There is a growing rift in our nation, and it’s not any sort of cultural war related to gay marriage, abortion, or obscenity on the airwaves. Rather, it is between those whose outlook on the world fundamentally changed on Sept. 11, and those who believe it was an unfortunate but isolated attack.
Critics of this analysis will strongly disagree, and undoubtedly label the accusation as inflammatory. They will argue that they disagree with Bush’s handling of the war on terror. Or they will tell you that terror is merely a tactic, and you can’t declare war on a tactic. Or they will tell you that everything was going well until Iraq, whose presence only served as a disruption from the war on al Qaeda.
They are wrong.
This growing rift is dividing our nation into two camps: September Eleventh people and September Tenth people. John Kerry is a September Tenth person, and George W. Bush is a September Eleventh person. And the difference will be crucial in November.
September Eleventh people recognize the ferocious brutality of Saddam’s former regime. They realize that he loved murder, no matter its form. Some groups, like the Kurds and Shiites, were disposed of in massive, genocidal fashion. Poison gas — the weapon of choice — was used over 200 times on the Kurds. Other groups — political dissidents, under-performing athletes, and anyone else who wound up on the regime’s whimsical list of enemies — were killed by more sadistic means. Wood chippers, torture-till-death, and vicious rape followed by execution were only some of the methods used.
September Eleventh people realize that the outcry over the failure to find weapons of mass destruction is an infantile joke. Together with every single intelligence agency in the world, the United Nations believed that Saddam’s regime was hiding a massive, clandestine weapons program. President Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Senator John Kerry, and countless other Democrats spoke passionately of Saddam’s “secret supplies of biological and chemical weapons.” And in a 1997 “This Week” appearance, Secretary of Defense William Cohen held up a five pound bag of Domino sugar to illustrate in horrifying detail how easily Saddam Hussein could decimate the population of Washington D.C. But more importantly, September Eleventh people realize that the number one weapon of mass destruction was in Baghdad, because it was Saddam himself.
And September Eleventh people realize that if Saddam were willing to brutalize his own people, his possession of such destructive weapons would certainly lead to a day of horrific consequence for the United States. And if Saddam were too cowardly to carry out the actions on his own, he could certainly provide his weapons to a terrorist organization.
It’s unclear whether September Tenth people had confidence and faith in the words and actions of a brutal dictator or if they believed that 23 million people deserved to live in the inconceivable repression called Iraq. But the difference is irrelevant. September Eleventh people realize that the world is safer without Saddam, and that humankind is forever indebted to the courageous actions of the United States.
September Tenth people argue that the Bush administration’s war on terror is too ideological. September Eleventh people realize that it is ideological for a reason: we are at war with an ideology. And an ideology that celebrates death and craves for the elimination of Western civilization can only be defeated by an ideology that refuses to make concessions to such an appalling notion.
Yet only September Eleventh people refuse to make concessions. Only September Eleventh people realize that terrorists can’t be reasoned with or negotiated with. September Eleventh people will never allow terrorists to determine the outcome of an election. On the other hand, September Tenth people look to Madrid and argue that “[by] ousting the Popular Party, the Spaniards were asserting their right to democracy … [They looked] for an alternative to the violence and the destruction and the fear [of terrorism].” September Eleventh people realize that al Qaeda determined the outcome of a democratic election. What a wonderful precedent that set.
September Tenth people look to Iraq and see a failure of diplomacy, as if a terrorist dictator would have been willing to negotiate with the United States.
September Tenth people condemn Israel for the assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the spiritual leader of Hamas. September Eleventh people applaud the assassination, realizing that it’s akin to a U.S. assassination of Ayman al-Zawahri, the spiritual leader of al Qaeda.
Most importantly, September Tenth people believe that terrorism is a law enforcement issue. At the Feb. 1, Democratic debate, for example, John Kerry accused the Bush administration of “exaggerating” the war on terror, and went on to characterize terrorism as “primarily … [a] law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world.” September Eleventh people realize that such a concept is the precise mentality that prevented President Clinton from accepting Osama bin Laden on a silver platter in 1996. When the Sudanese government decided to expel Osama bin Laden and offer him to the United States (this would be Kerry’s “cooperation [from] around the world”) President Clinton refused the offer because he was unable to think of a charge on which to indict bin Laden. This sounds like a perfect example of the “law enforcement” that Senator Kerry promises.
And no September Eleventh person would ever accuse President Bush of “exaggerating” the war on terror. After all, in the 25 years since militant Islam declared war on the United States, more than 4,000 Americans have lost their lives.
So where is the rift? In increasing numbers, September Eleventh people are calling themselves Republicans, vowing in 2004 to vote for the GOP for the first time in their lives. September Tenth people were Democrats on September Eleventh, and haven’t seen any need to switch parties. September Eleventh people will vote for Bush, and September Tenth people will vote for Kerry. And that’s why Bush will win.
David White is a senior in Pierson College. He is the former Co-Editor-in-Chief of The Politic.