Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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May 31, 2009

LAYING DOWN A MARKER.... The argument over national security policy faded from the front page this week, but the New York Times' Frank Rich does a nice job reminding readers about a point that shouldn't go overlooked. The headline reads, "Who Is to Blame for the Next Attack?"

Cheney's "no middle ground" speech on torture ... struck the same cynical note as the [Republican National Committee's] ads, as if the G.O.P. was almost rooting for a terrorist attack on Obama's watch....The new president, he said, is unraveling "the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11." In other words, when the next attack comes, it will be all Obama's fault. A new ad shouting "We told you so!" awaits only the updated video. [...]

The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there's another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone's control well before Americans could throw the bums out.

In a very good New Yorker piece last week, Jeffrey Toobin touched on the same issue.

Even worse than Cheney's distortions was the political agenda behind them. The speech was, as politicians say, a marker -- a warning to the new Administration. "Just remember: it is a serious step to begin unravelling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11," Cheney said. "Seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed." Cheney's all but explicit message was that the blame for any new attack against American people or interests would be laid not on the terrorists, or on the worldwide climate of anti-Americanism created by the Bush-Cheney Administration, but on Barack Obama.

For many months after the 9/11 attacks, Democrats refrained from engaging in the blame game with the Bush Administration. Cheney's speech makes it clear that, should terrorists strike again, Republicans may not respond in kind.

This generally goes unsaid, but it's a key aspect of the recent Cheney crusade -- if something horrible happens, we're not supposed to blame the team that left this mess for Obama to clean up, we're supposed to blame Obama himself. If only the president kept torturing people like Cheney wanted, we'd all remain safe indefinitely.

This isn't especially new, but it seems to be increasingly common. Back in January, just 48 hours after the president's inauguration, Marc Thiessen, George W. Bush's former chief speechwriter, argued, "During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of [Bush's] policies. He follows through on those pledges at America's peril -- and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.... President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days -- and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences."

Jason Zengerle noted at the time, "You almost get the sense guys like Thiessen are hoping for an attack so that they can blame Obama when it happens."

That attitude hasn't changed. Should tragedy strike, a few too many loyal Bushies will want to tear this country apart, and they already seem to be laying the groundwork.

Steve Benen 8:40 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (26)

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This may be what they're thinking, but it would be an immensely dangerous thing for the Cheneyites to do. Dangerous for the country, dangerous for the Democrats-- but also dangerous for the Republican party. I think it would break the Republican party right in half-- and at a time when they are already imperiled.

Posted by: MattF on May 31, 2009 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

For many months after the 9/11 attacks, Democrats refrained from engaging in the blame game with the Bush Administration.

As I recall the first criticism of this sort came from Richard Clarke, and that was well after the 9/11 Commission hearings began.

Posted by: Danp on May 31, 2009 at 8:54 AM | PERMALINK

Why are we surprised. This has already been their modus operandi. When tragedy struck on 9/11 it wasn't five minutes before the far right demagogues and the Bush administration were using it to attack feminists, liberals, gays, etc... It was a political tool, a wedge issue, and a knife to the gut of the country long before the Iraq war even started.

Remember, the culture war demands that the biggest enemy always be the enemy next door. Only in this way can the Republicans continue to get votes. 9/ll was simply an easy way to create frenzy and fear to catapult the republicans into permanent (as rove saw it) electoral dominance. Prior to that they were working the notion of using "ecoterrorists" as a binding glue for their fragile voting bloc.


Posted by: aimai on May 31, 2009 at 8:59 AM | PERMALINK

There will, sooner or later, be another terrorist attack, no matter who is president, no matter what our policies are (consider the variety of countries that suffer terrorist attacks, consider the variety of policies -- shit happens, everywhere, sooner or later). The R's don't have to be hoping for it to occur, but they are spinning in anticipation.

Posted by: dr2chase on May 31, 2009 at 9:09 AM | PERMALINK

What's really bizarre is the nature of these so-called "defenses." The use of torture is supposed to be "defending" us, preventing another attack? How exactly is that supposed to work? The universally-reviled prison at Guantanamo Bay is supposed to be "defending" us? Again, how is that supposed to work?

I mean, are terrorists supposed to be out there thinking to themselves, "They've got a prison and they've tortured people; I'd better leave them alone!"

