LA Times article contradicts author's analysis that Dems don't want to talk "about al Qaeda or terrorism"

››› ››› MATT GERTZ

In a July 29 article, Los Angeles Times staff writer Doyle McManus asserted: "It's easy to tell the difference between the two parties on foreign policy in this presidential campaign. The Democrats all want to talk about getting out of Iraq, but not so much about Al Qaeda or terrorism. The Republicans all want to talk about terrorism, but not so much about Iraq." McManus also reported a "chasm between the two parties' worldviews, one focused on battling the threat of radical Islam, the other on ending the war." McManus claimed that this was a "problem" that both parties face because "most Americans want answers to both questions, not just one or the other." But later in the article, McManus undermined his own statement that the Democratic presidential candidates "all want to talk about getting out of Iraq, but not so much about Al Qaeda or terrorism": He acknowledged that Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "talks about terrorism as a priority"; that Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "also talks about terrorism, but puts his emphasis more strongly on diplomacy"; and that former Sen. John Edwards (D-NC) "has staked out distinct positions on both Iraq and terrorism."

From the Times article, headlined "Foreign policy is central in 2008 presidential races: Parties' candidates are all talking about ending the Iraq war or fighting terrorism -- but Americans want answers to both.":

It's easy to tell the difference between the two parties on foreign policy in this presidential campaign. The Democrats all want to talk about getting out of Iraq, but not so much about Al Qaeda or terrorism. The Republicans all want to talk about terrorism, but not so much about Iraq.

Although fireworks erupted last week among the leading Democratic candidates, those differences are narrow compared with the chasm between the two parties' worldviews, one focused on battling the threat of radical Islam, the other on ending the war.

The problem each party faces, polls show, is that most Americans want answers to both questions, not just one or the other.

But after suggesting in the lead paragraph that Democrats avoid talking about terrorism, McManus went on to report that the three leading Democratic candidates have all addressed the issue:

Among the Democratic candidates, last week brought a dust-up in which Illinois Sen. Barack Obama derided New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as "Bush-Cheney lite" after Clinton called Obama "irresponsible and frankly naive."

But there's also a rough consensus: Combating terrorism is important, but the war in Iraq is weakening the United States and the next president should exert more diplomacy and less military muscle.

[...]

Clinton talks about terrorism as a priority, and she was the last of the three leading Democratic candidates to turn against the war in Iraq.

Obama also talks about terrorism, but puts his emphasis more strongly on diplomacy -- leading to his statement in last week's debate that he was willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria, North Korea or Cuba without preconditions. That was the position Clinton called "naive."

[...]

Edwards, by contrast, has staked out distinct positions on both Iraq and terrorism. He has called for an immediate withdrawal of at least 40,000 troops from Iraq, and a complete withdrawal within a year. And he has said it is time to abandon the idea of a "war on terror."

Indeed, Clinton, Obama, and Edwards have regularly "talk[ed] about ... al Qaeda or terrorism." For instance, they all responded critically to the intelligence community's assessment in the July 17 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Al Qaeda "has protected or regenerated key elements of its Homeland attack capability" and established a "safehaven" in Pakistan. In a July 18 speech on the Senate floor, Clinton asserted that the "threat of al Qaeda is persistent and evolving," according to the NIE:

Our involvement in Iraq continues to erode our position. It has damaged our alliances and it's limited our ability to respond to real threats. The unclassified key judgments of the recent National Intelligence Estimate, called the Terrorist Threat to the U.S. Homeland, says that the threat of Al Qaeda is persistent and evolving. The report states that Al Qaeda will probably seek to leverage the contacts and capabilities of Al Qaeda in Iraq, its most visible and capable affiliate and the only one known to have expressed a desire to attack the homeland.

In a July 17 press release on the NIE's findings, Edwards asserted that "the next president will need a bold new strategy that will attack the root causes of terrorism, rather than wait for the problem to get worse." From the release:

Today's new National Intelligence Estimate demonstrating Al Qaeda is expanding their reach is proof positive that George Bush's "Global War on Terror" Doctrine is more of a bumper sticker than a strategy to eliminate terrorism. This Administration has failed America - 6 years after 9/11, Bin Laden is still alive, Al Qaeda is more powerful now than ever before, and we have fewer allies. As the NIE shows, the next president will need a bold new strategy that will attack the root causes of terrorism, rather than wait for the problem to get worse. We need an anti-terror strategy that tailors our force structure to the threat; puts the military, not politicians, in charge of operational decisions on the ground; and creates a new "Marshall Corps" of 10,000 professionals to stabilize weak and failing states.

