By William Rivers Pitt
Sunday 13 August 2006
It would have been easy enough, at first blush, to mistake the GOP's reaction to the foiled bombing plot in London as one of joy. The Republicans were, to be sure, pleased enough with the turn of events, simply because the story of narrowly-avoided disaster took everyone's eyes off Iraq and the diplomatic catastrophe unfolding in Lebanon. Yet their joyful reaction masked a deep sense of unease that verges on desperation. The midterm elections are looming, and the well of issues the GOP can draw from to save their majority status is just about empty.
It has been widely reported that the White House knew arrests by British authorities of individuals involved in the alleged bombing plot were coming days before they happened. Such is the advantage of being the party in power; it allows one to see over the horizon and prepare a political response. Hours after Ned Lamont defeated Joe Lieberman in the Connecticut primary, Vice President Cheney described Lamont as being the candidate preferred by "al Qaeda types." This kind of rhetoric becomes all the more loaded when stories of plots to use liquid explosives against nine commercial airliners share the front pages, and the timing is singular.
It didn't end there. Republican Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, facing a stiff challenge from Democrat Sherrod Brown, cashed in on the bomb plot to paint his opponent as soft on national defense. Former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani attempted, quite literally, to cash in on the story as well. "In the middle of a war on terror," wrote Giuliani in a widely distributed fundraising letter, "we need to remain focused on furthering Republican ideas more than ever before."
"Weeks before September 11th, this is going to play big," an anonymous White House official was quoted as saying. There it is, in a nutshell.
One might indeed think that the Republican Party was thrilled at the prospect of nine commercial airliners blowing up over the Atlantic Ocean, given the broad-spectrum reaction by the GOP to the news. In truth, however, they are scrambling to manufacture the one element that has served them over these past five years: fear. They cannot stand on their record; their rhetoric has grown bone-thin, and so they are pulling that hoary old club out of the bag one more time.
It used to be effective. Whenever the GOP sought to frighten the populace into voting against their own best interests over these last years, the Democrats all too often would curl up into a ball and go along for the ride. This appears to be changing. A concerted assault by the Democrats on the record of this administration and its congressional Republican cohorts has been put forth. Notes are being sounded that have been sorely lacking. "If the Republican Party thinks that this is going to be a good political issue for them, they're mistaken," said Senator Charles Schumer of the thwarted bomb plot. "We are going to answer them immediately."
"During the 2002 and 2004 elections," wrote Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid in an email to supporters and activists, "Republicans tried to sow fear in the American public by claiming that they were the only ones who could keep America safe. This from the same crowd that has driven Iraq to the brink of disaster, left Osama bin Laden on the loose to attack again, and continues to ignore our security needs at home. Ask any foreign policy pro, and they'll tell you we're less safe now than we were five years ago."
"Why can't the Republican party put the safety of American citizens first?" asked Congressman John Conyers Jr. on his blog. "Why do Republicans first think of political advantage when our nation is at risk? It's time for leadership that will boldly fight terrorism and bolster our homeland security instead of promoting fear as a political prop."
Revealing details on the Bush administration's woeful record on national defense have been coming to light. ABC News reported that the General Accounting Office warned, back in 2005, that no precautions were being taken by the Transportation Safety Administration to detect elements of liquid explosives - the very weapon the plotters in Britain allegedly intended to use - being brought aboard airplanes. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security followed up with their own warnings about this exact threat. The Bush administration did nothing to respond to these warnings, and is now rolling out the old "no-one-could-have-anticipated" excuse for their failure to anticipate such a threat. More recently, the White House attempted to strip $6 million in funding for such explosives-detection technologies out of the Homeland Security budget, a move that was stopped by Congress.
The GOP hope that their scare tactics will distract the American public from the mess in Iraq is almost certainly doomed to failure. Violence in Iraq escalates by the day, and our own generals are publicly debating the likelihood of a full-scale civil war. Billions of dollars have been wasted on this adventure, money that could have been used for more pressing national security needs. Worse, our relationship with the international community is almost completely broken. We can no longer count on the cooperation of the world to assist us in stopping future attacks. We've got Britain, whose security services shame ours, and that's about it.
Congressman Conyers has delivered a scathingly detailed report on the lies and machinations that led us into Iraq. This report, above all else, is the basis for the GOP's fears. If their scare tactics fail to motivate the voters in November, they may well lose control of the House of Representatives. Should this happen, Conyers will assume the chairmanship of the Judiciary Committee, and his report will become the hood ornament on an investigation into the myriad failures, lies and manipulations that have sent 2,600 American soldiers into early graves.
The Bush administration and the GOP have spent the last year making political hay by being the frighteners in chief. Today, those same tactics carry a note of hysteria. They have nothing else to run on. They have become the frightened.
William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know and The Greatest Sedition Is Silence.