The current hysteria over the president’s authorization of some domestic intercepts by the National Security Agency reminds me of similar reaction by liberals to the Cold War.
Instead of recognizing communism as a clear and present danger to freedom and liberty here and abroad, many liberals decided the real threat to those values came from anti-communism itself. Anti-anti-communism became the defining characteristic of American liberals, who have never fully recovered their credibility with the American people when it comes to protecting the nation.
The inheritors of that liberal tradition might today be defined as anti-anti-terrorists. Whatever the government does to try to protect us from the threat of Islamic terrorists is immediately suspect. Instead of focusing on the real threat posed by an actual enemy, liberals today are more worried about imagined threats to civil liberties posed by the efforts to counteract terrorism.
Granted, we don’t yet know the full extent of the NSA program — and shouldn’t since it is among the most highly sensitive classified programs run by the government. According to the original news stories reporting on the program and the administration’s response, however, the NSA has intercepted communications from known terrorists overseas to persons in the United States without seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.
Critics claim this is illegal, citing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which sets up a procedure for U.S. intelligence services normally prohibited from monitoring U.S. citizens and permanent residents to seek a warrant to do so from the FISA court. The president claims — and is supported by legal scholars and officials from previous administrations, including the Clinton Justice Department — that he has the authority to bypass the FISA procedure so long as he is responding to a foreign threat and acting in his role as commander in chief during wartime.
Every president since FISA was enacted in 1978, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton, has asserted similar authority, suggesting Bush is no radical in his assumptions. But this is an issue to be resolved in the courts, not in the halls of Congress, which cannot trump the Constitution by statute, much less the opinion pages of the newspaper.
My point here has more to do with the motives of those who’ve jumped on the NSA story than resolving the legal issues surrounding it. What is it about the liberal elite that automatically assumes the worst about our own government but is willing to assume only innocent intentions when it comes to those accused of wanting to do harm to America?
Like liberal anti-anti-communists of the Cold War era, today’s anti-anti-terrorists assume nefarious intentions of the U.S. government, while clamoring to protect the rights of enemy agents operating in our country. Cold War liberals vigorously defended Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, convicted of giving the Soviet Union nuclear secrets, and State Department official Alger Hiss, one of several high-ranking Roosevelt administration appointees who spied for the Soviet Union.
Even after the release of Soviet archival records and the Venona files, the secret communications between the Soviets and their U.S. agents decrypted by the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service, many liberals refused to admit the guilt of these individuals. Similarly, today’s anti-anti-terrorists refuse to acknowledge the threat of al-Qaeda agents and sympathizers in the United States, worrying instead that the real threat is from the American government, intent on spying on its own citizens.
We won the Cold War in spite of a "fifth column" operating in the United States and those who denied its presence. But it took trillions of dollars and the commitment of America’s leaders and the majority of our citizens to do so, a process that was undeniably made more lengthy and difficult by the anti-anti-communists.
No doubt we will win the war on terrorism as well, but the anti-anti-terrorists may prolong the war and endanger American lives with their paranoid resistance to fighting the terrorists. Pogo was wrong: We have met the enemy, and he is not us.