For the GOP, Criticism Is Next to Cowardice

What nerve for President Bush to question the patriotism of his Democratic opponents, two of whom are highly decorated Purple Heart and Bronze and Silver Star veterans and all of whom have labored long to make this a better country.

But the television ad that the Republican Party is running on Bush's behalf in Iowa this week does just that, making the outrageous insinuation that critics of the president's policies are in fact supporters of terrorists.

"Some are now attacking the president for attacking the terrorists," the ad states. "Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others." The ad urges viewers to tell Congress "to support the president's policy of preemptive self-defense."

This is dirty politics at its absolute lowest, equating criticism with cowardice.

The irony is that the ad features the president delivering the 2003 State of the Union speech, which has turned out to be an enormous embarrassment of admitted distortions, including one claim, based on a forged document, that Iraq was a nuclear threat. It was in that speech that the president touted the imminent threat of Iraq's so-far-undiscovered weapons of mass destruction while implying that Saddam Hussein collaborated with Al Qaeda on the 9/11 attacks -- a charge that the president himself recently conceded was without foundation.

In fact, the Iraq war has proved to be a terrible test case for "preemptive self-defense" because the intelligence it was founded on is so much loose sand. If you say somebody is a threat and then it turns out he isn't, your "preemptive attack" is no longer "self-defense."

Worse, though, as Gen. Wesley Clark points out, is that the Iraq war and occupation have been a distraction from the war against Al Qaeda. "I'm not critical of President Bush because he's attacking terrorists," Clark said. "I'm critical of President Bush because he is not attacking terrorists."

If the president were serious about heeding the lessons of Sept. 11, 2001, the White House would not be refusing to send executive records to the independent commission that is trying to determine how those attacks were allowed to occur and what might prevent them in the future. Former Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.), a member of that commission, has called the president's stonewalling "Nixonian," suggesting that Bush might not really want the truth to come out.

As Cleland, a triple-amputee Vietnam veteran, put it in an interview with Salon.com: "It's been painfully obvious the administration not only fought the creation of the commission but that their objective was the war in Iraq, and one of the notions that was built on was there was a direct connection between Al Qaeda and 9/11 and Saddam Hussein. There was not. So therefore they didn't want the 9/11 commission to get going....They want to kick this can down past the elections."

A more ominous possibility is that the White House and intelligence records being kept from the 9/11 commission may indict the administration for indifference to the problem posed by Osama bin Laden's gang before the 9/11 attacks.

We do know that the incoming Bush team did not take very seriously the dire warnings passed on by President Clinton's outgoing national security advisor, Sandy Berger, and by FBI agents in the field. The Bush administration seemed more preoccupied with the war on drugs than terrorism, even congratulating the Taliban for its successful drug eradication program just weeks before 9/11. Furthermore, the U.S. failed to seriously confront Al Qaeda's sponsors in Saudi Arabia, before and after the terrorist attacks. Instead, we invaded Iraq.

The president has a lot to answer for in his failed war on terrorism.

Bin Laden is still at large, and Al Qaeda, according to the White House, is responsible for the series of devastating terrorist attacks in Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan. Bush has managed to turn formerly secular Iraq into a hotbed of religious fanaticism, while diverting attention from Afghanistan, allowing the Taliban and Al Qaeda to creep back in.

Although Cleland voted for the Iraq war authorization last year, that did not stop his Republican opponent, Saxby Chambliss -- who avoided service in Vietnam -- from defeating war hero Cleland in 2002 by using attack ads that questioned his patriotism.

In those ads Cleland's face was presented alongside pictures of Bin Laden and Hussein as if they were one and the same. As has been famously said, the appeal to patriotism is often "the last refuge of a scoundrel."

What would be truly unpatriotic -- and an abrogation of their responsibility to the American people -- is for the Democratic candidates to fail to take on Bush's record in subverting the fight against terrorism.

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card

Close

Thanks for your support!

Did you enjoy AlterNet this year? Join us! We're offering AlterNet ad-free for 15% off - just $2 per week. From now until March 15th.