In the past week, Republican politicians and pundits have been striving mightily to invoke fear in the hearts of the American people. They have been blanketing the airwaves with assertions that President Obama’s policies on national security (Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, torture, etc.) will result in another 9/11. It is a persistent chorus from those who brought us the first 9/11, insisting that Obama is making the country less safe.
On the surface, these panicky critiques could be characterized as warnings to the administration to change course. However, the underlying purpose of this rhetoric is actually to set themselves up to blame Obama should the unthinkable occur. But, in effect, and by their own words, they seem to be up to something even worse. They seem to be signaling to Al Qaeda that now is the time to strike. Take note of what Dick Cheney said on this five years ago:
“Terrorist attacks are not caused by the use of strength; they are invited by the perception of weakness.”
That quote always made me wonder if Cheney was admitting that Al Qaeda perceived weakness in the Bush administration nine months after it had assumed power and, thus, took it as an invitation to attack. However, that would presume a greater degree of honesty and self-reflection than Cheney has ever been known to exhibit. No, he was doing the same thing then that he is doing now. Stoking fear that Democrats are leading us down a path of doom. This time, with Democrats actually in power, Cheney is accelerating the rhetoric, and is bringing along reinforcements to alert the terrorists that America is “less safe” and therefore vulnerable.
Cheney: “It is recklessness cloaked in righteousness and would make the American people less safe.”
Mitt Romney: “It’s the very kind of thinking that left America vulnerable to the attacks of Sept. 11th.”
Joe Scarborough (MSNBC): “I knew by the second day that America was less safe.
Laura Ingraham (Fox News): “I think you can make a pretty compelling case that we’re less safe today.”
John Boehner: “I think this is a pre-9/11 mentality, and I think it’ll make our nation less safe.”
Karl Rove: “They’re doing the wrong thing for our country, they’re doing the wrong thing for our men and women in uniform, and they’re making us less safe.
David Gregory (Meet the Press): But do you agree with the vice president when he says that the country is less safe under President Obama?
Newt Gingrich: Absolutely.
Speaking of Newt Gingrich, in 2002, he castigated Al Gore for making a speech that criticized George W. Bush. Gingrich said that it was “well outside the mark of an appropriate debate” for a former vice-president to allege that the current president is making the country less safe. Today, of course, Gingrich is heralding Cheney for doing just that.
The questions we need to ask are these: If you were a terrorist, what would you make of all of this talk? Would it embolden you? Would you view it as an invitation? What point are Republicans trying to make? If they really believe that America’s defenses are weakening, is there a strategic purpose to broadcasting that to our enemies?
The dueling speeches from Obama and Cheney last Thursday presented a stark contrast between the two approaches. Obama offered a strong, fact-based defense of his national security agenda. Cheney reiterated the same old innuendo and fear mongering for which he is so well known. McClatchy’s Washington bureau published a point-by-point article highlighting Cheney’s departure from reality.
On the other hand, the New York Daily News published a hilariously stupid column asserting that Cheney mopped the floor with Obama. The author, Michael Goodwin, praised Cheney’s use of what Goodwin called the “most compelling” fact: “no successful attacks on America since 9/11.” There were also no Bigfoot sightings or asteroid collisions, but I’m not sure that Bush gets credit for that either. And, of course, Goodwin concluded his tripe with the approved message of the day: Obama has “been warned his policies will make it more likely we will be hit again.”
This is the dominant theme of the Republican Party today. This is a party and a philosophy that has told us that our enemies hate us for our freedom and our principles. It’s a party whose actions then led to constraining our freedom and violating our principles via the Patriot Act, warrantless wiretapping, suspension of habeas corpus, torture, etc. It is as if they concluded that, since the terrorists hate us for our freedom, all we have to do is to be less free and they won’t hate us anymore.
The thread that runs through the Republican messaging is that America is less safe under Obama’s leadership. They are hammering the point that he has made the nation weaker and more susceptible to attack. They are broadcasting this message to the world as they advocate for policies that the world detests. So I still have to ask: What on earth are they trying to do?
How does announcing to the terrorists that they believe our nation is becoming weaker make us safer? Do they even care? Are they just pasting a big bulls eye on America and hoping for an “I told you so” moment? I desperately hope that that’s not the case, but there aren’t many other plausible explanations.