- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ron Suskind’s best-selling book “The One Percent Doctrine” refers to Vice President Dick Cheney’s axiom that if there is a 1 percent chance of a nuclear bomb going off in an American city, the U.S. government has to respond with all the urgency as if there is a 100 percent chance of such an event. When Mr. Suskind’s book appeared, there was much clucking about Mr. Cheney’s thinking — so dire, so dark, so unmodulated.

But Mr. Cheney’s vision can only be considered unhinged if a fog of complacency descends about the terror threat facing us. Whenever that threat becomes clear again, as it has in the wake of the breakup of a plot in Britain to blow airliners from the sky, everyone begins to think like Dick Cheney, or maybe more so: If there is a mere .0001 percent chance of a terrorist smuggling liquid explosives on a flight from Denver to Green Bay, Wis., no one can carry on hair gel, and new mothers must present their baby formula for inspection.

The fact is that we live in a 1 percent world. We face a shadowy enemy who represents a threat that is unspeakably awful when it is actualized, but is too easy to discount when it isn’t. Who even remembers that suspects were arrested in Miami two months ago in the very early stages of plotting perhaps to blow up the Sears Tower in Chicago? It’s always possible to let the mind wander, until thousands of innocent civilians are killed.

The British plot serves as a reminder that Islamic fanatics are intent on committing violent acts against the West, but really, how many reminders do we need? Since September 11, 2001 there have been the Bali bombings (October 2002), the Madrid bombings (March 2004) and the British subway bombings (July 2005), among others. Terrorists are very good about reminding us of their threat at regular intervals — it’s just that there is a segment of Western opinion that willfully wants to forget.

Fresh from rallying around the Democratic Senate candidate in Connecticut who vanquished their party’s most prominent hawk, the Democrats reflexively condemned the Iraq War as a distraction from the war on terror in response to the British news. A case can be made that Iraq has indeed prevented us from taking tough measures elsewhere in the world. But Democrats simply oppose tough measures, in Iraq or anywhere else.

The same Democrats who oppose the war in Iraq tend to oppose the National Security Agency surveillance program, condemn aggressive interrogations and complain about the Patriot Act. It is all part of a worldview that wishes away dangers when they demand philosophically uncongenial responses, defined as roughly anything that doesn’t involve shoveling federal money to localities.

We will learn more about how the Brits managed to unravel the airline plot in the coming days, but surely it involved extensive monitoring and the strictest secrecy, capped off by an act of pre-emption when Scotland Yard arrested the plotters. All of these have been in a bad odor among liberals lately. They will say they support them in this case, never mind that they look askance at them during our stretches of complacency.

We are engaged in a multifaceted war on terror. To fight it requires the military, law enforcement, international cooperation and preventive domestic-security measures. The ultimate center of gravity is the hearts and minds of Muslims. We have to reach into the Middle East, because so long as the cradle of Islamic civilization is a cauldron of chaos and failure, it will spin off murderous fanatics. We also must engage in an ideological struggle within the West, where radicalism infects Muslims living among us. Britain is a study in how not to do the latter. It doesn’t insist on assimilation and routinely courts exactly the Islamic extremists who should be shunned.

All of this is the work of decades. In the meantime, get used to the 1 percent world.

Rich Lowry is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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