From: William Saletan
To: Jacob Weisberg
When Republicans introduced this ad, they suggested that Democrats had twisted President Bush's national security record for months and that it was time to even the score. If so, mission accomplished. In 30 seconds, this ad distorts the Democrats' views and impugns their motives more crudely than the Democrats have done to Bush in two years.
The ad consists of video clips from Bush's most recent State of the Union address, backed by ominous music and interspersed with on-screen text messages known as chyrons. In the first clip, Bush points out that a chemical, biological, or nuclear attack on the United States could be catastrophic. Fair enough. In the next clip, he says, "Our war against terror is a contest of will in which perseverance is power." I agree. We have to fight back.
It's the chyrons that do the dirty work. The second says, "Some are now attacking the President for attacking the terrorists." Bull. Not one leading Democrat in Congress or in the presidential campaign has criticized Bush for attacking terrorists. They've criticized him for not attacking terrorists. Specifically, they've faulted him for attacking Iraq and pretending that this was a blow against terrorism when the evidence indicates that Saddam Hussein gave no more support to al-Qaida—and in some cases, less support—than other regimes did. Meanwhile, Osama Bin Laden remains at large.
We can argue about the wisdom of the Iraq invasion all day. But of all the arguments for that invasion, the notion of "attacking terrorists" remains the weakest. It's true that U.S. troops are now fighting terrorists in postwar Iraq, but it's false that Democrats are against winning that fight. What irks them is the dishonest way Bush got us into that fight in the first place and how badly he has waged it.
Don't even get me started on the vicious parallelism of saying Democrats "attacked the President for attacking the terrorists." That phrase blurs the difference between violence and criticism and all but implies that Democrats are on the side of terrorists. Shame on Bush and the RNC.
In the next clip, Bush complains that his critics "have said we must not act until the threat is imminent. Since when have terrorists and tyrants announced their intentions, politely putting us on notice before they strike?" After 9/11, this is an understandable view. Basically, Bush is saying we should err on the side of shooting first and asking questions later. But I can't think of a less appropriate time to make that argument than right now, in the wake of a war in which we shot first, then asked questions and found out that we needn't have shot.
"Some call for us to retreat, putting our national security in the hands of others," says the third chyron. The fourth concludes, "Call Congress Now. Tell them to support the President's policy of preemptive self-defense." It's as though the embarrassing intelligence disclosures of the past six months never happened. Only someone who doesn't read the newspapers—or doesn't care what they report—could have authorized this ad.
Every salient premise in the ad is false. Our national security wasn't in jeopardy. Our pre-emptive attack turned out not to be warranted self-defense. The regime Bush ousted wasn't particularly supportive of the terrorists who struck us, and leading Democrats who opposed the war did so for reasons precisely contrary to the reasons the ad attributes to them. Call the White House and the RNC now. Tell them to end the President's policy of lying about Iraq.