Time Is Now For Kerry To Talk About Terrorism And National Security
The effects of having a president with a limited range of interests were on full display this morning when Bush once again said that the August 6, 2001 PDB didn’t contain a specific warning, and that had the FBI told him of an imminent threat of attack against the homeland, he would have acted. Well, maybe at least he would have changed his vacation plans. But Bush is clearly blaming the FBI and CIA for not working together to tell him of a threat that Dick Clarke was ready to warn him about for eight months prior to 9/11. Since Clarke worked in the White House for Condi Rice, it didn’t take the FBI or CIA to tell Bush that Al Qaeda deserved immediate attention when a member of his staff was already saying this. All it took was a NSA who cared, and a president who wanted to know about such things. None of that existed in 2001. Why Bush would want to wait until the FBI and CIA drew a map for him and circled a date on the calendar, instead of reacting to the August 6, 2001 PDB with something other than “thanks for this information, now its back to my vacation” is a matter for the voters to address this November.
There is ample reason to believe that not only have the voters made up their minds on this issue, but that they don’t want to confront the possibility that Bush dropped the ball. Polls show that voters don’t think Rice’s appearance made much of a difference to their own perceptions that both Bush and Clinton could have done more to stop Al Qaeda, that Bush underestimated the threat from Al Qaeda, that Bush didn’t have a plan in place for dealing with Al Qaeda, and that the FBI and CIA are the ones really to blame for not preventing 9/11. As some of you have noted in other threads, there may be some cognitive dissonance going on here. Voters may simply not want to confront the possibility that this president or any president dropped the ball and was partially responsible for a catastrophe of this magnitude. It is easier and less ominous to blame the intelligence community for not talking to each other, than it is to accept the fact that a president didn’t show enough leadership to undertake basic tasks. Furthermore, it appears the public would rather cut Bush some slack for 9/11, but hold him accountable for what he has done since 9/11.
Despite frustrations among many of us that Bush will escape accountability for what he should have done in the months before 9/11, the public has now learned that Bush was asleep at the switch and not aggressive in dealing with the Al Qaeda threat. The public conceivably feels that it is too difficult to sort out what should have been done by whom prior to 9/11, but that same public thinks it is easier to pass judgment on what Bush has done since 9/11. And since Bush has spent almost every day since 9/11 linking the war on terror to Iraq, success or failure in Iraq and any terrorist attacks in Europe or here are being viewed by voters as the proof of whether or not Bush was correct in how he responded. Sure, the GOP and its supporters will say that Bush has an edge here because we haven’t been attacked again since 9/11. But that can change between now and the election, and regrettably it's pretty easy for voters to see the deaths and violence in an occupied country one year after “Mission Accomplished” was declared.
While Bush may still be damaged further over what comes out from the 9/11 Commission and revelations this week from the FBI, CIA, and John Ashcroft’s testimony, voters already had their minds made up about 9/11, and many don’t want to confront dark fears here. What they do want to confront and deal with are where we go from here. Voters want to know exactly what are the next steps Bush has for the war on terror, what plan he has for Iraq, what Bush has learned from 9/11, and what world view he will carry with him into a possible second term. Will Bush keep quiet between now and the election on a possible reinstitution of the draft? Will Bush wait until after the election to go after Syria and Iran? These are all legitimate questions for debate now during the election so that voters can make an informed choice. If voters don’t want to dwell on the pre-9/11 period now, they will want and expect John Kerry to address what he will do differently, and what his plans will be and why they are better than what Bush has done to date.
Voters are holding Bush accountable for Iraq and feel that the Iraq invasion has not made us safer from terrorism. They may for the sake of the troops still support the original decision to go in, but they do not feel that Bush is handling it well now. They will support sending in more troops for now to improve security and stabilize the transition, but they do not want to extend the June 30th date because presumably they want to get our forces out of there. Despite what the pundits say, voters do see comparisons with Vietnam, and they want to nip this in the bud and get out now.
The issue for Democrats and John Kerry is clear. While Iraq, national security, and the war on terror are foremost in the minds of the voters, it is time for Kerry to lay out a comprehensive and well-reasoned national security and anti-terror strategy now. There is already talk about who the likely candidates would be for Secretary of State and even Defense in a Kerry Administration, but there is no serious talk from the candidate himself as to what policies those appointees would espouse. Picking this week to talk about tax policy or his own version of the misery index is nothing more than a replay of the 2002 midterms all over again where Democrats tried to run on their issues but ignore the elephant in the room: national security. The difference now is that Bush is weakening on these issues now and voters in this environment want to hear from Kerry on what he would do. Besides polls already show that voters trust Kerry more on domestic issues than Bush, and talking about domestic issues now ensures that such remarks will be drowned out by the news overseas and here at home on national security. Besides, the public for the moment has the impression from the wide media play that the jobs situation is getting better so arguments from Kerry about misery won't register with those still doing well now.
