On Fox News Sunday, William Kristol attacked Democrats for “turn[ing] every event, including now the fifth anniversary of 9-11, into a partisan fight,” and claimed that it is “a totally false charge that [President Bush] has played the politics of fear.” Kristol also claimed that Bush “has never said a word about the Clinton administration. He has never tried to blame past [national security] failures on them.”
On the September 10 edition of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol attacked Democrats for “turn[ing] every event, including now the fifth anniversary of 9-11, into a partisan fight” and claimed that it is “a totally false charge that [President Bush] has played the politics of fear.” In fact, the White House has reportedly acknowledged that the timing of President Bush's September 6 announcement that 14 terror suspects had been transferred from CIA-run secret prisons to the Pentagon's detention facility at Guantánamo Bay was an attempt to capitalize politically on the then-upcoming anniversary of the attacks and frame the debate over the fight against terrorism in the White House's terms. Additionally, Time magazine reported that, 35 minutes after Bush's announcement, the White House and the Republicans began urging conservatives in the media to promote Bush's speech “by talking about it in the context of the election.” As for Kristol's assertion that it was a “totally false charge” that Bush “has played the politics of fear,” there are several examples of the administration doing just that. For example, during the 2004 presidential campaign, Vice President Dick Cheney suggested that if Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) won the election, “then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”
In an article for the September 18 edition of Newsweek, investigative correspondents Mark Hosenball and Michael Isikoff quoted an anonymous senior Bush aide acknowledging that Bush's announcement was timed in such a way that the administration might frame the debate over the fight against terrorism:
The timing of last week's announcement, just before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, was no accident. It allowed the White House to showcase its successes in capturing terrorists, and to put pressure on Congress to quickly approve the tribunals. “There were obviously messaging opportunities,” says a senior Bush aide. “We could sit back and let the war be defined by the media and our critics, or we can define it ourselves.”
In his article for the September 18 edition of Time, White House correspondent Mike Allen reported that after Bush's announcement, the White House and Republican Party leaders almost immediately contacted conservatives in the media, urging them to promote Bush's speech “in the context of the election”:
Thirty-five minutes after President Bush finished his surprise East Room announcement last week about plans for prosecuting some of the world's most prominent terrorists, White House and Republican officials convened a conference call of conservative TV pundits and other allies, and later of state party leaders around the country. A participant said listeners were urged to spread the word about the aggressive speech “by talking about it in the context of the election.” The message: Republicans are strong, and Democrats are weak. The White House strategy isn't subtle. With Republicans worried about losing the House and conceivably even the Senate in November, the President is taking a big gamble that an unflinching focus on national security will be his party's political salvation.
Kristol also claimed that Bush “has never said a word about the Clinton administration. He has never tried to blame past [national security] failures on them.” In fact, both Bush and Cheney have attacked the Clinton administration's counterterrorism policies. In an October 18, 2004, campaign speech, Bush described the Clinton administration's “response to terrorism” as “generally piecemeal and symbolic.” From Bush's speech:
BUSH: During the decade of the 1990s, our times often seemed peaceful on the surface. Yet, beneath that surface were currents of danger. Terrorists were training and planning in distant camps. In 1993, terrorists made their first attack on the World Trade Center. In 1998, terrorists bombed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. And then came the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, which cost the lives of 17 American sailors. In this period, America's response to terrorism was generally piecemeal and symbolic. The terrorists concluded this was a sign of weakness, and their plans became more ambitions [sic], and their attacks became more deadly.
Cheney has gone after the Clinton administration's counterterrorism policies several times, claiming that they were ineffectual and emboldened terrorists:
- “It was as though he clearly missed a lot of what was going on. For example, just three weeks after the -- after we got here, there was communication, for example, with the President of Pakistan, laying out our concerns about Afghanistan and Al Qaeda, and the importance of going after the Taliban and getting them to end their support for the Al Qaeda. This was, say, within three weeks of our arrival here.
