THE BLOG
07/01/2008 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Blue Alert: Obama And the Dems Need Contingency Plans for Terror and War

I can't be the only one who's been privately warning Democrats: Obama and the party need emergency preparedness plans. Major events between now and November could change the course of the election - especially a U.S. strike on Iran, or a terror attack against Americans at home or abroad.

We're not seeing any signs of such plans. Not that we should - except that one outcome would be to explain now why Americans are much less safe as the result of GOP policies.

If it seems crass to weigh political considerations in the face of war or tragedy, remember that the future safety of civilians here and elsewhere will be greatly affected by this election. And they - the Republicans - are certainly thinking politically. When McCain's chief political advisor, lobbyist Charlie Black, said yesterday that a terror attack "would be a big advantage for him, Black's biggest mistake was excessive honesty. That's one of the few imaginable scenarios that could lead to a McCain victory in November.

When William Kristol suggests that Bush is more likely to attack Iran if it looks like McCain will lose, he's probably telling the truth. Kristol's stated rationale is that the neocons assume this attack, which they consider vital, won't occur under President Obama. The fact that such an attack would also boost McCain's electoral chances is politely left unstated.

So what should Obama and the Democrats be doing about these two possibilities? Some of their planning should be invisible - for the speeches that Obama might give and the surrogates (military and otherwise) that would appear on Democrats' behalf. But we ought to be seeing some groundwork being laid now, and we're not. So, what should be happening?

Guanatanamo and Abu Ghraib should be described as Bush-created "terrorist factories."

A well-researched McClatchy report tells us what we could already surmise: That Guantanamo (and by inference or other torture sites as well) are fertile ground for motivating nonpolitical detainees to become terrorists. And while they're motivating them they're introducing them to people who really are terrorists.

McCain doesn't want to close Guantanamo, even though it's become both a terror training camp and a Fundamentalist madrassa.

While the McClatchy piece focuses on a thug who became a terrorist, it could just as well have focussed on innocent detainees - people who were sold to the US by their neighbors, feuding families, or rivals in love. These prisoners are naturally enraged at being tortured. Then, thanks to GOP policies, they're introduced to terror cells where they can channel their rage into acts of murder.

We might just as well have spent our money setting up Job Fairs for Al Qaeda. We're getting the same result.

Democrats should explain that torture is un-American, that it breeds terrorists -- and that it doesn't help catch bad guys.

It's too easy for the public to be seduced by "24"-like scenarios of torturing evil people to break their schemes. But how many Americans know that a general begged that show's producers to stop running these fantasy scenarios? How many know that we won't get better intelligence that way, but that more American soldiers are likely to be tortured as a result? How many know that we've tortured dozens of innocent Iraqis, only to send them home with $100 in their pocket? That's like raping a woman and then leaving money on her dresser.

The short version: Torture is un-American, and it hurts our military.

McCain has played cute on torture, which undercuts his own moral standing. This guy has correctly noted that and so has this editorialist. McCain uses the too-clever-by-half phrase "extra measures" to describe torture. It opens the door to yet more public shaming of America - and yet more breeding of terrorists.

If Democrats don't tell that story, it leaves voters with the impression that tough-minded Republicans may not be as polite -- but that they're getting the job done. Torture may come back in style if more Americans die - unless Democrats use this time to explain that it doesn't work.

If we surrender our freedoms, the terrorists win.

Others have criticized Democrats from Pelosi to Obama for capitulating on the FISA bill. I can understand the political calculus involved, and I certainly understand why Obama wants to position himself closer to the center. But, moral arguments aside, it's not going to work - especially if there's another terror attack.

Obama should be introducing himself to Americans as a President they can trust in times of shock and fear. That means laying the groundwork now with a series of speeches that explain why we can - and must - defend the liberties that make us Americans, even in the face of terror. He needs to lay the groundwork for the speech he must give if, tragically, there's another attack - another "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself" speech.

He can't give that speech if he capitulates on retroactive immunity for telecoms. Someday he may need to explain why terrorists can't convince a free people to sacrifice their freedoms. He should begin making that case right away - and then pray he never has to deliver the rest of the speech.
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We'll never know if a competent White House response could have prevented 9/11 (although we know the Administration responded incompetently to warnings). And if there's another attack, we may never know to what extent the GOP's many errors contributed to it. In the end, it may not even matter. These tragedies are shared by all Americans.

But Democrats owe it to themselves - and more importantly, to the nation - to start telling the real story immediately. There should be no equivocation and no calculation.

Their motto should be: Hope for the best, plan for the worst, and do what's right in the meantime.

UPDATE: Josh Orton at MyDD has a statement released by the Obama campaign in response to Black's comments. Good reaction by the Obama team - but it's still a reaction. The narrative still needs to be changed, although the language in this statement shows they're on the right track.

UPDATE II: Is the once-feared Karl Rove losing his touch?

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