After 9/11 we heard from a great many public figures that if we changed our way of life, if we allowed that incident to cause us to live in fear, "the terrorists will have won." Now almost ten years later, it seems that, in the minds of many on the right, the terrorists have, by that definition, won.
In the wake of the failed Times Square car bomb, we have heard from John McCain, Joe Lieberman, and many others on the right that Faisal Shahzad should not have been given his Miranda rights, that he should be tried by a military tribunal, that the FBI and NYPD should have deferred to the intelligence community in the investigation, etc. Given the apparent lag between his being put on the no-fly list and his boarding the airplane at JFK, we can expect to hear more justification for profiling, etc.
Let's assume, as seems very likely, that Faisal Shahzad did all the things he is accused of having done – and let's assume that he did so with training and some sort of support from terrorist groups in Pakistan or Afghanistan. He is an American citizen and the US Constitution guarantees to anyone accused of a crime in the United States, regardless of citizenship, the presumption of innocence, the right to due process, etc. What McCain, Lieberman, and the others are saying, in effect, is "damn the Constitution; when we are in danger, all that goes by the boards." If we buy that, then the terrorists will, indeed have won.
Bear in mind that this is not your father's war. In the World Wars, in Korea, even in Vietnam, the issue was occupation of territory. World domination would go to whichever power occupied (and therefore ruled) the largest area of the world. The goal of the so-called Islamic Fundamentalists (and any serious student of Islam will tell you they are neither) is not primarily to occupy territory, it is to destroy any way of life, any view of the world that is not in accord with theirs. They want to destroy the State of Israel not so they can occupy that sliver of land, but to strike a blow to the heart of Judaism. They have no designs on occupying the United States – they want to undermine the Western way of life – freedom, equality, democracy – and they believe that if they can fatally wound those principles in the US, the rest of the West will fall with us.
Given that, those on the Right who call for dealing with Shahzad, the underwear bomber, and others by extra-constitutional means are playing right into their hands, Guantanamo, waterboarding and other "extraordinary methods," rendition, all work perfectly for the terrorists. If I were Osama bin Laden I would not see the Times Square bomb as a failure – sure, if it went off, thousands of people would have been killed and damage would have been done; maybe Shahzad would even have got away; but none of that would do the damage to America that would be done if we listen to the chicken hawks on the Right and abrogate the Constitution.
The United States Constitution is the charter document of democracy in America and a model of what is possible for the world. Notwithstanding the places where we fall short of its ideals and principles – notwithstanding Arizona, Goldman Sachs, the Tea Parties, and the lunatic fringes on the Right and the Left, it is what makes us who we are, and we go outside the boundaries of that charter at our peril.
So who is the bigger threat to the American way of life? An inept 30-year old loser who could barely find his ass with both hands if you spotted him a cheek or two US Senators who rose to be candidates for President and Vice President of the United States who publicly call for disregarding the Constitution?