For Mayer, it is axiomatic that the aftermath of September 11, and what it revealed about the flaws in the American security apparatus that made the jihadist attack possible, did not necessitate any new framework for thinking about the protection of the United States from a new form of foreign aggression. She is outraged that Bush and Cheney would even presume to ask their legal advisers to study the latitude available to them in fighting the terrorists—to determine which practices would be permissible and which would fall into a gray area requiring new laws and policies.
I happen to agree with May that this reveals a fundamental difference of opinion between the Weekly Standard – John McCain – Bush Administration axis of overheated rhetoric and the rest of us. If you think 9/11 represents the upper level of Al Qaida’s capabilities, you’re probably less inclined to accept invasive surveillance, the rationale for invading Iraq, or torture. If, on the other hand, you think that 9/11 is a prelude to a much longer struggle between Islam and the West, you’re undoubtedly more persuaded by the Republicans’ “better safe than sorry” formulation. The trouble with this approach is that security hawks never bother to defend their premises – they just take it as a given that we’re in the midst of some existential struggle against stateless terror organizations. So here’s a suggestion for May: if you want to convince me that loosening our restrictions on detainee mistreatment is a good idea, you should find a way to coherently defend your apocalyptic vision of American foreign policy. Otherwise I’m just not buying it.