Stumping for the GOP? Media figures uncritically linked Iraq war with fight against terrorism

››› ››› SIMON MALOY

In the wake of Ned Lamont's victory over Sen. Joe Lieberman and the news that British authorities had arrested several suspects in the foiled British terror plot, a number of media figures have linked the Iraq war with the effort to combat terrorism -- echoing the Republican talking point that Iraq is the "central front" in the fight against terrorism.

In the wake of Democratic Senate candidate Ned Lamont's victory over Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman in the August 8 Connecticut primary and the news that British authorities had arrested several suspected terrorists allegedly on the verge of executing an attack on U.S.-bound international flights, a number of media figures have linked the Iraq war with the effort to combat terrorism -- echoing the Republican talking point that Iraq is the "central front" in the fight against terrorism. Republicans have promoted this conflation of Iraq and the fight against terrorism in an apparent effort to diminish the impact of public disapproval over the Iraq war and the Republicans' handling of the conflict.

Following Lamont's victory, the White House wasted little time in linking Lamont's opposition to the Iraq war with the "fight against terrorism to attack both Lamont and Democrats in general. During an August 9 conference call with reporters, Vice President Dick Cheney said:

CHENEY: The thing that's partly disturbing about it is the fact that, the standpoint of our adversaries, if you will, in this conflict, and the Al Qaeda types, they clearly are betting on the proposition that ultimately they can break the will of the American people in terms of our ability to stay in the fight and complete the task. And when we see the Democratic Party reject one of its own, a man they selected to be their vice presidential nominee just a few short years ago, it would seem to say a lot about the state the party is in today if that's becoming the dominant view of the Democratic Party, the basic, fundamental notion that somehow we can retreat behind our oceans and not be actively engaged in this conflict and be safe here at home, which clearly we know we won't -- we can't be. So we have to be actively engaged not only in Afghanistan and Iraq, but on a global basis if we're going to succeed in prevailing in this long-term conflict.

White House press secretary Tony Snow offered similar comments during an August 9 press briefing:

SNOW: First, let's think about Iraq. One of the positions is that we need to leave Iraq -- we need to do it on a timetable, and we need to do it soon. It's worth walking through the consequences of that position. First, simply to walk away on a timetable without examining the conditions on the ground and without making sure that you have the ability for the Iraqis to stand up and also assert sovereignty over their territory and have a freestanding democracy would create a power vacuum and encourage terrorists not only in Iraq, but throughout the region and throughout the world that one of the problems that often besets democracies, which is impatience in hard times, in fact serves as a motivation for terror groups.

Lieberman launched an attack on Lamont similar to Cheney's on August 10: "If we just pick up like Ned Lamont wants us to do, get out [of Iraq] by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England. It will strengthen them and they will strike again."

Democrats, such as Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (NV) have argued that the Iraq war has diverted attention and resources from the fight against terrorism. In an August 10 statement, Reid said: "The Iraq war has diverted our focus and more than $300 billion in resources from the war on terrorism and has created a rallying cry for international terrorists. This latest plot demonstrates the need for the Bush administration and the Congress to change course in Iraq and ensure that we are taking all the steps necessary to protect Americans at home and across the world."

Joe Klein's latest Time magazine column, while containing some flaws -- for example, he praised the moderation and bipartisanship Lieberman purportedly represents even while condemning Republicans for making comments that were strikingly similar to Lieberman's own -- offered a clear description of what Klein called the "infuriating" Republican tactic of linking Iraq to the fight against terrorism:

In 2004 Bush and [White House senior adviser] Karl Rove managed to flummox the Democrats by conflating the war in Iraq with the war against al-Qaeda and insisting that any Democratic reservations about Iraq were a sign of weakness. This was infuriating. It was Bush's disastrous decision to go to war -- and worse, to go to war with insufficient resources -- that transformed Iraq into a terrorist Valhalla. It is Bush's feckless prosecution of the war that has created the current morass, in which a U.S. military withdrawal could lead to a regional conflagration. Rove may avert another electoral embarrassment this November with the same old demagoguery, but his strategy has betrayed the nation's best interests. It has destroyed any chance of a unified U.S. response to a crisis overseas. Even the Wall Street Journal's quasi-wingnut editorial page cautioned, in the midst of a typical anti-Democratic harrumph, "[No] President can maintain a war for long without any support from the opposition party; sooner or later his own party will begin to crack as well."

Nevertheless, a number of media figures have seized upon Lamont's victory and the British terrorism arrests to link the Iraq war and the fight against terrorism. As the weblog Think Progress noted, on August 11, CNN Headline News anchor Chuck Roberts asked John Mercurio, senior editor of National Journal's "The Hotline" weblog, if "Lamont is the Al Qaeda candidate" because of Lamont's opposition to the Iraq war.

Lamont appeared on the August 13 broadcast of CBS' Face the Nation, during which guest host Scott Pelley linked the two in order to ask Lamont -- who had won the primary just five days earlier -- if he was "a man whose time has come and gone":

PELLEY: On Tuesday, it looked like a pretty good idea to run against the war in a Democrat primary. Then Wednesday, the plot came up that was revealed of the bombing -- the potential bombing of airliners into the United States. I wonder, with so much difference between Tuesday and Wednesday, are you a man whose time has come and gone?

Similarly, on the August 13 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace uncritically repeated Cheney's and Lieberman's attacks before asking Lamont if his "victory show[ed] that at least some Americans are weakening in their will to fight the war on terror":

WALLACE: After the primary this week, Vice President Cheney said that your victory as an anti-war candidate encourages the "Al Qaeda types." And Joe Lieberman picked up on that same theme after word of the terror plot in England. Let's take a look.

LIEBERMAN [clip]: If we just pick up as Ned Lamont wants us to do and get out by a date certain, it will be taken as a tremendous victory by the same people who wanted to blow up these planes in this plot hatched in England.

WALLACE: Mr. Lamont, does your victory show that at least some Americans are weakening in their will to fight the war on terror?

On the August 14 broadcast of National Public Radio's Morning Edition, NPR senior news analyst Cokie Roberts simply repeated Cheney's and Lieberman's attacks on Lamont:

ROBERTS: And you have the vice president saying that -- that the victory of Ned Lamont over Joe Lieberman in Connecticut last Tuesday shows that "Al Qaeda types," who want to break the will of the American people, is encouraged by that victory. Lieberman himself said that Lamont's call for withdrawal of troops from Iraq would be taken as a tremendous victory by terrorists, so there is an attempt to turn all of this into a political plus here at home for various candidates.

We've changed our commenting system to Disqus.
Instructions for signing up and claiming your comment history are located here.
Updated rules for commenting are here.