After September 11 national-security-minded Democratic politicians fell over each other, voting for all sorts of tough measures. They passed the Patriot Act, approved the war in Afghanistan, voted to authorize the removal of Saddam Hussein, and nodded when they were briefed about Guantanamo or wiretap intercepts of suspect phone calls to and from the Middle East.
After the anthrax scare, the arrests of dozens of terrorist cells, and a flurry of al Qaeda fatwas, most Americans thought another attack was imminent — and wanted their politicians to think the same. Today's sourpuss, Senator Harry Reid, once was smiling at a photo-op at the signing of the Patriot Act to record to his constituents that he was darn serious about terrorism. So we have forgotten that most of us after 9/11 would never have imagined that the United States would remain untouched for over four years after that awful cloud of ash settled over the crater at the World Trade Center.
Now the horror of 9/11 and the sight of the doomed diving into the street fade. Gone mostly are the flags on the cars, and the orange and red alerts. The Democrats and the Left, in their amnesia, and as beneficiaries of the very policies they suddenly abhor, now mention al Qaeda very little and Islamic fascism hardly at all.
Apparently due to the success of George Bush at keeping the United States secure, he, not Osama bin Laden, can now more often be the target of a relieved Left — deserving of assassination in an Alfred Knopf novel, an overseer of Nazi policies according to a U.S. senator, a buffoon, and rogue in the award-winning film of Michael Moore. Yes, because we did so well against the real enemies, we soon had the leisure to invent new imaginary ones in Bush/Cheney, Halliburton, the Patriot Act, John Ashcroft, and Scooter Libby.
Afghanistan in October, 2001, conjured up almost immediately warnings of quagmire, expanding Holy War at Ramadan, unreliable allies, a trigger-happy nuclear Pakistan on the border, American corpses to join British and Russian bones in the high desert — not a seven-week victory and a subsequent democracy in Kabul of all places.
Nothing in our era would have seemed more unlikely than democrats dethroning the Taliban and al Qaeda — hitherto missile-proof in their much ballyhooed cave complexes that maps in Newsweek assured us rivaled Norad's subterranean fortress. The prior, now-sanctified Clinton doctrine of standoff bombing ensured that there would be no American fatalities and almost nothing ever accomplished — the perfect strategy for the focus-group/straw-poll era of the 1990s.
Are we then basking in the unbelievable notion that the most diabolical government of the late 20th century is gone from Afghanistan, and in its place are schools, roads, and voting machines? Hardly, since the bar has been astronomically raised since Tora Bora. After all, the Afghan parliament is still squabbling and a long way from the city councils of Cambridge, La Jolla, or Nantucket — or maybe not.
The same paradox of success is true of Iraq. Before we went in, analysts and opponents forecasted burning oil wells, millions of refugees streaming into Jordan and the Gulf kingdoms, with thousands of Americans killed just taking Baghdad alone. Middle Eastern potentates warned us of chemical rockets that would shower our troops in Kuwait. On the eve of the war, had anyone predicted that Saddam would be toppled in three weeks, and two-and-a-half-years later, 11 million Iraqis would turn out to vote in their third election — at a cost of some 2100 war dead — he would have been dismissed as unhinged.
But that is exactly what has happened. And the reaction? Democratic firebrands are now talking of impeachment.
What explains this paradox of public disappointment over things that turn out better than anticipated? Why are we like children who damn their parents for not providing yet another new toy when the present one is neither paid for nor yet out of the wrapper?