It’s hard to know exactly why most Americans now believe the “war on terror” is over. Obviously, a major reason is that, Boston notwithstanding, al Qaeda has not managed 9/11-scale attacks anywhere in the world. The withdrawal of combat troops from Iraq, and the dramatic decline in coverage of the Afghan war, also may have reduced the public’s focus on jihadist terror. Finally, unlike the Bush administration, which went out of its way to scare Americans about the terrorist threat, the Obama administration has played it down.
Whatever the reason, it’s precisely because so many Americans believe they’re living in the post-post-9/11 age that the reaction to Obama’s surveillance program has been so fierce. In 2008, when Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act, on which the Obama administration’s intrusions partly rely, every single Senate Republican and every House Republican except one voted to expand the government’s spying power. Today, by contrast, the GOP has a growing libertarian wing fervently opposed to surrendering individual freedom in the name of national security. These post–“war on terror” Republicans first proved they could cause the Obama administration fits in March when Sen. Rand Paul filibustered John Brennan’s nomination to head the CIA until receiving an assurance that the government would never authorize drone strikes inside the U.S. Pro–national-security-state Republicans like John McCain and Lindsey Graham ridiculed Paul’s filibuster, but Tea Party groups rallied behind him, as did newly elected GOP Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee. Soon, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell had joined the filibuster and the National Republican Senatorial Committee was raising money off it. Now a similar intra-GOP divide is playing out over the NSA disclosures. Seeing Obama’s policies as an extension of George W. Bush’s, Bush veterans Ari Fleischer and Karl Rove have defended Obama’s snooping. But led by Paul and Lee, a new crop of post-Bush, post–“war on terror” Republicans has taken the exact opposite stance. “We’re not tied to the Bush administration’s policies, which were also wrong,” Rep. Justin Amash (R-Michigan) told BuzzFeed. “We are a reflection of what grassroots Republicans believe.”