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White House Finally Launches Broadside At Dick Cheney And GOP

We were waiting for this. Maybe it was because of one more fundraising letter referencing the failed underpants bombing. Maybe it was because public enemy number 1 Dick Cheney opened his yap. For whatever reason, the White House finally pushed back strongly against the politicized attacks in the wake of the Christmas Day incident.

You can argue against some of the substantive points that Dan Pfeiffer makes in this statement, but you cannot argue that it’s better for Democrats to remain silent about national security policy and let the likes of Dick Cheney and Pete Hoekstra drive the discussion.

First, it’s important that the substantive context be clear: for seven years after 9/11, while our national security was overwhelmingly focused on Iraq – a country that had no al Qaeda presence before our invasion – Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda’s leadership was able to set up camp in the border region of Pakistan and Afghanistan, where they continued to plot attacks against the United States. Meanwhile, al Qaeda also regenerated in places like Yemen and Somalia, establishing new safe-havens that have grown over a period of years. It was President Obama who finally implemented a strategy of winding down the war in Iraq, and actually focusing our resources on the war against al Qaeda – more than doubling our troops in Afghanistan, and building partnerships to target al Qaeda’s safe-havens in Yemen and Somalia. And in less than one year, we have already seen many al Qaeda leaders taken out, our alliances strengthened, and the pressure on al Qaeda increased worldwide.

To put it simply: this President is not interested in bellicose rhetoric, he is focused on action. Seven years of bellicose rhetoric failed to reduce the threat from al Qaeda and succeeded in dividing this country. And it seems strangely off-key now, at a time when our country is under attack, for the architect of those policies to be attacking the President.

Actually, I think the failed bombing shows that Al Qaeda in Yemen doesn’t have the equipment or the know-how to carry off attacks in the United States, that their error will only serve to strengthen intelligence capabilities, and that the spiritual center of the attack kind of invalidates the attention and expense put into the occupation of Afghanistan. The rest of Pfeiffer’s argument (available at the link), that Obama has too said that the nation is at war, comes off as defensive and puts the White House in a needless game of one-upsmanship with the forces of belligerence. I do think that this point – “unlike the last Administration – we are not at war with a tactic (“terrorism”), we at war with something that is tangible,” should at least be made more if that’s your belief.

The point is that there’s been no coherent Democratic case for national security policy, even after seeing the spectacular flame-out of the Bush-Cheney era of neoconservatism. I think you can draw different conclusions from that era than the Obama Administration has, but Democrats aren’t even used to making the conclusions at all. Republicans are transparently ridiculous, but at least they’re on the playing field. Pfeiffer’s statement suggests that Democrats may be willing to join them.

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David Dayen

David Dayen