National Insecurity, Redux
As a couple of leading Democrats express an interest in remaining losers - this time on the filibuster battle, it's an appropriate moment to examine another topic on which the Democratic party leadership almost institutionalized this tendency in the last few years, and kept me befuddled throughout George W. Bush's first term. Since I am also in the midst of studying the U.S. media, I'm going to bring this up again considering this is one of those questions that indirectly reflects on the media's enormous conservative bias (on this topic).
Why did Democrats cede so much ground to Bush on the topic of national security, making it so difficult for themselves to run on this issue in Election 2004?
Now, I understood the need for unity in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 so that appropriate and necessary action against the 9/11 terrorists could proceed. But, what surprised me was that Democratic leaders and spokespersons seemed to have confused two issues: their support for necessary action against a ruthless enemy who brought about 9/11, and a need to participate in a mythical GOP-fed media discourse about Bush (and the GOP) being "strong" on national security. Maybe Democrats feared looking unreasonable (in the GOP-friendly media) in the midst of Bush's high approval ratings in the months following 9/11. Perhaps they even swallowed the fake GOP/media line that it was unpatriotic to question the President during a time of war. Maybe, they (misguidedly) thought that they were being "bipartisan" for the sake of America (unlike the GOP leadership, which has consistently made the GOP a higher priority than the interests of the United States). Perhaps it was a combination of these things. Regardless, the end result was completely predictable.
The utterly fact-challenged media discourse on Bush's and the GOP's "strength" on national security was evident not just in their dramatic underemphasis on reporting the Bushies' endless deception or mendacity (even under oath) regarding their gross incompetence and negligence prior to 9/11; it was also obvious from their downplaying Bush's repeated attempts to cover up what happened (among other things). I recently pointed out another example, in response to one of Tom Friedman's now-routine poppycock NYT columns, that sounded like it was phoned in, in the middle of a few glasses of beer:
- Do you recall, Mr. Friedman, that the last major terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to 9/11 by foreign terrorists was in February 1993 (WTC), a good 8 and a half years before 9/11/2001?
- Do you recall, Mr. Friedman, that the last major terrorist attack on U.S. soil prior to 9/11 by American terrorists was in April 1995 (Oklahoma City), almost 6 and a half years before 9/11/2001?
- Do you realize, Mr. Friedman, that your "tip o' the hat" is based on the fact that we have had no major domestic terrorist attack by anyone in the last 3 and a half years?
Question 1: Does this mean President Clinton and his CIA, FBI, NSA, etc. deserve an ever bigger "tip o' the hat" for having kept America free of terrorist attacks even longer than the current incumbent, without having to invade Iraq?
(In my response to Friedman's puerile article, I excluded from consideration the fact that during Bush's presidency, "significant" terrorist attacks ("those involving large numbers of casualties or property damage") across the world hit a 21-year high in 2003 - and I only mention this because one of the commentors to my post (above) brought up some terrorist attacks outside the US during Clinton's term. I also excluded acts of domestic terrorism by right-wing terrorists like Eric Rudolph since I was comparing major acts of terrorism like the ones listed above.)
Last week, Digby noted another perspective - Pearl Harbor and WWII vs. 9/11:
Here's an interesting little factoid from Utopian Turtletop
WW2 v. WOT -- ONE MONTH TO GO
1,347: Number of days from the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, to VJ Day (Victory in Japan) on August 15, 1945.
1,317: Number of days from the airplane-bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, to today.
If Osama makes it to May 21, he will have survived the self-declared world's only superpower in a presidentially-declared war longer than Tojo, Hitler, and Mussolini combined.
The 101st fighting keyboarders will soon be able to proudly say that their epic war has gone on longer than the biggest conflagration in human history. And with similar results. Except for the winning part.
But damn, we typed and shopped bravely, didn't we?
I bring up the above examples because they reflect the results of the failure of the Democratic party to challenge the discourse on national security in the American media, which often continued its false pandering on this issue, in favor of Bush, right up to the 2004 finish line. This travesty stands out even more considering that the GOP has never hesitated to criticize Democratic Presidents in times of war, as epitomized by then-famous Republican Senator Robert A. Taft's criticism of the Roosevelt administration in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor. Michael Tomasky mentioned this in Salon.com in March 2002 (bold text is my emphasis):
When Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said on Feb. 28 that Democrats would start "to ask the tough questions" about President Bush's war strategy, Republicans reacted predictably. Trent Lott accused Daschle of "trying to divide the country." Tom DeLay issued a one-word press release: "Disgusting." Bill Frist, the Tennessee senator who chairs the GOP's senatorial campaign arm, called Daschle's words "thoughtless" and "ill-timed." The charge amounted to something just this side of giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
It turns out there is precedent for Daschle's position. That precedent comes from the aftermath of Pearl Harbor, the most direct analogy in our history to Sept. 11. And it comes, wouldn't you know it, from a Republican. And not just any Republican, but the icon of modern conservatism who was known during his lifetime as "Mr. Republican."
Ohio Sen. Robert A. Taft was a devoted conservative, an adversary of the New Deal, a spirited isolationist and, by 1952, the man whom the right, which harbored grave suspicions about the moderate Eisenhower's internationalist tendencies, was backing for the presidency.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the GOP faced pressures similar to those Democrats are under now. There were admonitions not to criticize the sitting administration, and declarations, immediately after the Japanese attack, that politics had to stop at the water's edge. But conservatives had detested Franklin Roosevelt, his New Deal and his foreign policy -- the lend-lease program and the destroyer deal with Britain in particular. And the events of Dec. 7, 1941, seemed to stifle their ability to dissent.
