September 9, 2009 | Commentary on National Security and Defense, Political Thought

What Really Remains of the Day

It was July 4, 1916 ... or so the story goes. The world was at war. Americans weren't in the fight yet, but they knew whose side they were on ... and it wasn't Germany's.

That day, four Hun-hating refugees met at a Coney Island hot dog stand. Arguing over who was prouder to be in America, they decided to settle the matter with an eating contest. An All-American eating contest. One in which they would devour -- not the hated frankfurter -- but the All-American "hot dog."

Legend holds this was the origin of Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. This year 40,000 people watched. ESPN covered it live.

Now, some sports fans may get excited watching Joey Chestnut beat out his archrival Takeru Kobayashi by a margin of three and a half dogs (swallowing 68, bun and all, in 10 minutes). Still, no one would argue Independence Day is about eating hot dogs.

It makes little more sense to argue what 9/11 is all about. However, apparently common sense does not count for much in Washington.

According to an article in the American Spectator, some participants in an Aug. 11 White House-sponsored teleconference call complained that 9/11 was too partisan. Why? "Because it focuses the public on supposedly 'Republican' issues like patriotism, national security, and terrorism." Shifting from "remembrance to environmentalism and community service helps diminish the day as a Republican symbol," opined these deep-thinking patriots.

Last week, Obama's campaign organization "Organizing for America" posted (albeit only briefly -- before outrage forced them to take it down) a notice asking supporters to make 9/11 a day to lobby for the president's health care plan. The 9/11 tie-in? It's a fitting date to "fight back against our own Right-Wing Domestic Terrorists (sic) who are subverting the American Democratic Process."

Playing politics with national security appears to be increasingly endemic in the White House. While some were busy trying to repackage 9/11, the president's national security adviser boasted in an ABC interview that Obama's counterterrorism policy has already proven far more effective than that of his predecessor. "The world is coming together on this matter now that President Obama has taken the leadership on it," said retired Marine Gen. Jim Jones.

That declaration makes about as much sense as saying July 4 is hot dog day. It can take years to put complex, effective counterterrorism and intelligence programs together. The notion that the new administration walked in and "fixed" everything in six months defies logic. Where we have seen some success lately -- in Pakistan, for example, taking out terrorist leaders with Predator strikes or roundups by the Pakistani military -- are operations that simply continue policies from the last administration.

Politics as usual is not acceptable when the nation's freedom and security are on the line. Since 9/11, the U.S. government has "publicly" foiled more than 23 plots or conspiracies where terrorists planned to kill Americans on American soil. This number does not include other operations thwarted by covert activities (which we will only read about some day in the history books).

The fact is transnational terrorists are still out there trying to kill us. We have to stop them. We have to take away their sanctuary in Pakistan. We have to kill or capture their leaders; break up their organizations; frustrate their recruiting and fundraising; disrupt their operations; and undermine their legitimacy. We have to make sure America is resilient in case we are attacked again. These are the things that really matter.

Finger-pointing in the fox hole is surest way to lose a war. Fighting over the memory of 9/11; making the day about symbolic partisan politics; making national security about being a "good" Republican or a "concerned" Democrat puts the nation at risk. It is Washington politics at its very worst.

James Jay Carafano is Senior Research Fellow in national security policy at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

First Appeared in the Washington Examiner