"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.


David Deutsch said...

Great posting! We definitely need to go on the rhetorical, as well as actual, offense in this War on Terror. The only thing I disagree with in this posting is that the two responses are assumptions about what Bush will/will not say. Instead Dems need their own messaging system INDEPENDENT of Bush's rhetoric.

Yeah, I know, that sounds funny... Democrats on message? But that's what they need to be successful beyond 2006.

Jon a.k.a. "Our Karl Rove" said...

Da wei,

I agree with you that real leaders do not wait for someone else to comment.

That said, there is a strategic reason why I suggested that Dems react to what Bush says: If/when Bush goes out there with a statement (and Dems are prepared with response points) it gives Dems an advantage because the administration has already "stepped in it" by showing their cards.

Dems can point directly to a statement and throw them under the bus. Whereas, if Dems come out first, then the administration will have time and info to work with to craft a savvy response that makes it look like they're not doing exactly what the Dems accused them of doing. It could give the Pubs a head start in negating the conflation.


Anonymous said...

Excellent post! What I particularly like about the inclusion of the word "business" is that it evokes a set of phrases that contain just the right resonances: getting down to business, getting to the business of X, etc. All suggest a shift, a movement towards *now* engaging the issue, with the implication that so far the issue hasn't really been dealt with.

One small suggestion: instead of "the business of terror," may I suggest "the business of dealing with terror." It includes the suggestion that success is to be expected as well as implying that the WoT isn't actually dealing with terror.

The Religious Left said...

One piece of swept-away news that relates to this offense/defense point is the incredibly foolish incarceration of Bashir Noorzai by the knuckleheads at the DEA. He came to NYC to help and is now sitting in some holding cell awaiting his court date for growing poppies. The simplicity of his culpability seems to escape this administration. Why on earth would he expose himself to such a risk if he really had something to hide from us or had that much to lose from exposing his supposedly enourmous drug ring? What planet is the Bush Administration on? Democrats ought to be pointing this out when talking about "offense" in the war on terror and intelligence gathering. It actually scares me to death to know that this Administration is so short-sighted.

Anonymous said...


Thomas said...

Poor Democrats don't have the n u t z to fight the war on terror, if we weren't over in the middle east keeping the sandmonkeys busy, then I can guarantee they would be over here , planning suicide attacks in our streets, democrats just don't understand that these people only understand force, not negotiation.

Anonymous said...

OK, that's the stupidest thing I've ever heard. If the US were to do what you suggest (i.e. change ourselves to make the terrorists stop hating us), we would be giving up a hell of a lot. For example, say good bye to: democracy, capitalism, Jewish people that aren't dead, women who are educated, and the right to have a religion that isn't, um, Islam.

I challenge you to read all these quotes from Osama and his buddies (It will only take you 5-10 minutes), and then explain why on Earth you think these people can be reasoned with.

Jon a.k.a. "Our Karl Rove" said...


Arabs are not terrorists. Iraqis are not terrorists. Al Q'aida is an organization that engages in terrorist tactics.

Until white Americans like you understand the difference between these different types of people -- and the implications of these differences -- I'm afraid people like you can't be reasoned with either.

David84 said...

So are we going to say "hello" to the already dead Jewish people? Thanks, anonymous, for that insight, as well as the "guarantee" that we'd be terrorized the moment we left what is seen as a zionist occupation. The scholarly effort in that opinion really fortifies the validity of your argument. Way to go.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon ~ I've nominated you for a "Thinking Blogger" award . . . details here. Accept or not, you're the best. Keep up the great work!! lynette


Unknown said...

Fantastic blog and oh so true... Even down to the local level the Republicans are only concerned with one thing - promoting other Republicans no matter how incompetent they are...There must be a playbook handed to all GOP... At the local level instead of what is best for the community it is always what is best for the GOP and its cronies... Democrats have to take back the local forms of government because WE know how to govern... We know that there are people out there who are capable of goods things for the community and deserve to serve; not just because they are DEMs but because they care.... CARING means one thing to the GOP - and that is just caring for the GOP.... Let's take back local-county-state and country...

Anonymous said...


There is no "war on terror" as
It is a frame of mind--
Destructive acts will come to pass,
Nor to them one be blind;

However best prevention is
Alert calm vigilance,
Concordance and analysis,
Careful not happenstance.

Criminals will commit their deeds
Nor none of you can stop them
Entirely; but are sown the seeds
Early--men unknown drop them--

When cruel indifference but they show
Unto a fellow mortal:
Proprietary weal one´s woe
Disdaining with a chortle.

Required is common striving toward
A peaceful understanding;
While here, some with their profits shored
All others keep on branding

As morally inferior,
Or otherwise defective,
Meanwhile another´s open door
To trespass sans directive.

Examine your past history
Of robbing from your peer,
Then suddenly the mystery
Must vanish crystal clear.