Posted by: PaulB on May 31, 2009 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

As far as I can make out (the specifics have never really been argued by either side), here is how Bush supposedly made us safer since 9/11:

- He used torture, er, enhanced interrogation (waterboarding enhances interrogation, you see), on three people prior to 2004

- He cut through the bureaucratic red tape to conduct phone wiretaps without FISA warrants on anyone with a "six-degrees-of-separation, Kevin-Bacon-like" connection with a terrorist

- Anyone who borrowed a copy of the Koran or other Muslim type books from a library was put under surveillance

- Muslim charities that might provide funding to groups associated with Hamas were made illegal and their directors slapped in handcuffs

- Dumping all suspected, or unsuspected (suspicious for their very un-suspiciousness), terrorists were dumped into the impregnable Gitmo prison, protecting America from these James-Bond-type villains

- Last but not least, starting a war in a third world country that would ingeniously attract all stupid terrorists to that war, and keep them away from us here, where these terrorists could be systematically mowed down by our military machine

- The DHS color-coded threat system (which had the added bonus of alerting us to Democratic threats)

- Other measures we are not allowed to know because it would compromise our security

As far as I can tell, these are the measures Bush took since 9-11 that kept us safe, certainly safer than we were during the Clinton years. Have I missed anything?

Excuse me for being slightly skeptical

Posted by: garnash on May 31, 2009 at 9:35 AM | PERMALINK

It is a difficult task indeed to break a generational habit such as one like the one republican misdirection has cultured . I am not a professional habit breaker but as a dilettante I can proudly point to ex-spouses , tobacco , youth , beauty . I hope pointing with all due modesty , wrestling with pride , while unprofessionally reminiscing of some breaches in the mighty habit power .
The important thing to remember when you are going up against as reckless , bloodthirsty , and vicious an opponent as a republican self is , remember to lie to yourself as if you were a defenceless unsophisticated child . Otherwise you may be distracted by the many other voluntarily cultured destructive oddities that comprise the wit and soul of a republican .

Posted by: FRP on May 31, 2009 at 9:47 AM | PERMALINK

I prefer to remember those years of Cheney's deferrments as being some of the safest years in my life. At least no one was shot on the rifle ranges at Ft Leonard Wood.

Posted by: berttheclock on May 31, 2009 at 9:56 AM | PERMALINK

And just what did the Clinton administration do between February, 1993 and Jan. 20, 2001 when the administration ended to keep America safe? For those who can't count, that's 8 years. I don't recall stories of torture, prisons set up to hold people with no recourse to the law, illegal wiretapping of American citizens, a "Patriot Act" that endangered all of our civil liberties, and a war constructed out of greed for oil and lies during those 8 years. We were hit again in September 2001, almost 8 months into the Bush administration. This, of course, when they utterly failed to attend to the issue, since they wanted to ignore ALL things Clintonian. And let's not forget that the Bush administration hardly protected ALL Americans on their watch. Almost 5,000 deaths and more than 4 times that many injured, many catastrophically.

Posted by: winddancer on May 31, 2009 at 10:22 AM | PERMALINK

Two points
1. If you study Britain and other European countries, how do they successfully fight terrorism?
Police work. Undercover infiltration, having lots of people familiar with the languages and culture. We fire ours 'cause they're gay

2. Perspective While a terrorist attack would be terrible the chances are???? Who many would actually be hurt.
In 2005, there were 3,582 fatal unintentional drownings in the United States, averaging ten deaths per day. An additional 710 people died, from drowning and other causes, in boating-related incidents.
In the US, each year there are about 40000 deaths per year in automobile accidents.

Me I'll worry about the shit that is likely to kill me.

Posted by: john r on May 31, 2009 at 10:24 AM | PERMALINK

Haul Cheney up for misprision of a felony. He thinks he's safe because he knows he had no actual power. But he kept his snarling mouth shut about torture so he can be prosecuted too.

Posted by: Jeffrey Davis on May 31, 2009 at 10:25 AM | PERMALINK

The goals of the Al Qaida attacks were to push us into repression and counterattacks that would damage our standing in the world and make it easier to rally islamic support against us, to make it more difficult to be a moderate, pro-west moslem. Bush and Cheney helped bin Ladin succeed beyond his wildest dreams.

The worst possible outcome for bin Ladin and his fellows is for the US to become more reasonable, and thus more tolerated in the moslem world. Therefore they really, really need a bigger and nastier attack to put us back on their track. That makes it likely that there will be a next time (they only have to be lucky once, whereas we have to be lucky every time), but we will have to respond differently and much better.

Bush, Cheney, and recent Republican rule rank right up with slavery in terms of the odiousness of their stain on American history.

Posted by: N.Wells on May 31, 2009 at 10:56 AM | PERMALINK

So, god-forbid, we should be attacked--not next week--but in Sept of 2009, it is Obama's fault. But when we're attacked Sept 2001, it is not Bush's fault.

It is such a stupid, illogical, hypocrisy...I can't imagine why anyone listening to Cheney and others make the "argument" don't laugh, spit-take, get up and leave or even point out the problem with the childish argument.

