Friday, September 10, 2004

Cheney's threat

Boston Globe

Cheney's threat

September 10, 2004

WHEN VICE President Cheney said Tuesday that voters would increase the chances of another terrorist attack on America if they vote for John Kerry, he crossed what should be an impermeable line separating democratic decency from the sort of demagoguery that disfigures politics in places like Belarus, Burma, or Iran.

Cheney said of the voters' choice in the coming presidential election: "If we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States." This assertion was not only false and defamatory; it was irrational.

The logic of Cheney's remark is that every American who votes for Kerry will be exposing every other American to another Sept. 11 or something even worse.

Yet Cheney himself told Fox News in May 2002, "I think that the prospects of a future attack on the US are almost a certainty." Now he pretends to know that another terrorist atrocity would be more likely in a Kerry administration than in a second Bush term. Cheney is also pretending that Kerry voters will be responsible for inviting any such attack. This flight from reason suggests an effort to make the public forget the failure of the Bush administration before Sept. 11 to heed repeated warnings of Al Qaeda's intention to attack the US homeland.

Richard Clarke, former terrorism adviser on President Bush's National Security Council, described in his book "Against All Enemies" his strenuous efforts to persuade his superiors to focus on the danger from Osama bin Laden's network. Describing George Tenet's efforts to make Bush grasp the looming terrorist threat in the summer of 2001, Clarke said the former CIA director had been coming to the White House each morning with "his hair on fire."

According to Clarke and other insiders, Bush, Cheney, and their colleagues often appeared to dismiss the threat from Al Qaeda purely because that threat had been a primary concern of the Clinton administration. Indeed, Bill Clinton has said he tried to warn Bush that bin Laden would demand attention as the number one danger to US security.

Cheney was one of the foremost Bush advisers who took office in January 2001 clinging to Cold War habits of mind. Those old cold warriors found it hard to take seriously a threat that did not emanate from a nation-state such as Saddam Hussein's Iraq, a rogue regime endowed with an army, a defense industry, and intelligence agencies. In this flawed view of the world, bin Laden was belittled as a non-state actor incapable of interfering with US strategic interests.

Bush and Cheney are entitled to base their campaign on a claim -- however debatable -- that they are best suited to protect Americans from terrorism. They are not entitled to claim that a vote for Kerry is a vote to expose the United States to another terrorist attack. Cheney owes an apology to the voters.