"Our Karl Rove is the blog you should be glad that Democratic strategists don't seem to listen to"
-- what they're saying on Republican blogs

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Democrats: Now It's Your Turn to Conflate Terrorism and Iraq


First, let's get on the same page:

  • This administration (and most Republicans -- especially those running for office) will only see the recent terror plot at JFK airport as a partisan political opportunity. Before accusing me of being cynical, remember that this administration simply believes that politics is its business. Governing is for others. If this doesn't immediately ring true, feel free to flip through any speech the Bush administration has made about Iraq, and think back about how we got into Iraq in the first place.
  • Using this foiled terrorist plot as a political tool, this administration (and most Republicans) will look to take some kind of credit for intercepting the plan. "Staying tough," "Not backing down," and "Continuing to be on the offense" are the most likely memes that will be transmitted by all who support the so-called "Bush Doctrine."

This is a critical time (and a political opportunity) for Democrats to convey a clear, strong message that this event is yet another indication that the Bush Doctrine is failing.

Let's get right into the immediate if/then scenarios:

1. If this administration has the inclination and gall to somehow tie the busting up of the JFK airport plot to "staying tough" on the Iraq War, then here is a strategic response:

"Stopping terrorist plots is the most critical job for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement agencies. They are all to be commended for their leadership in undermining this terrifying plot. This demonstrates how critical it is to our national security that these agencies are well-managed.

However, it is the job of our President to reduce or eliminate terrorism. This means, in its simplest terms, that we need to start playing offense, not only defense.

In the business of terrorism, defense means breaking up existing plots. Contrary to this administration's belief, "offense" does not mean taking over Iraq. No, playing offense means making sure there aren't terrorist plots in the first place. Our foreign policies need to focus on the elimination of violent hatred towards America so terrorist plots are not planned in the first place."

2. If this administration has enough self control to not conflate Iraq with this terrorist plot, then you need the discipline and thought leadership to do exactly the opposite:
"Stopping terrorist plots is the most critical job for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and local law enforcement agencies. They are all to be commended for their leadership in undermining this terrifying plot. This demonstrates how critical it is to our national security that these agencies are well-managed.

President Bush has told us time and time again that we're fighting them "over there" so that we don't have to fight them "over here." Unfortunately, this and other terrifying terrorist plots are proof that this administration's strategy on the War on Terror has failed us. As a result of Mr. Bush's and Republican policies, we are now fighting Iraqis over there and terrorists over here.

We simply cannot afford to continue to play defense with people trying to destroy American cities and lives. We need a new foreign policy that is focused on eliminating people's violent hatred of America so that they no longer want to hatch horrible plots against us. We simply cannot expect that people from foreign lands will want what's best for America if we continue to appear violent and dangerously militant while having the most powerful armed forces in the world.

Like everyone else, I am so relieved that our federal, state, and local agencies were able to work together to stop this terrorist plot. But there will be more. Make no mistake, it is our President's responsibility to stop people from plotting against us... and not just run interceptions."

Strategic talking points conveyed in these responses include:

  • Don't be a wet blanket. There was a big FBI and local law enforcement win here; make sure to give credit to the appropriate agencies and departments, not the administration. Give credit generously -- just keep a firewall between credit-deserving agencies and Republican politicians.
  • Call this administration out on the "over there, over here" strategy -- which is one of the key rhetorical underpinnings for the War in Iraq. The JFK airport plot proves once and for all that their strategy has failed. If you can undermine this rhetoric, then the rest of the Iraq War rationales will have even less solid ground to stand on. You might win over McCain if you handle this one right.
  • Hit this administration over the head with their own strategies. Yes, our law enforcement interception saved thousands of lives, but this administration's foreign policy strategy failed us. It's worth noting that it appears that this plot was not even hatched by Al Q'aida. This means that the threat of terrorism on American soil is spreading beyond our initial set of enemies. This is the definition of failure.
  • Catch this administration completely off-guard by defining their terrorist strategy as defensive. This is quintessential re-framing, and it happens to be absolutely correct. It is truly a defensive posture if we're just breaking up plot after plot. It's like a missile defense system... do you really want to trust anti-missile missiles to hit every missile barreling towards us, or would you rather ensure that our enemies have good reasons not to launch missiles against us in the first place? Even Ronald Reagan would understand this.
  • If you catch yourself sounding too complicated or wonky, use sports metaphors. Interceptions, blocks, tackles, etc. Sport is just an abstraction for war anyway, so go with terms people get.
  • Begin weaving in replacement terms for the "War on Terror" whenever possible. The phrase is double-loaded: It gives Bush credit for deftly defining a never-ending "war," and, worse, it frames the issue in terms of war, which is too one-dimensional. Notice the introduction of the phrase the "business of terror." It's stronger than phrases like a "law enforcement challenge," yet it importantly removes the term "war" from the rhetoric.
  • Take this opportunity to point out that Iraqis aren't terrorizing us, and they never have. It's just good for our population's well-being for this factual point to continue to seep into the American consciousness. Take on the responsibility to spread the truth about who is trying to harm Americans. Speaking the truth is a sign of moral leadership -- the type of leadership is something this country desperately needs.