In about two weeks the country will experience its first anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks with Barack Obama as president. How will the distant but indelible memory affect the new commander in chief's efforts to undo some of his predecessor's national security policies?
The anniversary could roil Attorney General Eric Holder's first steps toward potential prosecution of Central Intelligence Agency employees for allegedly torturing terrorists. This September 11 is the only day of the year where the bloodshed of eight summers ago is splashed across all televisions, summoning the old "do whatever it takes" attitudes toward stopping another 9/11. At the same time Republicans will have been arguing for weeks that the administration's tolerance for CIA prosecutions threaten those who stopped the "next shoe" from dropping, and as a result, risk another attack.
The prosecution talk may be a welcomed or unwanted distraction from the administration's push to reform health care and revive the economy. Either way, it will consume much media oxygen, especially when the mnemonic flames of 9/11 are burning. The emotions surrounding that day, plus the drama of éminence grise Dick Cheney versus young Obama, will make this the top story for days.
But the anniversary could help the administration's case to change national security policies. It might jolt the public into remembering the country's fight against terrorism after focusing on its fight against the recession. If the public can remember 9/11 then surely it can remember all that followed it, including the abuse of prisoners and the embarrassing actions of the Bush administration. All of that may make Obama's security policies relevant when they otherwise may not be. The president might find new support for going after Bush-era abuses if people remember the 9/11 attacks, their aftermath, and feel ashamed of what was done in their names to prevent more attacks.
Maybe the partisan rancor will disappear for a few hours on this 9/11, but it could continue for several more years because there will be several more anniversaries.