But Rumsfeld’s speech was never meant to be taken seriously. It’s just crude agitprop designed to keep the proles from wondering if the Cheney wing of the Republican Party is actually doing anything to make the world a safer place. The question has never been whether we should open talks with al-Qaeda, it’s been what we should do to stop them from killing us. Should we fight a war in Iraq that’s served primarily as a recruiting bonanza for radical jihadism? Should we refuse to talk to the Middle East’s biggest regional power because we think that merely being in the same room with them is a sign of weakness? Should we encourage Israel to fight a fruitless war against Lebanon while simultaneously egging on American hawks who think a bombing campaign against Iran will fix all our problems? Should we spend homeland defense money on dumb projects in loyal red states instead of taking port security seriously?
Let’s see. How about no, no, no, and no? But those are questions Rumsfeld would prefer not to address since they put the spotlight on the fact that the Bush administration has accomplished nothing over the past five years except to make a bad problem even worse — which is a pretty remarkable record when you consider how bad the problem was to begin with.
But al-Qaeda won’t be beaten by fighting a bunch of aimless proxy wars in the general vicinity of the Middle East. It will, eventually, be beaten when the non-terrorist population of the region decides to turn against al-Qaeda and its jihadist allies and deny them the support and shelter they need in order to function. Encouraging that to happen is the biggest foreign policy challenge of the 21st century, and because they’ve failed so miserably at it, it’s the one thing the Bushies most want to avoid talking about.
Which is, of course, precisely why we should talk about it. Loudly and relentlessly. It’s good policy and good politics.