”So, I guess, the other thing I would say about [former National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator] Dick Clarke is that he was here throughout those eight years, going back to 1993, and the first attack on the World Trade Center; and '98, when the embassies were hit in East Africa; in 2000, when the USS Cole was hit. And the question that ought to be asked is: What were they doing in those days when he was in charge of counterterrorism efforts?" [The Rush Limbaugh Show; 3/22/04]
- “Terrorists were on the offensive around the world, emboldened by many years of unanswered attacks. Repeatedly, they had struck America with little cost or consequence. Terrorists tried to bring down the World Trade Center for the first time in 1993; they attacked us at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia, in 1996; they blew up U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, in 1998; and they attacked the USS. Cole, in 2000. In none of these cases, did the United States respond very forcefully.” [Cheney speech in Louisiana; 7/1/04]
- “And for many years, they were the ones on the offensive. They grew bolder in the belief that if they killed Americans, they could change American policy. In Beirut in 1983, terrorists killed 241 of our service men. Thereafter, the United States withdrew from Beirut. In Mogadishu in 1993, terrorists killed 19 American soldiers. Thereafter, the U.S. withdrew its forces from Somalia. Over time, the terrorists concluded that they could strike America without paying a price, because they did, repeatedly: the bombing at the World Trade Center in 1993, the murders at the Saudi National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995, the Khobar Towers in 1996, the simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, and, of course, the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000.” [Cheney speech in Washington, D.C.; 11/21/05]
- “For us, that war started on 9-11. For them, it started years before. They killed 241 servicemen in Beirut in 1983. Then there was the first World Trade Center attack in 1993; and after that, the murders at the Saudi Arabian National Guard Training Center in Riyadh in 1995; the simultaneous bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998; and the attack on the USS Cole 2000. With each attack, the terrorists grew more confident in believing they could strike America without paying a price. So, they continued to wage those attacks -- making the world less safe and eventually striking here in the homeland on September 11th.” [Cheney speech in Nevada; 8/28/06]
Also, contrary to Kristol's claim that Bush has not “played the politics of fear,” his administration and his campaign have repeatedly done so:
- Cheney said the following on September 7, 2004: “We made decisions at the end of World War II, at the beginning of the Cold War, when we set up the Department of Defense, and the CIA, and we created the North Atlantic Treaty Organization [NATO] and undertook a bunch of major policy steps that then were in place for the next 40 years, that were key to our ultimate success in the Cold War, that were supported by Democrat and Republican alike -- Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and Jack Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon and Gerry Ford and a whole bunch of Presidents, from both parties, supported those policies over a long period of time. We're now at that point where we're making that kind of decision for the next 30 or 40 years, and it's absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on November 2nd, we make the right choice. Because if we make the wrong choice, then the danger is that we'll get hit again, that we'll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States, and that we'll fall back into the pre-9-11 mindset if you will, that in fact these terrorist attacks are just criminal acts, and that we're not really at war. I think that would be a terrible mistake for us.”
- Several 2004 campaign ads by the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign also warned of what they suggested would be the consequences of electing Kerry. One ad, titled "Risk," ended with the announcer saying: “John Kerry and his liberal allies: Are they a risk we can afford to take today?” Another ad, "Wolves," featured a pack of wolves prowling a dark forest as an announcer accused Kerry of being weak in fighting terrorism, concluding that “weakness attracts those who are waiting to do America harm.”
- Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge said he faced pressure from others in the administration to raise the terror alert level, even when he believed the evidence did not justify doing so. According to the USA Today, “The Bush administration periodically put the USA on high alert for terrorist attacks even though [Ridge] argued there was only flimsy evidence to justify raising the threat level.” Ridge reportedly said that “he often disagreed with administration officials who wanted to elevate the threat level to orange, or 'high' risk of terrorist attack, but was overruled.” He added, “There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, 'For that?'” [USA Today, 5/10/2005]
From the September 10 broadcast of Fox Broadcasting Co.'s Fox News Sunday:
KRISTOL: Listen, I think a lot of these debates, incidentally, have been healthy. I mean, would you prefer a situation where no one criticized the Bush administration for having gone into Iraq or for the way it's pursuing the war in Iraq? I, myself, disagree with the Democrats on about 90 percent of what they've been saying, but I wouldn't say they don't have the right to say it, and I wouldn't say that you don't want an opposition party saying some of this.
I mean, I think there have been times when, especially the Democrats, in my view, have sort of not understood the unseemliness when you have soldiers fighting in the field, et cetera, to turn every event, including now the fifth anniversary of 9-11, into a partisan fight. But, it happens.
KRISTOL: I just want to strongly object to one thing -- and I'm willing to be critical of President Bush's management of the war in all kinds of ways -- but it is a totally false charge that he has played the politics of fear.
Compared to previous presidents at wartime, he has been incredibly responsible. He has never said a word about the Clinton administration. He's never tried to blame past failures on them. He's been scrupulous about that. He has bent over backwards not to make this a war against Islam. He's said Islam's a religion of peace. He's tried to be very careful in not demonizing enemies.
I mean, look at Joe McCarthy. Look at Harry Truman, a man I admire. Look at his rhetoric against Tom Dewey in 1948: “Fascism is coming back.” Look at normal rhetoric used by presidents who were in political trouble. Bush has been, I think, very careful and very responsible.