

At the moment, nobody sensible thinks that we’re a paper tiger (before people start quoting the antiwar movement to me, I said “nobody sensible.” And if we’re going to be discussing them, add “nobody decent”). There’s now a distinct line in the sand defining what we’d consider too-provocative behavior, and it’s one that other nations have quite sensibly decided not to cross if they can possibly help it. In other words, bin Laden seriously, massively, and comprehensively messed up his long-term strategic goals – and if you’d like to dispute that, I should remind you that in 2001 his goal for 2009 was almost certainly not to be hiding in a cave. Or to be smeared on the wall of one, which is still arguably what happened to him.

So far, so good. Unfortunately, in just about… (looking at clock) just over 47 hours that line in the sand may be erased. Emphasis is on “may:” the problem is that we don’t know that it will be, and nobody else does, really. Barack Obama may turn out to be the neoconiest neocon that ever neoconned a neocon agenda; he could end up curled in a fetal ball after the next attack. I’m hoping for the former, but we’ll see when it happens – and it’s going to be “when,” not “if.” Because from a terrorist standpoint there’s very little downside against spending extra resources testing the new President: the worst that happens is that the status quo is maintained. So we’re going to have to see how Obama and his fellow Democrats – who, after Tuesday, are going to be unambiguously running the country – will handle it. Maybe they’ll get it right on the first try.

You may take my insistence on voting a straight party ticket in November as being indicative of my opinion on the likelihood of that.


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