In a series of posts at The Volokh Conspiracy about the Hamdan decision, Randy Barnett argues that the Bush Administration made two “colossal” errors in the days, weeks, and months after September 11th. The first, he says, was not seeking explicity Congressional authorization for the tactics that have become most controversial such as detention of combatants without a fixed ending point and military tribunals.
And the second, not getting the American public involved:
Tax increases or a military draft were not needed for this. But bond drives, resource collection, and other assistance-to-the-military programs ? even better, some form of volunteer genuine militia service ? in the wake of 9/11 would have given the public some ownership of the resulting policies. Many called for these sorts of initiatives at the time. They were waiting to be asked to pitch in and help. Instead the administration adopted a Vietnam-type strategy of “We’ll handle things; you all go about your business.” Which leads to bad reactions when “things” do not go as smoothly as expected.
Barnett expands on this point in a later post:
[U]nlike WWII, with this real war, no such “official” involvement exists. And given press coverage of the war, you cannot even stay reliably informed of its progress ? unless you follow blogs, of course, but that is a highly niche audience. The only box score you get is how many soldiers and Iraqi civilians have been blown to bits each day. This is like following a team by reading just the daily injury reports (which true fans do read).
I think Barnett has a point here. For the most part, the average American can go about their daily lives without any real concern about what’s going on in the War on Terror. For the most part this is a good thing, because it means that people don’t have to worry about whether there might be a bomb on the bus on the way to work. Yes, we’ve had terror alerts here and there, and the kookier web sites out there continue to run stories about a secret stash of al Qaeda nuclear weapons hidden throughout the United States and set to go off on some significant day, which always changes when the day comes and goes without a nuclear holocaust. For the most part, though, we haven’t really had to worry about terrorism on a daily basis since the anthrax scare fizzled out. This lack of public involvement in the War on Terror is also a bad thing, though, because the less involved people are in what’s going on, the less willing they will be to continue the fight.
I remember in the days and months after September 11th, President Bush and the Administration said that the one thing American’s could do to help in the War on Terror was get on with the lives as they were before September 11th, and to buy stuff. This isn’t the way you motivate a population to support a struggle that, even then, they admitted would last a long time. Democracies tend to lose the will to fight after time passes to begin with, to not even try to rally people around the war effort from the beginning was, I think, a huge mistake.