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July 12, 2006

The cost - and price of the terror card

-- by Patrick O'Heffernan

Once again Karl Rove and the RNC has decided that the terror card is one of their most effective tools ito stop a Democratic victory in November. From beating the drums on a military invasion of Iran over its nascent nuclear program to announcing that the DHS stopped a Miami-based terror group from moving ahead with mulitple bombings (which they apparently could not have pulled off if the DHS mole who suggested the plot to them had actually rigged the bombs himself), the Republicans are systematically working to make Americans afraid, very afraid.

But should they be, and are they? And more importatnly, are Bush's policies making us safer. Some answers to those questions can be gleaned from an excellent survey of 100 Republican and Democratic foreign policy experts conducted recently by the Washinton Post and the Center for American Progress.

The results, reported in the most recent edition of Foreign Policy, validate what many progressives have suspected since Bush was elected and decided to invade Iraq: his policies are making us less safe and we should be vigilant but not afraid. However, they also indicate, when compared to polls of public opinion, that the Rove terror card may be having the effect Rove&Co. intended.

First, the experts. An unheard of bi-partisan majority of the 100 experts surveyed agreed that the Bush policies and the war in Iraq have not made us safer, but actually the opposite. 84% of the experts agreed that the US is losing Bush's war on terror, 86% say Americans are in more danger now than ever before, and 80% say the US will be attacked. Even 71% of the Conservatives surveyed said that Bush is losing the war on terror. Foreign Policy ascribes these dire results to a universal agreement among the experts - Republican and Democrat - that the Bush Administration has weakened our national security and intelligence apparatus....using the term "serious disrepair." As a former professor of international relations who worked with some of the experts questioned I am blown away. Leslie Gelb's comment that never has there been so much bi-partisan agreement in the foreign policy community on an administration's foreign policy.

Interestingly, when the experts were asked to rank the greatest dangers to US national security, the Bush Administration's policies ranked third, just behind the spread of nuclear weapons and Al Queda. In my experience, this is unheard of. Worse, it tells us the cost of the Bush policies, should the Republicans maintain control of both houses of Congress and continue to give the Bushies a free hand, could be worse than WWII - an invasion of Iran, continued hatred generated by torture, imprisionment, support for Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands, not to mention the daily abuse of the rights and privacy of Americans. .

So that is the potential cost of Rove and Bush playing the terror card. But is there a price to be paid by Rove forplaying it? Polls show the answer is apparently not.

On almost every question, the public disagreed with the experts: 13% of the experts said we were winning the war on terror, but 56% of the public polled) said we are; 87% of the experts said the war in Iraqhas not helped the war on terror, but 44% of the public thinks it is; 66% of experts think Gitmo must be closed, but only 36% of the public does. The only agreement between the experts and the public is that becoming less dependent on foreign oil will make us safer - 87% of the experts and 90% of the public thinks so.

So, it looks like Karl and Dick and George have succeeded in playing the terror card effectively - they have fooled the public and marginalized the experts who know the facts.

So, is Rove and Co. getting what they want? So far, he may be. The President's approval level hit 40% today in tehe Gallup pol, the first time it has broken the 39% barrier in a long time. Plus, Americans told the Gallup Poll that they agreed that the troops need to leave Iraq, but there is no consensus on when. Plus, a majority understand Bush's plan and a distinct minority understand what the Democrats are offering.

Two interesting points in the public polls: the agreement with the experts that reducing dependence on foreign oil will make us stronger, and the finding of the <> that both Democrats and Republicans, church goers and non-church goers, report that the group they trust the least are major corporate executives.

Bush can respond to the first finding by pushing ethanol in the short term and hydrogen in the never never term, but dealing with the second may be beyond the terror card.

So what should progressives do about the terror card. First, swift-boat it. Trash the veracity of Administration spokespeople and the President who say their policies are making us safer. Call them the liars they are and charge them with the contiuned deaths of US service people-- close to treason. Don't rely on facts; go for the 41% that don't believe that Bush is winning the war on terror and expand from there using emotion over GI deaths.

Second, attack the Bush energy policy. You have the people on our side about reducing foreign oil depedence, so build on that agreement to undercut the Bush ethanol program as too little too late. Accuse them of using it to generate campaign contributions from corn growers in exchange for billions in subsidies while the middle class sees college loans for the kids dry up.

Third, tie the Republicans to worst symbols of the energy industy; revive the "Enron Presidency" and roll out a conspiracy between the oil companies who just killed the electrics car, and the Administration, to use fear to run up gas prices while making America less safe. Label the Republicans the "screw the middle class" Party and repeat over and over that they sacrifice middle class kids in Iraq, delay energy conserving cars, while making us less safe.

The message need not be logical, just believable and emotional. And, in our case, it will be true. The goal is to convice the electorate that the Bushie's are losing the war on terror. Should be easy.

Posted by Patrick O'Heffernan at July 12, 2006 10:30 AM

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