What, then, were they to do? Taft had his answer. He gave a speech to the Executive Club of Chicago arguing that it was precisely the duty of the opposition party to ask the tough questions. He didn't give this speech five and a half months after the attack, as Daschle did (and remember, Daschle didn't even give a speech). He wasn't speaking five weeks after hostilities began, which was how long it took DeLay to blast President Clinton on the war in Kosovo. Taft delivered his speech ... on Dec. 19, 1941!
And quite a direct speech it was. His defense of criticism as patriotism is worth quoting at some length:
"As a matter of general principle, I believe there can be no doubt that criticism in time of war is essential to the maintenance of any kind of democratic government ... too many people desire to suppress criticism simply because they think that it will give some comfort to the enemy to know that there is such criticism. If that comfort makes the enemy feel better for a few moments, they are welcome to it as far as I am concerned, because the maintenance of the right of criticism in the long run will do the country maintaining it a great deal more good than it will do the enemy, and will prevent mistakes which might otherwise occur."
Taft invoked Woodrow Wilson, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Francis Biddle, FDR's attorney general, as defending this right, and argued that "the duties imposed by the Constitution on Senators and Congressmen certainly require that they exercise their own judgment on questions relating to the war."
There was more, a lot more. Debates were raging in Congress at the time -- and, remember, American territory had just been attacked, bodies and wreckage still lay in the harbor, and U.S. soldiers were already in harm's way -- over questions like the conversion of industry to support the war and the best way to expand the draft. Taft weighed in on each, specifically opposing plans the Roosevelt administration had floated ("I see no use in sending boys of nineteen or twenty to war").
Taft's speech hardly caused a ripple. If the New York Times covered it at all, it did so in a small enough way to escape my notice as I looked through newspapers from that time. The Washington Post did mention the speech, but only at the tail end of a larger story that was mostly about Hull. In the American political system that existed then, Taft's right to speak his mind on policy was a given, and no high-ranking Roosevelt official launched a major public attack.
Considering the historic precedent, would it have been that difficult to keep restating the obvious and repeatedly correcting the media's false discourse, even by using proxies? It shouldn't have been.
It's way past time to correct these mistakes of the past.
Two posts by Atrios sum up what needs to be said about Bush, the GOP and national security.
First, this one:
"The lesson, too, is that if it is worth fighting for, you had better be prepared to win. Also, there must be a political game plan that will permit the withdrawal of our forces—something that is still completely absent in Kosovo."
"[The military] is not a civilian police force. It is not a political referee. And it is most certainly not designed to build a civilian society."
"Using the American armed forces as the world's "911" will degrade capabilities, bog soldiers down in peacekeeping roles, and fuel concern among other great powers that the United States has decided to enforce notions of "limited sovereignty" worldwide in the name of humanitarianism."
Look, for too long these people have swept this stuff aside by chanting "9/11 changed everything." No, 9/11 didn't change everything. What 9/11 did is prove that these people were wrong about absolutely everything. And, what Iraq has proven is they still haven't learned anything. [eRiposte emphasis]
Second, this one:
Josh Marshall says that Kerry needs to hit Bush on defense and national security now. I basically agree, and I don't think it'll take much to overcome this concern:
Does this take the debate onto more friendly territory for the president? Perhaps.
What Kerry - and the Democrats - need to do is to overturn conventional wisdom by re-framing the debate. September 11th happened on Bush's watch, after his administration completely ignored the threat of terrorism. Right now, We All Know that George Bush showed "great leadership" after 9/11. How do we know that? Well, because the goddamn Democrats keep saying it. Truth? Bush ran and hid and then didn't stop wetting his pants until 3 days later. He then went and bombed a stone age country back to the stone age, and then didn't provide the resources to rebuild it. Thousands of Taliban and al Qaeda members were allowed to escape to Pakistan, defeating much of the purpose of said bombing, and we never found Bin Laden, the stated architect of the 9/11 attack.
We now know that we haven't been devoting the resources to find Bin Laden, because we're now "stepping up" that attempt with Operation Mountain Storm. Why we didn't step up that threat two years ago is obvious - we had to mobilize for Iraq and this gang can't walk and chew gum at the same time (frankly, they can't do them separately either).
So, resources were diverted away from a fighting a gathered threat to a non-threat. We've spent $200 billion fighting this non-threat, much of which went into the pockets of corporations which failed to provide the services they were contracted to do. The immediate aftermath of the Iraq war was bungled, largely due to the utter lack of planning by the "grownups." Suspected WMD sites were looted, civil infrastructure wasn't repaired as the money was diverted to contractors who didn't do it, and civil order was not maintained.
We're spending billions on missile defense, and a measly few million on improving port security. While terrorists may obtain a nuclear weapon, they are unlikely to obtain a reliable intercontinental missile delivery system. Why bother? They just need to float into any port and push the button.
The only great leadership Bush showed after 9/11 is that he miraculously failed to shit his pants while giving a speech post-9/11. Just about everything else has been a total disaster .
Friendly territory for the president? Sure, but only because no one is bothering to point out the obvious. The Bush foreign policy is a miserable failure. [eRiposte emphasis]
Obviously, Democratic leaders should be pointing out some of these obvious facts (not in so many words) every day, again and again, until it gets into the public mindset. Unless they force the facts into the media discourse, the media is not going to do it for them. (This is obviously not to say that they should resort only to criticism).
And while they are at it, it is also important that they strongly critique losers like Peter Beinart, who spend their time pushing fake GOP talking points about Democrats on national security, rather than bash the media and the GOP for peddling the fake talking points in the first place.