January 11, 2009

[H/t Heather]

Thomas Friedman, the consummate Villager, demonstrated this morning on ABC This Week, as part of the roundtable following George Stephanopoulos' interview with Barack Obama, just how readily Republican talking points become Conventional Wisdom in their hands:

Friedman: There are many terrible handoffs the Bush administration, many many, uh, are leaving for President Obama. But there is one overriding large one -- there has been no terrorist act in this country since 9/11. And I think that is a very sobering, weighty handoff for this administration.

Stephanopoulos: The number one priority is to keep the country safe.

Friedman: And I think that's where the debate's gonna have to be. Where I think the administration, the last one, really faulted itself was not consulting Congress. But the fact is, you know, the American people don't want to lose that. And I think that how Obama handles that -- I think that's going to be one of the toughest, toughest challenges going forward.

OK, let's have that debate. But it can't just be on Village terms. Because there are three components of this "weighty handoff" that go unmentioned by Friedman:

1. Bush also laid the groundwork for future terrorist attacks. The 2006 National Intelligence Estimate, after all, warned that the invasion of Iraq and subsequent Bush policies -- including the use of torture -- have in fact made the likelihood of future terrorist attacks exponentially greater.

2. Bush didn't keep us safe before 9/11. The historical record is clear that prior to that event, Bush dismissed counterterror concerns as a "Clinton thing," and he was clearly asleep at the wheel on the day it occurred. Any president who allowed the worst terrorist attack on American soil on his watch has no business subsequently claiming that he kept the country safe. (Also worth noting: The lack of any international terrorist attack in the intervening years is not evidence that Bush's post-9/11 strategy actually prevented anything.)

3. There in fact have been other terrorist attacks since 9/11. The most noteworthy of these was the October-November 2001 anthrax attacks, which killed five people, and has still gone unsolved. There have also been planned attacks nipped in the bud: a planned cyanide bombing, a man who intended to blow up LA banks, a former Army Ranger who planned to bomb abortion clinics, and the Alabama militiamen who intended to go on an anti-Latino killing rampage. There have been a number of lower-level acts of terrorism that reached fruition as well, ranging from rampaging gunmen in Knoxville, Tenn., and Moscow, Idaho, to a conservative wingnut who was sending out hoax anthrax letters.

All of these cases underscore the fact that domestic terrorism is almost completely off the Bush administration's radar -- except, of course, for those "eco-terrorists." What the "war on terror" we've gotten from Bush has amounted has been little more than a political marketing campaign.

Until we mount a serious campaign against terrorism that recognizes it for the global beast that it is -- one perfectly capable of emanating from our own soil -- we won't be doing anything to effectively halt the forces that actually breed terrorism.

And what George W. Bush's post-9/11 "war on terror" has done has actually harm our ability to do that for many years to come. He may not have suffered any further attacks, but that does not mean he kept us safe, now or in the future.

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