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The Right's New Stab in the Back Myth

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The right is preparing a new stab-in-the-back legend to paint the Obama administration as consisting of a bunch of cowardly liberals unable to stand up to terrorism. It began with Bush's claim in Midland, Texas that his administration had exited without allowing a fresh attack to occur on American soil. Now Marc A. Thiessen, who was most recently chief speechwriter for George W. Bush and a former aide to Senator Jesse Helms, has an op-ed in today's Washington Post that ups the ante.

Thiessen says that even as al-Qaeda is plotting feverishly to attack the United States, Obama is recklessly dismantling, or about to dismantle, the numerous protective barriers that the Bush administration erected, ranging from "enhanced interrogation techniques"--by which Thiessen really means torture--as well as going to war in Iraq. If Obama allows al-Qaeda to regroup in Iraq, says Thiessen, he will be to blame for the next terrorist attack. In short: "If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, American's will hold Obama responsible--and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation."
This is surreal. It was Bush who originally was blind to the looming September 11 al-Qaeda attack, spurning numerous warnings from the CIA and Richard Clarke. His obsession was missile defense, not defeating terrorism. Nor is there any clear evidence that the illegal measures that Bush endorsed actually saved a single American life. Rather, he launched a horrific war in Iraq, which has yet burn out, resulting in thousands of dead American troops and millions of Iraqi refugees. In the United States itself, his monarchical conception of the Constitution upended our democracy. The supreme irony of Bush's democratization crusade was that he was undermining the rule of law at home even as he purported to expand it abroad.

Obama's measures promise a shrewder use of American forces than squandering them in Iraq and fanning anti-American anger abroad. Bush's measures turned him into al-Qaeda's best recruiting agent. Obama wants to take a different tack, drawing as much on American diplomacy and ideals as on force. But whether any president can construct an air-tight defense against each and every potential terrorist attack is dubious. Thiessen's bluster is revealing not for what it says about battling terrorism but for what it exposes about the GOP's continued, relentless attempt to politicize national security.