Ok, no one has the guts to do that now--to Cheney's face, but it is history now. The books written 5, 10, 20 years from now will cement these statements and arguments in the record. The old administration is just digging the hole deeper.

I recently read the 700 million, then 500 million, is NOW the 300 million dollar presidential library. When sports stadiums are approaching a billion, you can hardly put up a public building for 300 million.

Posted by: Rob Goldman on May 31, 2009 at 10:58 AM | PERMALINK

"Here, blow on this horn."
"What? Why?"
"It's a lion repellent. It emits an ultrasonic note that keeps lions away, so keep blowing on it and we'll be safe."
"But there haven't been any lions near here since that one escaped from the zoo 8 years ago."
"See how well this thing works!! Keep blowing!"

Posted by: biggerbox on May 31, 2009 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

Isn't it true that someone from the intelligence community went to Bush a couple months before 9/11 with info pointing to the possibility of an attack occurring in the next few months? And didn't Bush blow of the person saying something like,"Okay, you've covered your ass"?

Posted by: Tim F on May 31, 2009 at 12:06 PM | PERMALINK

I've always thought that if 9/11 had happened under Al Gore, the Republicans would have attacked him and the Dems immediately. There would have been no great national coming together. Any action he took afterward would have been derided as inadequate and he probably would have been impeached.

Posted by: Bat of Moon on May 31, 2009 at 12:12 PM | PERMALINK

how many of these comments are based on actual knowledge, and how many on stupid politics?
To me, you need no reply, after reading them

Posted by: miguel a. jimenez on May 31, 2009 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK

"how many of these comments are based on actual knowledge, and how many on stupid politics?"

I don't know. How many?

Posted by: garnash on May 31, 2009 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Joe Public: Why are we torturing people?

Dick Cheney: To keep the sabertoothed tigers away.

Joe Public: There are no sabertoothed tigers.

Dick Cheney: See, it's working.

Posted by: Paul Harder on May 31, 2009 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

I seem to recall that the Republicans blamed Clinton for 9/11. Doesn't that mean, at least until 9/12/2009, that any attack should be blamed on Bush? Or is this another IOKIYAR things?

Posted by: Deborah on May 31, 2009 at 5:06 PM | PERMALINK

"tear the country apart?" Of course.

Anything for power. It's the Republican Way.

Way I look at it, ALL these people are traitors and should be in prison, or worse. Not only does Dick Cheney appear to have not the faintest idea what this country actually stands for, he spits on those things he does understand.

The man should have been in prison long ago. Indicted, tried, convicted of war crimes and crimes against the People.

Posted by: LL on May 31, 2009 at 6:25 PM | PERMALINK

"Country First!" Oh, never mind.


Posted by: Zorro on May 31, 2009 at 6:39 PM | PERMALINK

"If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again"

And those defenses would be?

Let's look at Bush's record. He refused to require oil refineries, chemical plants, nuclear reactors, etc. to put in security measures because they didn't want to spend the money. He refused to put in any kind of surveillance system on sea shipments into the US for who knows why. He spent more resources tracing money people were sending to relatives in Cuba than he did to the money flow going to al Qaeda. He shut down whistle blower protections of those who were trying to ensure that we actually were protected and not just enriching CEO's. In Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, Bagram and the other prisons he created a recruitment system for al Qaeda that bin Laden must be thanking Allah for. And, believing that we were attacked because the terrorists "hate our freedoms," he proceeded to take away our freedoms. Talk about appeasement!

Posted by: Texas Aggie on May 31, 2009 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

When those on the right were claiming that we on the left were hoping that our soldiers in Iraq would be killed, I found the notion outrageous. Number one because it is not true, I cringed at the death count knowing that for every soldier killed or maimed another entire community was affected, and number two because it is silly to think that what I did or did not hope would have any tangible effect on the future. It is equally as silly for those of us on the left to accuse the wingnutters of hoping for a terrorist attack. Even if everyone on the right has the same wish, and there is an attack, the one thing we can be sure of is that the wishes of the right didn't produce the outcome.

Posted by: CAINMI on June 1, 2009 at 3:54 AM | PERMALINK

I believe it was on Nov. 5th 2008 that the right wing blamed Obama for the stock market decline of the previous 12 months.

There is no strategy other than blaming Obama. If there is a tornado in Kansas, watch out.

Posted by: Marc on June 1, 2009 at 7:49 AM | PERMALINK

A rogue asteroid from the deepest region of space could come crashing into the earth and the GOP would accuse Obama of having launched it. It's just ridiculous.

Cheney's actions of late have been disgusting and disgraceful, though it's debatable what's worse: him or the media falling all over themselves to give him publicity.

Posted by: electrolite on June 1, 2009 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK



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