Friday, March 12, 2010

Fearful and Scheming Republicans Are Playing into al-Qaida's Strategy

[This article also appears on You can access it from my author page here.]

You might have missed an AP article on al-Qaida that slipped nearly unnoticed through yesterday's news cycle. The piece reports that the terrorist operation is moving towards smaller-scale attacks like the Christmas Day attempted bombing of a flight to Detroit. Why? For a reason the Republicans will not like very much.

First, one thing that is important to consider, which is not addressed in the article, is that recent U.S. successes in counter-terrorism (under the administration of a president Republicans insist is endangering the country's security) have weakened al-Qaida's financial and operational power. As we learned today from Nicholas Sabloff and Nico Pitney, al-Qaida's declining strength, along with the Obama administration's effective anti-terrorism efforts, have led to the Taliban moving to distance itself from al-Qaida.

The main argument of the AP article is that al-Qaida has figured out that it can cause chaos even with a failed attack (like the Christmas Day attempted bombing), because, in essence, terrified Republicans lose their minds and try to score political points by criticizing the administration, resulting in the exact kind of panic and uncertainty al-Qaida leaders are looking for. Put another way, the Republicans are, in their fear and cold political calculation, doing exactly what al-Qaida leaders want them to do.

This shouldn't be shocking to read. After all, George W. Bush's ineffective, misguided, fear-infused, ideology-driven response to the 9/11 attacks--invading Iraq, moving focus away from al-Qaida in Afghanistan, curbing civil rights, generating ill feelings around the world, spreading and fraying American military capabilities, running up a massive debt through two unpaid-for wars, and running the U.S. economy into the ground--played right into al-Qaida's hands. In fact, it's likely that if Osama bin Laden could have written a script for Bush on Sept. 12, 2001, it wouldn't have looked much different from what Bush actually did in the next few years.

I am tired of Republicans weakening our country through their dual obsessions: fear and putting scoring political points against the president over the best interests of the American people. As Steve Benen perceptively observed after the Christmas Day attempted bombing, the Republican response was "a collective display of pants-wetting." What has happened to the party of Ronald Reagan and John Wayne? Of G. Gordon Liddy putting his hand in a flame? The narrative in the country was always that the Republicans were the tough guys and the Democrats were the wimps, and while I admit the GOP shows more balls in governing than the timid Democrats, when it comes to terrorism, it seems quite clear the parties' actions don't match the reputations anymore.

On issue after issue, the Democrats have shown resolve in the face of the terrorists (at least until their resolve wavers under political pressure), while the Republicans have shown nothing but panic and opportunism. Get an enemy leader in your custody and what do you do? Republicans, in fear, scream, "Torture him until he talks!", while Democrats are braver, putting the principles on which the nation was founded above the fear of attack (putting aside for a second the fact that torture isn't effective; as we saw yesterday, you can get information from prisoners without torturing them). How do you bring one of these leaders to justice? Again, the Republicans are all about fear. "We can't try them in court! We can't have them in our borders, even in our highest-security prison! What if they escape? They can hurt us! The country isn't strong enough to handle it!" Meanwhile, Democrats say (again, at least until they bend to political pressure), "We are a strong enough country that we don't have to drop everything we believe in to keep these criminals in Cuba. We are strong enough to safely imprison them in this country, and our justice system has the capacity to try and convict these individuals for their crimes."

And when it comes to terror attacks? After the Christmas Day attempted attack, the Obama administration quickly looked into what happened and what could be improved in anti-terrorism policy for the future. The Republicans? Their response involved pointing fingers of blame and fearfully complaining we weren't safe. They resembled a woman in a 1940s Hollywood movie jumping on a table to avoid a mouse on the ground.

I thought as Americans we pride ourselves on our resilience and courage? Is it only the members of the military who have to display these traits? During World War II, citizens stepped up, rationed goods that were in short supply, and worked in the factories to help supply the military. We, as a country, stood together and showed toughness, sending a message we wouldn't be bullied out of our way of life by the Nazis. Now? Republicans seem not to trust our military and intelligence apparatuses to protect us. They are driven by fear. I'm sick of it.

It's time for Republicans to show the same steeliness in opposing Osama bin Laden that they do opposing the president.

Which brings us to the second part of the Republicans' conduct that helps al-Qaida and makes us less safe: the political calculation. When Bush was in office, if a Democrat merely suggested that maybe the president's policies in Iraq weren't working, he or she was accused of not being patriotic. What a difference a few years make. The rules have apparently changed. Now, every terrorist incident seems to be treated by the GOP as a chance to score points against Obama, with no concern that the bickering and false accusations not only unsettle Americans, but that the reaction is exactly what the terrorists want. Of course, I would never argue that a member of Congress should not speak out if he or she honestly believes a government policy is putting us at risk. But do you really think the Republican outrage is sincere? Given that Obama has been, by any measure, more successful weakening al-Qaida than Bush ever was, it's particularly odious the way the Republicans have tried to stir fear by questioning the Obama administration's commitment to fighting terrorism.

Simply put, the "collective display of pants-wetting" and politicization of terrorism by the Republicans are making America less safe. I wish the GOP would find its inner John Wayne. It's hard enough to fight those willing to die in the pursuit of harming Americans without fearful Republicans seeking to score political points making the terrorists' job easier.