What We've Lost
September 11, 2007
Los Angeles Times

America's "war on terror," which enters its sixth year today, now
seems destined to redefine our nation for a generation or more to

The war goes on in Afghanistan, which has endured more than 100
suicide bombings this year, including a horrific attack Monday that
killed at least 28 people. It goes on and on in Iraq, where Gen. David
H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker recommended to Congress
on Monday that U.S. troops should stay, albeit in slightly declining
numbers, until that fractious nation stabilizes. And it appears to be
expanding to a third front, an undeclared but worsening conflict with

In the years since terrorists struck New York and Washington, we can
point to one significant achievement: We have avoided another attack
on American soil. Given the ferocity and cunning of Al Qaeda, that is
no small feat. For this, we give thanks and credit to the diligence of
U.S. and foreign intelligence services, homeland security and law
enforcement officials, brave counter-terrorist fighters and wily
strategists in every branch of the U.S. military, and alert citizens
who have helped authorities foil attacks by would-be mass murderers.

By contrast, the decision to invade Iraq has proved, in our view, a
distraction from the struggle against radical Islamist terrorism, and
it has cost us dearly. More than 3,700 American soldiers have lost
their lives on foreign sands. Another 27,000 have returned home with
injuries, many of them life-altering. Tens of thousands of Iraqis have
been killed or wounded and about 4 million forced to flee, half of
them to uncertain foreign refuge. Their scars will mar the future as
anger over the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and its injustices
at Guantanamo Bay breedsnew enemies.

Those are harrowing consequences of a war waged by an administration
that has misunderstood its enemy and its place in history. But the
price of this president's military and domestic overreach has been
highest in the loss of faith in America itself, in the values and
institutions that have historically defined this nation.

Those values have survived other struggles, notably those against
fascism and communism -- powerful, hostile ideologies backed by
military might. In fighting those wars, the United States did not
always trust its defining liberties; witness the internment of
Japanese Americans during World War II. But while zealots imposed
loyalty oaths and demanded police-state protections, those who better
understood this nation's strength ended racial segregation, expanded
privacy, supplied defendants with lawyers, required that suspects be
told of their rights and insisted on warrants for conducting
searches. Far from compromising security, those and other freedoms
bolstered it. They made America a model, a nation that led not just by
force but by example.

No matter how much he insists otherwise, President Bush lacks that
fundamental belief in American freedom. As a result, his war has not
only subverted U.S. military interests but has undermined the
liberties that make this a nation worthy of emulation. That is the
tragic and true cost of these past six years.