Editors Note: This article ran in several newspapers in the week before the election, as hope was cresting that we could turn the page on the eight Bush years. At the time of its writing, Barack Obama was leading John McCain by anywhere from four to 12 points in the polls, and he seemed to have a firm grasp on the Electoral College map as well. Although the economy is certainly the main reason for throwing out the bums, voters should also remember that 9/11 happened during the perfect storm of an inept, fanatically right-wing administration that had control of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court and included the worst president to sit in the Oval Office since ... well, you fill in the blank ... and just a hint, it’s not Jimmy Carter.

The Terrorists Have Won Round One

Bringing down the Twin Towers was the most-successful act of Islamic terrorism in history. And al-Qaida compounded its victory by scheduling it during the first year of the most-incompetent, ideologically obsessed presidential administration in recent memory.

The past seven years comprise Round No. 1 of what promises to be a decades-long, global war with Muslim fanatics. And, sadly, it’s a round that the terrorists have won.

Ideally, 9/11 would have united the country in a spirit of patriotic self-sacrifice, as Pearl Harbor had done in 1941. But our leader told us to shop; he waged an optional, unfunded war; and he exploited the nation’s fears to advance his own partisan agenda, splitting us into mutually hostile red and blue camps. During that time, Mr. Bush and al-Qaida combined to do more to bankrupt our country than any Wall Street investment firm or Lexus filled with predatory bankers, because terrorism emerged as a serious threat during the reign of the biggest-spending president in American history.

Standing atop the rubble at Ground Zero, President Bush promised he was coming after those responsible. He successfully drove the Taliban from Afghanistan, which had harbored al-Qaida, but, puffed up by his only victory, he diverted his focus to Iraq. Osama Bin Laden escaped, as we became mired in a trillion-dollar war that’s hamstrung the war on terror since the declaration of Mission Accomplished more than 2,000 days ago.

With American soldiers in Iraq serving as recruiting posters for potential terrorists and targets for Islamic radicals, al-Qaida operates freely on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Bin Laden must be relieved that the leader who pledged to get him, but failed so miserably, remains his adversary.

Americans are reluctant to change presidents in wartime, regardless of how poorly they might be waging those wars. Hence, in a chicken-and-egg scenario, Bin Laden’s success helped re-elect Mr. Bush, despite a first term that couldn’t even charitably be labeled mediocre. At the same time, Bin Laden’s goal of metastasizing terrorism worldwide has been abetted by a second Bush term.

If Don Rumsfeld is to be believed, our campaign in Iraq is producing more new terrorists than we’re killing. Meanwhile, White House policies since 9/11 have squandered the world’s good will, alienated our allies and tarnished our prestige.

Chaos in Iraq has created a power vacuum in the region that’s presented the mullahs in Iran with a radical Shi’ite sphere of influence stretching from Teheran to Beirut. And because we’ve become so overextended chasing fictional WMDs in the Iraqi quagmire, we’ve been unable to prevent the Axis of Evil franchise operating in Iran from developing its nonfictional WMDs.

But, as Sarah Palin would respond in that annoying, whiny accent she borrowed from the movie “Fargo,” “Say it ain’t so, Joe. There ya go again, pointin’ backwards again.” She and John McCain would have us believe the most-successful aspect of the war on terror is happening right now — the celebrated Surge.

However, even if someday we defeat al-Qaida in Iraq, we’ll be fixing a problem we created ourselves — a threat that didn’t even exist until toppling Saddam opened up Iraq as a terrorist homeland. Our invasion was like treating a brain cancer patient by infecting him with pneumonia, then curing the pneumonia. Sadly, we were too busy with the self-inflicted disease to finish curing the cancer in Afghanistan. No wonder Barack Obama can’t quite recognize the Surge as the great victory McCain claims it to be.

The goal of the Islamo-fascist terrorists is to frighten us into becoming more like them — and giving up our way of life in favor of theirs. President Bush claimed, “They hate our freedoms,” but the terrorists’ true victory has been making us hate our freedoms or, at least, making us afraid of them. Warrantless wiretaps, spying on our own citizens, holding and torturing prisoners without charges, throwing doubt on the value of habeas corpus and carelessly bombing innocent civilians aren’t the acts of democrats — they’re tactics with which terrorists feel at home.

He may be fanatical, evil and obsessed, but, in the end, Osama has proved himself to be smarter than the neocons who promised to get him and ended up turning our economy, our democracy and our foreign policy into a pile of rubble in just seven years. Osama is likely to be releasing videos from Waziristan long after W is just an unpleasant memory.

With a change of administration on 1/20/09, we’ll have the chance do better in the war on terror — perhaps even win Round No. 2. It’s hard to imagine us doing any worse.

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