A Window Of Opportunity: Democrats Must Jump Now genre: Just Jihad & Polispeak & Six Degrees of Speculation

Window Of Opportunity

Two items in today’s news offer important instruction to the Democrats as they approach the 2008 presidential election. Both require a shift in the rhetoric and the strategy of the party, the candidates, and those who support them…including those in the blogosphere.

The first item is the report that Michael Chertoff and others in the Homeland Security Department are concerned about a terrorist strike in the United States this summer. While Chertoff indicates that there is no specific information, he feels the increase in communications from al Qaeda is reminiscent of the period prior to 9/11.

From ABC News:

Senior U.S. intelligence officials tell ABC News new intelligence suggests a small al Qaeda cell is on its way to the United States, or may already be here.

The White House has convened an urgent multi-agency meeting for Thursday afternoon to deal with the new threat.

Top intelligence and law enforcement officials have been told to assemble in the Situation Room to report on:

--what steps can be taken to minimize or counter the threat,

--and what steps are being taken to harden security for government buildings and personnel.

From The Chicago Tribune:

Chertoff sternly echoed those sentiments at the Tribune.

"We've seen a lot more public statements from Al Qaeda," he said. "There are a lot of reasons to speculate about that but one reason that occurs to me is that they're feeling more comfortable and raising expectations.

"We could easily be attacked," Chertoff added. "The intent to attack us remains as strong as it was on Sept. 10, 2001."

The dire warnings and Chertoff's comments come as the Bush administration faces political and business opposition over its immigration and border policies that have security implications.

The immediate reaction by a number of Democratic supporters was to accuse Chertoff and the GOP of ratcheting up the publics awareness of the terror threat in order to assist Republican candidates in the 2008 election. Undoubtedly, the GOP has used the fear of terror effectively in the aftermath of 9/11 and I’ve written about the use of “Terror Management Theory" as a plausible explanation of the GOP strategy.

However, I’m of the mind that 2006 marked a turning point in the GOP’s ability to continue to use fear as it primary political weapon of choice. In fact, I believe the Democrats need to co-opt the issue in a move reminiscent of Karl Rove…which brings me to the second news item.

In light of dwindling GOP support for the Bush administration’s latest surge of U.S. troops in Iraq and the defection of several prominent Senators in recent days, we witnessed a subtle, yet significant shift in the message being offered by the President with regards to the war.

From The Washington Post:

To the extent that Karl Rove still has a reputation as a political genius, he owes it to his signature move: Faced with potential political disaster, Rove never plays defense, he doesn't change course, he attacks the problem head on -- and tries to co-opt the opposition's position.

So it should come as no great surprise that, confronted with a tide of anti-war sentiment and a growing number of defecting Republican lawmakers, the White House is changing not its policy on Iraq, but its message.

Enter the new White House talking point: You want out? We want out, too!

It's a message that has the potential to deflate the growing public frenzy against President Bush's Iraq policy, except for one small problem: It's just talk.

It seems to me that instead of pointing out the next iteration of Rove’s standard fare and voicing vocal protestations to the rolling out of the terror wagon for its umpteenth farewell tour (think Cher), the Democrats need to take the lead in pointing out two very pivotal issues.

One, given the extremely unpopular war in Iraq…including ever eroding GOP support…the Democrats need to feature Iraq as an obstacle to keeping the homeland safe…connecting it with the draining of important resources…including military reserves, essential equipment, limited intelligence capabilities, and of course gobs of cash…all of which could improve our ability to monitor and prevent attacks in the United States.

Secondly, the Democrats need to preempt discussions about possible terrorist attacks…in fact; they should be featuring our susceptibility in all of their campaign communications. It is well known that the GOP has tried to portray the Democrats as weak on terror and nothing could be more effective at this juncture than adopting the Karl Rove strategy of addressing one’s perceived weakness by taking an offensive stance.

While the efforts to portray John Kerry as tough on defense during the Democratic National Convention in 2004 have come to be viewed as a strategic error, the current environment and a similar effort cannot and should not be seen in the same light. Now more than ever is the time for Democrats to offer bold statements on safety and security while featuring the failed Bush policy with regards to the capture of Osama bin Laden and the distraction Iraq has and continues to present.

The situation in Pakistan is a prime example of the expanding window of opportunity. In the last week, we learned that the Bush administration cancelled an incursion into Pakistan in 2005 to capture or kill key al Qaeda extremists. The explanation given for aborting the mission is that it may have harmed our ability to work with Pakistan and damage President Musharraf’s tenuous hold on power.

Given the latest information from Pakistan, Musharraf may hold an even thinner grip on Pakistan and al Qaeda seems to be operating at will in the remote regions of the country…likely plotting their next assault on the United States. A credible argument can be made that an incursion into Pakistan in 2005 may have well been more effective than the ensuing two years of immeasurable progress in Iraq. It behooves the Democrats to highlight the fact that the Bush administration had handicapped its ability to act on key opportunities.

In reality, predicting that Musharraf’s position in Pakistan would improve over time never met the muster…and the decision to wait and see was arguably impacted by our commitments in Iraq and our inability to address a changing dynamic in Pakistan had an assault facilitated further turmoil in the anti-American nation and heightened calls and efforts for Musharraf’s ouster.

Add in the nuclear situation in Iran, the growing influence of Hamas within the Palestinian regions adjacent to Israel, and the latest terror attempts in the UK and a very troubling picture emerges…one that can be partially attributed to the misplaced attention of the Bush administration…and one that places the homeland at greater risk than would have resulted from an alternate focus over the last two years.

Now, more than ever, the Democrats need to take the lead on foreign policy and feature Iraq as the albatross that has hampered our actions on numerous fronts…fronts that needed focused attention and that can be directly tied to keeping the homeland safe and secure.

The window of opportunity is open. The Democrats must jump now.

Daniel DiRito | July 11, 2007 | 9:27 AM
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