So this is the best that the Bush administration can do: Yesterday it selectively released a few pages from a national intelligence assessment of the war on terror – just 13 percent of the overall content – yet it turns out that even those cherry-picked passages seriously undercut the president’s core message for the ’06 congressional elections.
On behalf of his fellow Republicans seeking to retain control of the House and Senate, Bush has been arguing all month that he has made America safer. Yet here are passages in a document, vetted by his 16 spy agencies, which flatly declare that, in the wake of Bush’s war of choice in Iraq, America is actually becoming less safe. That’s not the kind of message that Karl Rove and his political lieutenants had in mind for the runup to November. (Bush spokesman Tony Snow, earlier today, sought to dismiss the intelligence document findings with a remark that I suppose he assumed would put the whole matter to rest: "Well, the president says we're winning.")
Obviously, there are a few lines in those three declassified pages that Bush can trumpet in his own defense. On the first page, for instance, the intelligence authorities write, “Greater pluralism and more responsive political systems in Muslim majority nations would alleviate some of the grievances jihadists exploit,” and on page two, they write, “Should jihadists leaving Iraq perceive themselves, and be perceived, to have failed, we judge fewer fighters will be inspired to carry the fight.” Taken together, those passages can be read by Bush supporters as a defense of democratization in the Middle East, and as a confirmation of the Bush view that we should stay in Iraq and defeat the terrorists so that fewer will be “inspired” in the future.
But these pages also contain sufficient new ammunition for the Democrats, as they seek to advance their argument that Bush has been failing as our national security steward. The best way to illustrate this point is to posit a hypothetical.
Just imagine what would happen if we had a Democratic president, on the eve of congressional elections, who was trying to fight global terrorism while bogged down in a foreign war of choice. Imagine that this Democratic president had been insisting for many months that he was making America safer. Then imagine that, under strong political pressure, he had been forced to release a few pages of the latest National Intelligence Estimate. And imagine that Karl Rove and his message masters sat down with those pages and a Magic Marker. Here’s the kind of TV ad that we might expect the Republicans to craft (and everything that appears between quotation marks is drawn from the declassified NIE pages):
Cue scary percussion background music. Shadowy images of terrorists move across screen in slow-motion. Voiceover narrator speaks, in serious but faintly mocking tone.
In a dangerous world, where enemies continue to threaten our family values and our very lives, where toughness and honesty is required here in the homeland, our Democrat president has been going around claiming that he is actually winning the war on the terror, and making us safer.
CUT TO TREMULOUS SUBURBAN MOTHER, CUDDLING HER KIDS:
I want to believe in our president. I want to trust what he says. The lives of my children depend on that.
But can we really trust a Democrat president to tell us the truth in time of war -- when even the experts in his own administration, the foks on the front line of battle, now say that we are losing the global fight against the terrorists?
CUT TO PHRASES FROM DOCUMENT, LOOMING LARGER ON SCREEN:
“…the global jihadist movement…is spreading and adapting…increasing in both number and geographic dispersion.”
And can we really trust a Democrat president and a Democrat Congress when they say that their war in Iraq is helping us to win that global fight?
CUT TO NEW DOCUMENT PHRASES:
“the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives…the Iraq conflict has become the ‘cause celebre’ for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of U.S. involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.”
With the stakes so high, can we ever really afford to trust the Democrats…
QUICK CUT TO IMAGE OF JIMMY CARTER AND THE IRANIAN HOSTAGES, AS NARRATOR CONTINUES:
…to keep us safe in time of war? When even their own intelligence experts don’t think so? Vote Republican on November 7. As if your life depended on it.
And that's just the stuff that can fit in 30 seconds. Remember, too, that this NIE report is actually the third official slapdown of the Bush administration in recent weeks. First, the Pentagon released a study on Sept. 1 (the eve of Labor Day weekend, when supposedly fewer people would notice) which concluded that the violence in Iraq is creating "the conditions that could lead to civil war" -- a stinging rebuke to Bush's recent dismissal of critics who, in his words, carp about "civil war this and civil war that." Second, the Republican-controlled Senate Intelligence Committee released a report on Sept. 8 stating that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks -- undercutting the countless Bush administration insinuations.
So is there sufficient political ammo for the Democrats to at least make a case for Bush failure on the issue he has long deemed to be his strenth? It would appear so. Will they go for the jugular, the way a generation of Republican operatives has been taught to do? That's what even the most diehard Democratic voter wants to know.