Matthew Yglesias in The American Prospect:
On August 5, speaking to the UNITY conference of minority journalists, John Kerry said, “I believe I can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terror that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history.”
Thus Kerry sought to join a debate — which candidate will be more effective in combating terrorism — that could prove highly inconvenient for the Bush administration. The president’s main contribution to the war on terrorism, after all, has been to put the struggle against al-Qaeda on hold in favor of invading Iraq. We did this because Saddam Hussein might use his nuclear weapons program to build a bomb that, via his ties to al-Qaeda, would be deployed against the United States. Truly that would have been a serious security threat — except for the small matter that the nuclear program was nonexistent, and that the “connections” to al-Qaeda were so vague as to be meaningless.
Meanwhile, terrorism is up around the world, al-Qaeda’s leadership escaped our grasp in Afghanistan, “homeland security” is a joke, anti-proliferation policy is an ineffectual mess, and the global jihad network has metastasized. One of the president’s counterterrorism czars resigned in disgust at the president’s incompetence and wrote a book denouncing him. The czar’s deputy resigned in disgust at the president’s incompetence and became Kerry’s chief national-security adviser. The leader of the CIA’s campaign against Osama bin Laden in the 1990s didn’t resign in disgust, but he has written a book denouncing the president’s incompetence. The experts, it seems, think there’s room for improvement.
This is not the debate the Republican Party wants to have. Rather, its members would like to run against a fantasy Democrat of their own creation — a candidate whose plan is to simply surrender in the war on terrorism, not the one whose team is led by defectors from Bush’s failed approach.
So what’s a GOP hack to do? Why, what GOP hacks always do: make things up. Hence the August 5 “memorandum to opinion leaders” penned by Gary Schmitt of the neoconservative Project for a New American Century. According to Schmitt, Kerry “told an audience in Washington, D.C. today that if elected he would wage ‘a more sensitive war on terror,'” which is plainly not what Kerry meant. Nevertheless, by stringing this together with a couple more selective quotations, Schmitt was able to reach the conclusion that, secretly, Kerry “does not really favor pre-emptive military strikes against terrorists.” It’s a strange line of criticism against a man whose stated goal is “to get the terrorists before they get us.” Stranger still, President Bush has never launched a preemptive military strike against terrorists; no, he launched a retaliatory strike against the Taliban and a preventative war against Iraq. Misquotation, it seems, can produce some pretty interesting results.
One of those interesting results is that in spite of Bush’s failures, national polls give him high marks for his approach to terrorism; a majority of voters seem to think that he can do a better job than John Kerry. Well, hope springs eternal, but at some points you have to have some effective results, not just some big talk (“Bring ’em on!” “Mission Accomplished!”) with a big stick (see below), and so far Bush hasn’t delivered. John Kerry was right – there is a better way to win this war than using some warmed-over Steven Segal-style action-hero movie plot. As Mr. Yglesias notes, “I believe we can fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, more sensitive war on terrorism that reaches out to other nations and brings them to our side and lives up to American values in history. And because we can, we should. If the president disagrees, he should tell us why.”