Holder Knows We Are At War

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Attorney General Eric Holder is appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning for a hearing on oversight of the Justice Department--the second at which he's appeared since being sworn in in February--and, while a range of issues will come up, Holder jumped right into his decision to try the 9/11 conspirators in New York, during his opening statement.

And he was very deliberate in telling the committee that he knows the country is at war:

Finally, there are some who have said this decision means that we have reverted to a pre-9/11 mentality, or that we don't realize this nation is at war...

I know that we are at war.

I know that we are at war with a vicious enemy who targets our soldiers on the battlefield in Afghanistan and our civilians on the streets here at home. I have personally witnessed that somber fact in the faces of the families who have lost loved ones abroad, and I have seen it in the daily intelligence stream I review every day. Those who suggest otherwise are simply wrong. Prosecuting the 9/11 defendants in federal court does not represent some larger judgment about whether or not we are at war. We are at war, and we will use every instrument of national power -- civilian, military, law enforcement, intelligence, diplomatic, and others -- to win.  We need not cower in the face of this enemy. Our institutions are strong, our infrastructure is sturdy, our resolve is firm, and our people are ready.

Holder's statement addresses the main thrust of criticism of the worldview held by President Obama and many Democrats since the 9/11 attacks: that closing Guantanamo, backing away from military commissions, and banning waterboarding--just to give some examples--not only are soft, but that they ignore the realities of a post-9/11 world--the reality that the United States is at war.

It's a statement that people take to mean different things. U.S. troops are stationed in Afghanistan and Iraq--those are wars. Right before he launched this explanation, he recounted accompanying Obama to Dover Air Force Base and seeking caskets of U.S. soldier return home.

But we all know that's not the only war he's talking about. He's talking about the war on radical Islamic terrorists being waged in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and elsewhere--President Bush's Global War on Terror.

That's a term the Obama administration has stricken from its lexicon: Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and Department of Homeland Security official communiques no longer refer to it--instead, they use the nonspecific, non-terrorism-related term "current operations."

The "Global War on Terror" took some criticism, for a number of reasons. One of them was that Bush used this sweeping, all-consuming war--which, unlike Iraq and Afghanistan, became part of the fabric of American existence--to expand executive powers. Another was that "terror" is actually an emotion. As David Cross said, it's like having a war on jealousy. Liberals accused Bush of fearmongering; the "War on Terror" became a symbol of that fear.

But despite the Obama administration's attempts to get away from Bush's language, the war on terrorism is something that it can't get away from. Today we had Obama's top law enforcement official full embrace that ethos. If that tells us anything, it's that at critical moments of national security, the Obama administration will acknowledge this war, and it will verge into the national security realism that, while mismanaged and badly represented over the previous eight years, came to be a defining mark of the Bush worldview.

For Holder, and for the administration in general, it seems important to present their national security policies as cognizant of post-9/11 realities--because, as Holder acknowledges, the criticism is present--even as many of the administration's supporters take issue with the notion that, on 9/11, the world fundamentally changed.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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