Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Vulnerable indeed

It's now official: "A vote for a Democrat is a vote for Al Qaeda" is (as predicted) officially the central theme of this year's Republican presidential campaign.

Dick Cheney trotted it out for national consumption this weekend:
Vice President Dick Cheney says the United States will risk another terrorist attack if voters make the wrong choice on Election Day, suggesting Sen. John Kerry would follow a pre-Sept. 11 policy of reacting defensively.

"It's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we'll get hit again and we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States," Cheney told supporters at a town-hall meeting Tuesday.

Cheney was providing the followup punch to the rather sly introduction of the meme last week at the GOP National Convention by the phony "Democrat" Zell Miller, who claimed that "our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief".

Never mind the hilarity of Republicans (or faux Democrats) pontificating about an obsession over "bringing down" an elected President, especially considering the difference between the traditional democratic institution of presidential elections and a transparently illegitimate impeachment that was little more than an attempt at overturning the will of the electorate. (It's also worth remembering that Republicans were famously loath to acknowledge Bill Clinton as the "Commander in Chief".)

No, what was insidious about Miller's characterization of the opposition to George W. Bush was the way he identified it with attacks on the national interest by referring to him as "the Commander in Chief." It's a sly way of identifying Bush's political enemies with our national enemies -- Democrats with Al Qaeda.

Cheney, ever the master of the one-two punch, carried that suggestion a notch further on Tuesday. But in the process, he created an opening for Democrats to begin asking the question that really needs to be asked: In looking at Bush's record, why would anyone think that he has made us safer from terrorism?

Cheney has created an opening for Democrats, really, to say what needs to be said: When it comes to terrorism, Bush was asleep at the wheel on Sept. 11. And he has driven us deeper into the ditch in the years since.

Just remember:

-- It wasn't Democrats who dragged the presidency through the mud with a political witch hunt culminating in a bogus impeachment trial, diverting the national interest from serious issues -- like the mounting threat of terrorism -- at a time when the threat was first manifesting itself.

-- It wasn't Democrats who minimized the seriousness of the Al Qaeda threat by dismissing President Clinton's missile strikes on their camps as mere "wagging the dog."

-- It wasn't Democrats who dismissed the warnings of the outgoing Clinton team regarding the need to take Al Qaeda and the larger threat of terrorism seriously, simply because they came from Clinton's team.

-- It wasn't a Democrat who went on vacation for month after receiving initial intelligence warnings about an imminent terrorist threat, and who failed to act on that intelligence in any discernible fashion.

-- It wasn't a Democratic administration that first focused its attentions on Iraq after the 9/11 attacks, only changing to Afghanistan after it became irrevocably clear that Osama bin Laden, and not Saddam Hussein, was responsible.

-- It wasn't a Democratic leadership that then withheld manpower from Afghanistan (almost certainly in anticipation of an Iraq invasion), depending to a large extent on help from local forces, which created an opening for the majority of the Al Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan -- including Osama bin Laden -- to escape over the Pakistani border.

-- It wasn't a Democratic president who then proceeded to (perhaps intentionally) misread intelligence and mislead the public about the nature of the threat posed by Saddam, successfully portraying him as an essential component of the "war on terror," when the reality both before and after the subsequent invasion was that Hussein played no role whatsoever in the events of 9/11, and had only a secondary and relatively minor role in terrorist activity. (It's worth remembering that a substantial number of the horrifying victims of his brutal regime were radical Islamists.)

-- It wasn't a Democratic administration that so poorly prepared for the post-invasion reality of the forced occupation of Iraq that it created a violent quagmire in which the death toll for American soldiers (not to even mention the thousands of civilians) has now passed 1,000. This quagmire is gaining all the earmarks of an insoluble mess, regardless of who inherits it, and competence and measured judgement -- none of which Bush has displayed -- will be required to deal with it.

-- Nor was it a Democratic president who, by creating the opening for an armed insurgency, has actually fanned the flames of terrorism by creating a massive cauldron for anti-American hatred and an environment rich for swelling the ranks of Islamic radicals.

-- It wasn't, in other words, a Democratic administration that foolishly, through its own arrogance and incompetence, handed Al Qaeda leadership nearly everything it hoped for at nearly every step of the drama: a lax mindset regarding security, an escape through Pakistan, a gift invasion of Iraq that diverted precious resources from the serious work fighting terrorism, a mishandled occupation that provided a groundswell of recruitment.

Bush's entire appeal is crafted around the notion that he is a strong and decisive leader -- even if he does sometimes make the wrong call, this meme hints. But being wrong again, and again, and again, makes all the decisiveness in the world a mere figleaf for what can only be described as overwhelming incompetence. This is incompetence that, when the record is tallied, leaves no doubt that the voters already made the wrong choice, back in 2000, a choice that clearly left us vulnerable to being hit by terrorists in a way that is devastating to the nation -- then, now, and for the forseeable future.

If Democrats are serious about fighting Bush's "You know where I stand" meme, they have to make this clear, in simple and unmistakable terms.

Wrong leadership is not strong leadership.

Drill that into the public consciousness, and the rest will follow.

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