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January 22, 2009

Posted by Ilan Goldenberg

And again we hear that George Bush was an awesome President, because outside of the worst terrorist attack in American history he managed to keep us safe.  Writing in the Washington Post, Marc Thiessen, President Bush's former speech writer, goes back to the same old tired mantra that progressives and Obama can't keep us safe.  Of course, he makes some pretty outrageous and unsubstantiated claims in the process - claims that would have more credibility from an administration who hadn't spent years over hyping threats and sharing partial intelligence in an attempt to scare the American public and push their ideological policy agenda.  But let's take a closer look.

Consider, for example, the CIA program that Bush created to detain and question senior leaders captured in the war on terror. Many of these terrorists, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed, refused to talk -- until Bush authorized the CIA to use enhanced interrogation techniques. Information gained using those techniques is responsible for stopping a number of planned attacks -- including plots to blow up the American consulate in Karachi, Pakistan; to fly airplanes into the towers of Canary Wharf in London; and to fly a hijacked airplane into the Library Tower in Los Angeles.

Well, apparently a lot of the folks at the CIA don't really seem to agree.  Some reporting from David Rose last month in Vanity Fair.

As for K.S.M. himself, who (as Jane Mayer writes) was waterboarded, reportedly hung for hours on end from his wrists, beaten, and subjected to other agonies for weeks, Bush said he provided “many details of other plots to kill innocent Americans.” K.S.M. was certainly knowledgeable. It would be surprising if he gave up nothing of value. But according to a former senior C.I.A. official, who read all the interrogation reports on K.S.M., “90 percent of it was total fucking bullshit.” A former Pentagon analyst adds: “K.S.M. produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.”

Then there is this about Iraq:

In 2007, President Bush revealed intelligence that Osama bin Laden had told al-Qaeda leaders in Iraq to form a cell to conduct attacks inside the United States -- then the surge drove them from their havens and set back those plans. If Obama allows al-Qaeda to regain its Iraqi havens, and the terrorists use them to strike our country, he will not be able to blame Bush.

This is exactly the kind of deceptive argument the Bush administration was feeding the public in 2002 and 2003.  The surge prevented a terrorist attack on American soil.  Really?  Even though there was no operational relationship between Al Qaeda and Iraq before the invasion?  Even though it's not clear that the increase in troops was the primary driver for the reduction in violence and the Anbar Awakening actually played the most significant role in specifically setting back AQI? Even though the public hasn't seen any real substantive proof that AQI was planning attacks against the American homeland?

The problem with this op-ed is that it comes straight out of 2002-2003, when Bush was popular and the country was still traumatized by 9/11.  Even the basic political argument is circa a bygone Bush era.

If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible -- and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation.

Sadly for Thiessen that time has passed.  The politics of fear seems to have lost its luster and in 2009 it is George Bush whose disastrous presidency may make Republican unelectable for years to come.


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