- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

“He kept us safe.” At this writing, it seems likely that, when the history of George W. Bush’s presidency is written, that statement will be one of its most laudable achievements. All of us - Republicans, Democrats, independents and others alike - can only hope the same will be said of our new commander in chief, Barack Obama.

I had thought even the inveterate Bush-haters would give the outgoing president his due on this score. Imagine my surprise when, in the course of an appearance I made last Wednesday on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” host Chris Matthews seemed determined to diminish, if not dismiss altogether, this legacy of the Bush 43 presidency.

Mr. Matthews’ argument was that, if safety is the test, Mr. Bush actually failed. After all, he allowed the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, to happen on his watch. There can be no disputing the fact that the nearly 3,000 killed on that terrible day were not kept safe.

The truth is that the Bush team can fairly be critiqued for what amounts to its failure to abandon during the administration’s first few months the defective counterterrorism, intelligence and law enforcement policies inherited from the Clinton administration. With the benefit of hindsight, we now know, had it heeded various warnings - some of which President Clinton also ignored - and acted more aggressively, the hijackers who perpetrated their murderous plot Sept. 11 might have been kept from doing so.

Having said that, it is churlish, not to say obtuse, to deny that many corrective actions were taken after Sept. 11, with salutary effect. An enormous investment has been made in myriad aspects of homeland security at the federal, state and local levels. The notorious “wall” that once prevented cooperation between intelligence agencies and their law enforcement counterparts has been dismantled. Legislation essential to monitoring the enemy’s communications, intercepting his funding streams and detaining his operatives has been enacted, closing serious pre-Sept. 11 gaps that our foes proved to be skilled at exploiting.

Not least, the United States went on the offensive, attacking terrorist safe havens in Afghanistan and Iraq and working with many other countries around the world to root out the cells, training camps and other operations associated with or emulating al Qaeda.

Thanks, in part to these measures, a succession of known terrorist plots meant to inflict further loss of American lives and destruction of property were prevented. It seems likely, if unprovable, that still others were deterred.

Some, like Chris Matthews, seemed determined to trivialize these accomplishments by suggesting the damage these prevented attacks would have inflicted was far less than the murderous airplane-delivered blows of Sept. 11. They also aver that the costs of adopting a more robust homeland security posture here and our offensive strategy abroad have surpassed the benefits.

There is, of course, no way to evaluate such assertions. My guess, though, is that most Americans would strong disagree. They quite reasonably and overwhelmingly believe their government has a responsibility to do whatever it can to keep us safe. Had the Bush administration done otherwise after Sept. 11 and its lapses been exploited at a cost of more death and destruction here, there would have been hell to pay.

It is a credit to President Bush and his subordinates that they did as much as they did on this score and they deserve our thanks for the extent to which their efforts to secure our country proved successful.

Having said all that, we are not as safe as we should be. The Bush team has not fully understood, and certainly has not communicated authoritatively to the American people, the true nature of the danger we confront. Unless we are clear about what animates our most immediate enemies - the theo-political-legal code authoritative Islam calls Shariah - we will not understand their threat doctrine, nor be able to counter it as we must, both comprehensively and effectively.

This failure is not only deeply problematic in its own right. A public uninformed, a Congress inattentive and various institutions - including what’s left of Wall Street, our prisons, our campuses and our government - heedless of the menace posed by Shariah’s adherents are giving rise to extremely ominous conditions. They portend an America that will be in due course, as Europe is today, at risk of penetration, subversion, sedition and ultimately destruction at the hands of those who seek to replace our form of government with a repressive Shariah-governed global theocracy.

It will fall to Barack Obama’s administration to rectify this serious blight on its predecessor’s record of keeping us safe. Will our 44th president appreciate the danger here at home from the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood and its myriad front organizations - including the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American Islamic Relations, a danger the Bush team largely failed to perceive?

Or will Mr. Obama compound this error, by embracing the Brotherhood, acquiescing to its demands for serial submission to Shariah in the name of “respecting Islam” and diversity, and perhaps employing its operatives? Should such mistakes be made, it is predictable that we will not be able to say down the road of the man whose Inauguration we honor today that “he kept us safe.”

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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