In a July 17 press release, Obama said, "It is deeply troubling that more that nearly six years after 9/11, al Qaeda maintains a safe haven, an intact leadership, and the capability to plan further attacks. It is time to act to correct those mistakes." From the release:

This morning's declassified NIE is a chilling reminder of what we have feared all along. After almost six years, awesome sacrifices by our brave men and women in uniform, and hundreds of billions of dollars spent, we are no safer than we were on 9/11. This is a consequence of waging a misguided war in Iraq that should never have been authorized, and failing to seize the opportunity to do lasting harm to the extremist networks that pose a direct threat to our homeland. It is deeply troubling that more that nearly six years after 9/11, al Qaeda maintains a safe haven, an intact leadership, and the capability to plan further attacks. It is time to act to correct those mistakes, and the first step is to get out of Iraq, because you can't win a war when you're on the wrong battlefield.

As blogger Steve Benen noted at Talking Points Memo in response to McManus' article, the Democratic candidates have also thoroughly discussed how they would "handle both questions" during the Democratic debates:

And second, I think McManus is simply mistaken about the Dems' rhetorical emphasis. The leading candidates seem to be going out of their way to, to borrow McManus' phrase, "answer both questions."

At a recent Democratic debate, for example, Barack Obama said, "[W]e live in a more dangerous world, not a less dangerous world, partly as a consequence of this president's actions, primarily because of this war in Iraq. ... What we've seen is a distraction from the battles that deal with al Qaeda in Afghanistan. We have created an entire new recruitment network in Iraq, that we're seeing them send folks to Lebanon and Jordan and other areas of the region. And so one of the things that I think is critical, as the next president, is to make absolutely certain that we not only phase out the Iraq but we also focus on the critical battle that we have in Afghanistan and root out al Qaeda." Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, and [Sen.] Chris Dodd [D-CT] all had similar assessments, but according to the LA Times piece, Dems are reluctant to talk about al Qaeda or terrorism.

Discussing the article, Atlantic associate editor Matthew Yglesias wrote: "The point, of course, is that ending the war in Iraq isn't something contrary to improving the country's ability to reduce its vulnerability to terrorism, nor is it something other than improving the country's ability to reduce its vulnerability to terrorism, rather, it's a constitutive part of improving the country's ability to reduce its vulnerability to terrorism." [Emphasis in original]

McManus' characterization of the Democratic candidates as avoiding discussion of "Al Qaeda or terrorism" reflects a pattern in the media of asserting that Democrats are not adequately addressing the threat of terrorism. Most recently, on the July 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Fox News Washington managing editor Brit Hume asserted that "a lot of Democrats and those who support them" believe that "the war on terror is some kind of a political scam in which the administration is -- which is using to try to undermine civil liberties and expand the power of the executive branch of the government." Hume added: "They do not treat it particularly seriously," as the blog Crooks and Liars noted.

Further, on the July 24 edition of MSNBC's Tucker, A.B. Stoddard, associate editor of The Hill, claimed that "The Democrats have an Al Qaeda problem" and accused Democrats who advocate withdrawing from Iraq of "refusing to talk [apparently about Al Qaeda]." MSNBC political analyst Pat Buchanan then stated that Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had recently addressed the very issue of how to fight Al Qaeda in Iraq even while withdrawing most U.S. troops. In response, Stoddard said that "a lot of times" the issue of dealing with Al Qaeda in Iraq "is dodged." In addition, on the July 22 edition of NBC's Meet the Press, Weekly Standard writer Stephen F. Hayes said: "I think for a long time administration critics had begun to make the argument that really this Al Qaeda threat is overblown, that they misled us into the war in Iraq, they're misleading us about the seriousness of the threat from Al Qaeda."

From the July 29 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:

CHRIS WALLACE: Well, as we talked about with Senator [Russ] Feingold [D-WI], there's a new issue on Capitol Hill about rewriting the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

And the administration, in the person of Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, said at this point we have great difficulties intercepting a conversation between a foreign terrorist in one foreign country and another foreign terrorist in another foreign country because of the fact that it might go in a fiber-optic cable through this country.

Democrats, including Feingold, say this is a power grab, that, in fact, it's like the Patriot Act. They want to have a wholesale rewriting of our civil liberties. Brit.

HUME: Well, first of all, the question that Senator Feingold didn't answer was the one you put to him.

And that is, if they don't like the kitchen sink, as they call it, that the administration is offering along with this proposal to fix this particular problem, then all they need to do is just pass the simple fix.

And there's been no good answer as to why that hasn't happened. Now, my guess is it will.

But the answer from [Rep.] Anna Eshoo [D-CA] in that hearing was instructive as well. In other words, not, "Oh, my God, we really do need to fix this." No, she was lamenting the fact that she thought the administration was trying to scare the American people, which is -- make no mistake about it -- this is what a lot of Democrats and those who support them think. They think the war on terror is some kind of a political scam in which the administration is -- which is using to try to undermine civil liberties and expand the power of the executive branch of the government.

They do not treat it particularly seriously.

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