Jack Bauer for President

There’s a reason Fox’s "24" is the most popular show on television.

It’s not just the suspense. It’s not just the action. It’s not just the great premise, the great writing, the great performances and the great production values.

It’s because America loves Jack Bauer. We recognize we need him.

If you have watched even a few episodes of "24," you realize it’s not decisions by the president of the United States that save Americans from disaster after disaster. It’s the individual initiative and courage displayed by Jack Bauer — the man we’re constantly reminded is "expendable."

Viewers understand Jack Bauer is the one indispensable character. They recognize without him, or others like him, all is lost. Presidents come and go. Jack Bauer remains — and, as long as he remains, there is hope the bad guys will continue to be foiled in their efforts to kill Americans and destroy their country.

To say Jack Bauer’s methods are controversial would be an understatement. Quite frankly, his methods would be illegal in the real America — and not only in the way they are employed inside the country against citizens, but even on America’s battlefields and in foreign places with names like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

Back in the real world, President Bush is hoping to win his war in Iraq by sending in 20,000 more U.S. troops. But what he needs, figuratively speaking, is Jack Bauer.

He needs new tactics. He needs intelligence. He needs information extracted from captives on the battlefield and enemies picked up on the streets of America. Actually, what he needs is a dose of common sense — not really anything new.

He needs to turn our brave fighting men loose. He needs to free their hands of the restraints he and the Congress of the United States have placed on them with regard to interrogation techniques. He needs to return to the rules of engagement that made the American military the envy of the world.

Prior to November 2004, there was little question anywhere that America was accomplishing its mission in Iraq. It was destroying the enemy and transforming the country into a U.S. ally in the Middle East.

But what happened in November 2004 changed all that. It wasn’t a victory on the battlefield by al-Qaida. It wasn’t a spontaneous uprising by America’s enemies. It wasn’t any failure by U.S. troops.

It was a public-relations disaster called Abu Ghraib. That media coup for the enemy set off a chain of events that ultimately led the politicians in Washington to handcuff our troops — ensuring the quagmire that followed.

Abu Ghraib spelled the end of coercive interrogations. Now enemy captives know they don’t have to talk. They know exactly what U.S. interrogators will and won’t do to get information. They have no fear. They know Jack Bauer isn’t coming.

That’s why Bush’s plan for more troops won’t work. It’s not more troops we need. It’s taking the handcuffs off the troops already on the battlefield that is needed.

When we stopped performing coercive interrogations, we no longer had the ability to prevent attacks before they happened. We no longer had the human intelligence we had prior to November 2004. What we get from prisoners now is nothing, nada, zilch, zip … bubkis.

Does anyone in Washington watch "24"? Does President Bush? Does Nancy Pelosi? Does Harry Reid? What do they think of it? Do they cheer on Jack Bauer? Or, do they scream at the television: "Arrest that man"?

I really wonder.

Because America needs Jack Bauers. We will lose Iraq if we fail to recognize war is a dirty business that must be waged with the understanding that anything short of victory is unacceptable.

There will be a presidential election in 2008, God willing.

I hope there will be a Jack Bauer among the candidates.