What should Kerry say? He is just now putting together a top-notch and moderate foreign policy team that may find more common ground with Bush post 9/11 than many Democrats may want. But in advance of hearing some specifics, here are some suggestions from a lowly blogger:
Iraq: It is simply not enough for Kerry to say that the June 30th date should not have been set. The truth is that we should keep to the June 30th date or else the Iraqis will assume that we want to hold on to power. We need to get more troops into Iraq to have the force necessary to overcome the attacks in the cities and on our flanks that are the result of an overstretched force. Until these new forces arrive, we should allow Sistani and the other moderate forces to negotiate with Sadr to get him to pull back, and have our forces pull back to defensive areas as well. A cooling off period is in order here, instead of a headlong rush towards proving we are the toughest guys on the street against a well-armed opponent looking for martyrdom. Once the forces are added over the coming months and it is made clear that the transition will take place, the Iraqi Governing Council should be enlarged to be more representative of the people of the country, and to look less like it was handpicked by Halliburton.
Afghanistan: Kerry should go ahead and point out the obvious; this country is Bush’s first failure in the war on terror. The drug trade and the Taliban are both making a comeback, as is Al Qaeda. We need more troops in Afghanistan as well, both for smashing the resurgent Taliban enclaves, but to also seal off the border with Pakistan and begin rooting out the Al Qaeda hideouts inside Afghanistan. We also need to immediately pump significant direct US aid into the country so that Afghans and the international community see a reason to believe in the new country. Once the UN sees that we are committed to finishing the job and dealing with the imminent threats against Karzai, the UN came come in to work with the central government to bring order to the regional government security arrangements.
Iran: Kerry should also make it clear that we know Iran is supporting some of the insurgents attacking our troops. While he is at it, he should put Iran on notice that unlike Mr. Bush who focused his energy on the wrong country in Iraq, a Kerry administration will focus its attention on any threat from Iran, including the ties between the 9/11 planners and Iran. Kerry should make it clear that Iran’s nuclear program and its support for terrorism against the US will have the Kerry Administration’s highest attention, with all options open.
Mideast Peace: Kerry should state the obvious, even to the dismay and heartburn of the Likud block in the GOP. Kerry should state that success in the war on terror dictates ending the oppression of the Palestinian people and the ability for the Israelis to live free from terror or challenges to their right to exist. A Kerry Administration will be committed to a restart of the peace process and will tirelessly work for an agreement, including discussions with not only Israel and the Palestinians, but also Syria and Egypt.
Anti-Terror Forces: Kerry should propose a vast expansion of our current Special Forces and other anti-terror capabilities, and tell Americans that these forces will be used to deal with threats against this country from terrorists or those that sponsor them. Yes, that means that a large part of Bush’s pre-emption strategy is intact, but only in those cases where we have an actual imminent threat and known danger to this country.
International Cooperation: Kerry should use the recent attacks in Europe as a renewed call for Europe to work once again with a Kerry Administration to deal head on with terrorism, as a partner not a weak sister. Kerry can make it clear that the United States under a Kerry Administration will be working once again with multinational regional organizations to deal with terrorism, and not impose its will around the globe as it sees fit.
Domestic Security: Kerry should call for significant funding for first responder services, including federal funding for 100,000 additional police, fire, and emergency personnel. He should also call for tighter security for our ports, chemical, and nuclear plants and point out that Bush’s captivity to these industries has led to little or no security in these areas almost three years after 9/11. And Kerry should call for a separate domestic counter-terror agency apart from the FBI, that can investigate domestic threats and work closely with local law enforcement to stop them.
Energy: Kerry should draw a connection between our thirst for Saudi oil and our vulnerability to terrorism, and make independence from Middle Eastern oil a national security issue. Aside from pushing for an accelerated government/private industry partnership to develop alternate energy sources and industries as our next Manhattan Project, he should shock OPEC by saying he would in the interim pursue direct partnerships for non-Middle Eastern oil supplies, exchanging development investment and assistance for oil in such places as Russia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Africa.
Again, these are just my thoughts at this early stage. But the main point is that Kerry must step out now with an alternate anti-terror and national security strategy while the issue is foremost in the voters’ minds and while they have fresh doubts about Bush’s competence here. There is nothing wrong with picking now to be the time to make the case that Bush and his policies have made us less safe, and that he has actually screwed up the war on terror. Now is the time to show voters a better plan.