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Kathy Willens/AP

Unintended consequences

Campaign 2008 | It's a law no president can escape

Issue: "Not over till it's over," Nov. 1, 2008

I know of a woman from Iraq who cried so much when her husband was kidnapped that her right eye no longer tracks. It came loose, unhinged itself with grief. A lot of Iraqis like her feel to their very joint and marrow that their world came unglued when the United States went to war in Iraq. Her family is together again-mother, father, and four children-but they can never go back home.

Tens of thousands of Muslim families have suffered kidnappings, bombings, death, and destruction. But for minority Christians the demographics of war have been crippling: Since 2003 their numbers in Iraq have been halved by violence and persecution. Before the war most church leaders say the Christian population was 750,000 to 800,000. Now it is at or below 400,000.

And the liquidation continues. Consider these documented murders from Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city and its historic center for Christianity-from the first week in October only:

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• Evan Enwiya Adam, age 15, was hanging out with Muslim friends in the street near his house when gunmen called him out from the crowd and shot him on Oct 4. His killers did not attack the Muslim teenagers.

• Amjad Petros and his son Husam were two out of 15 men working construction. The only Christians, they were picked out and shot Oct. 7.

• Ziyad Kamal, a handicapped man in a wheelchair, was killed Oct. 6 in the shop where he sells spare parts.

There have been more killings in the last month too, nearly all by masked gunmen declaring jihad. As a result thousands have left Mosul in these recent weeks-added to the more than 1.5 million who have left the country altogether in the last five years.

This is one of the most glaring examples of the law of unintended consequences, the plague of presidential politics no one wants to talk about. Who knew that a war in Iraq by a president globally known for his personal faith would fall so heavy on his fellow believers? Who knew that the financial heyday launched by banking deregulation would be mortgaged on the backs of those designed to benefit most from it? Who knew that one administration making little of a truck bomb driven into the bowels of the World Trade Center in 1993 would leave open a door for a future strike that would consume the next presidency?

Yet no one has asked the question Americans should want answered by Sens. Obama and McCain: If you had been president on Sept. 10, 2001, what would you have done differently by Sept. 12? How would that crucible have shaped you? Who would you have wanted in the war room?

All historians will agree that the single most important event of the Bush administration-and perhaps many more-is 9/11. It was the largest attack on U.S. soil in a century. It was unprecedented in nature. It forced the largest reorganization of the U.S. government in history. It led to the federal takeover of airport security. It sent our army and many others to war.

Yet in three presidential debates contemplation of 9/11-and the next unknown-was allotted a two-minute response from each candidate. "What do you think the likelihood is that there would be another 9/11-type attack on the continental United States?" Jim Lehrer asked at the end of the first debate. But what he posed was a strategy question, less a test than a bet, and what we are looking for is a matter of character and grit.

Most glaring of all has been the lack of debate over the real thread running through 9/11 and its aftermath. Not Pakistan or Afghanistan or Taliban or Mahdi Army or Iraq or Iran. The common thread is Islam. And in three debates the word "Islam" was never uttered, not even in modified form, such as "radical Islam" or "moderate Islam." How will our next president address a threat he will not name?

McCain has pointed out that there is no economic security without military security. In hindsight we know some warned of homeland terror and financial doom. The big question now is, will the next president be listening?

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