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Published: Saturday, 9/13/2003

War on terror is well begun

On the second anniversary of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans feel considerably more secure than they did in the immediate aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

There is a good reason for this. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been no successful terrorist attacks on American soil. Since Sept. 11, 2001, there have been no successful major terrorist attacks against American targets anywhere in the world.

We cannot attribute the absence of bloodshed to a change of heart on the part of our attackers. The tapes allegedly made by Osama bin Laden that are played periodically on Arab television contain more dire threats than ever. If he could hurt us, he would. So why hasn't al-Qaeda struck again?

It could be luck, or:

It could be because al-Qaeda has lost its bases and protectors in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It could be because two thirds of the known al-Qaeda leadership is in prison, or dead, and the remainder spend more time looking over their shoulders than they do in plotting future attacks.

It could be because the FBI and other law enforcement agencies have uncovered and disrupted more than 100 al-Qaeda plots.

It could be because the new Department of Homeland Security has dramatically reduced the number of “soft” targets in the United States.

Would the Taliban still be in power in Afghanistan? Would Saddam Hussein be in power in Iraq? Given what Mr. Gore and other prominent Democrats have said about the Afghan and Iraq wars, the answer to these questions probably is yes.

Would the Patriot Act, which removed foolish barriers to the sharing of information among intelligence agencies, and thus made possible the disruption of more than 100 al-Qaeda plots, have been enacted into law? Given that Mr. Gore and other Democrats have described the Patriot Act as the greatest threat to civil liberties since the Alien and Sedition Acts, the answer is probably no.

Would the Department of Homeland Security have been as effective? Given that Democrats in Congress were more interested in protecting union rules than in getting the right people into the right positions as quickly as possible, the answer is probably no.

Despite success in the war on terror, and a reviving economy, President Bush's approval ratings have slipped. Dick Morris, who guided Bill Clinton to victories in 1992 and 1996, thinks this is precisely because Americans feel more secure.

Iraq, by accident or design, has become the central battlefield in the war on terror. Operatives from al-Qaeda and Hezbollah are being drawn there, like moths to a flame. By engaging them there, we keep them out of New York and Washington. And if democracy takes root in Iraq, terror-supporting regimes in Iran, Syria, and Saudi Arabia are doomed.

The Iraq policy of all the Democratic presidential candidates, save Sen. Joe Lieberman, is camouflaged surrender. Turn the country over to the United Nations, and then leave. This would please the French. But is America made more secure by winning the approval of the French, or by relentlessly pursuing our enemies?

America's foreign policy defeats, from Vietnam onward, have all been failures of political will. Our soldiers have demonstrated in Afghanistan and Iraq that the war on terror cannot be lost on the battlefield. But it can be lost at the ballot box.

The war on terror is well begun. But it is far from over. If we declare victory and go home, we can be sure the terrorists will follow us back here.

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