Hard to believe, Harry



So the Republicans apparently think they can turn back the clock to 2002 and politicize the war on terror, this time by framing the '10 midterm elections as a choice between (purported) GOP machismo and (purported) Democratic wimpishness. Ever since the non-detonation on Christmas Day, the Republicans have dug up the old playbook, seeking once again to reduce the nuances of national security to the simplistic dichotomy of we strong versus dey weak.

As Richie Ashburn used to say, on the Phillies' broadcasts back in the day, "Hard to believe, Harry."

Hard to believe indeed, considering all that has happened since 2002. We'll explore that Republican track record in a moment, and update it with the latest information. But first let us quickly review the cartoon pronouncements of recent days, starting (naturally) with Dick Cheney, who insisted in the wake of the Northwest Airlines incident that President Obama deserves the blame; in the ex-veep's words, "we are at war and when President Obama pretends we aren't, it makes us less safe." Where does Cheney get this stuff about Obama "pretending?" Doesn't he have wi-fi in his secret undisclosed location? With minimal Googling, he would learn that Obama just escalated the Afghan war that Cheney and his nominal boss neglected for most of the past decade; that Obama authorized 53 drone strikes against terrorists during his first year in office, more than all the drone strikes launched during the entire Bush-Cheney presidency; that Obama has now authorized a doubling of the drones at the Pakistani border, an area neglected by the Bush-Cheney regime, which preferred to put a disproportionate share of its drones in Iraq (which hadn't attacked us on 9/11 in the first place).

Then we have Congressman Pete Hoekstra, ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, who blamed the airplane incident on the Democrats and tried to use it to fund-raise for his Michigan gubernatorial race - declaring in essence, "A few hundred Americans almost got blown to bits, so send me some money." (The GOP's Senate and House campaign operations are also trying to raise money off the incident.) In his appeal to Michigan voters, Hoekstra declared himself strong on homeland security...somehow neglecting to mention that he recently voted against the homeland security bill that included nearly $4 billion in funding for explosive detection systems and other aviation security "screening operations."

Then we have Senator Jim DeMint, who has somehow convinced himself that Obama "never uses the word 'terror.'" Seriously, does this guy inhabit some kind of fact-free parallel universe? Obama, in his very first presidential speech, moments after he was sworn in, stated: "...for those who seek to advance their aims by inducing terror and slaughtering innocents, we say to you now that our spirit is stronger and cannot be broken; you cannot outlast us, and we will defeat you." Obama, in his Dec. 1 announcement of the troop hikes in Afghanistan, used variations of the word 10 separate times. And as for DeMint, he is still blocking the appointment of the next Transportation Security Administration leader, because (unlike the two Senate committees that have already OK'd the appointment), he fears that Obama's nominee might allow the TSA workers to...gasp...unionize. Perhaps, in the interests of ideological consistency, DeMint should refuse to call the police in the event that he is mugged in Washington - because, after all, the Washington cops are unionized. And he should refuse to call the Washington firefighters in the event of a fire, because they too are unionized.

I don't want to imply that the Democrats have an impeccably stellar record on homeland security, nor that Obama has made no mistakes. Mistakes are inevitable; for instance, Obama was clearly sluggish in his public response to the near-disaster over Detroit. (Liberals say that, hey, at least he was faster than George W. Bush, who took six days to respond publicly to the failed shoe-bomb incident, but why would we want to use Bush as an excuse to grade Obama on a curve?) The problem for Republicans, however, is that their attempts to exploit the latest incident for political gain are seriously undercut by their own track record on terrorism. If the Democrats feel compelled to fire back this year, they'll have plenty of ammo.

Consider, for instance, the weekend story in The Washington Post that tracked the Bush administration's paltry efforts in Yemen (where the would-be Nigerian bomber received his training). Despite growing evidence that al Qaeda was gaining a foothold in Yemen early in the last decade, the Bush regime kept downsizing, preferring to focus on its misadventure in Iraq. According to the Post story, "U.S. development aid to combat Yemen's soaring poverty rates and high unemployment - key factors in enticing new recruits to militancy - was minuscule. It declined from $56.5 million in 2000 to $25.5 million in 2008, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development."

And as late as 2006, Bush's annual counter-terrorism aid to Yemen was a mere $4.6 million. Care to guess what Obama's counter-terrorism budget for Yemen will be this year? Roughly $140 million.

So maybe the Republicans would be smart to skip the fact-challenged demagoguery. It's no longer 2002, when Democrats cowered in the aftermath of 9/11. It's no longer 1988, the last election of the Cold War, when Republicans got mileage from laughing at the image of Mike Dukakis in a military tank. And besides, not all Republicans seem to be on the same page about the existential terrorist threat. In November, North Carolina Cngresswoman Virginia Foxx declared that Americans have more to fear from health care reform "than we do from any terrorist right now in any country." And over the Christmas holidays, Minnesota congressional candidate Allen Quist told an audience that liberal Democrats are actually the main threat: "Our country is being destroyed....Terrorism? Yes. That’s not the big battle. The big battle is in D.C. with the radicals."

Oh dear. A Republican who won't even pretend that we are at war. Sic 'em, Cheney.