Editor’s Note: Despite George W. Bush’s disastrous foreign policy record, the Republicans have kept President Obama on the defensive by throwing around “soft on terror” accusations and counting on the Democrats’ deep-seated fear of such insults.

In this guest essay, the Independent Institute’s Ivan Eland examines the “logic” behind ex-Vice President Dick Cheney’s latest broadsides:

Cheney seems to want us to put aside his own administration’s abysmal record on the subject — ignoring warnings and failing to prevent the most deadly foreign attack on U.S. soil in American history, failing to prevent the similar shoe bomber’s attempt to bring down an aircraft, and using 9/11 to launch invasions of Muslim countries that led to an increase in terrorist attacks worldwide — and thus tries to make us believe Republicans are better at countering terrorism than Democrats because, well, they’re Republicans.

Cheney told the political newspaper Politico, “We are at war, and when President Obama pretends we aren’t, it makes us less safe” and that Obama’s “low-key response” to the BVD bomber’s attack, the president’s refusal to use the phrase “war on terror,” and his plan to close Guantanamo’s prison all indicate that Obama thinks that terrorism is a law enforcement problem rather than a military issue.

Cheney concluded by asking, “Why doesn’t he want to admit we’re at war?”
Since Cheney’s attack on Obama lacked any substance and was mainly political demagoguery, his choice of Politico to launch it was appropriate.

But an even greater problem may be the Obama’s administration’s defensive response to Cheney’s attack. Administration officials said that Obama did too know that the country was at war and that he had explicitly stated so in the past.

The Democrats always end up playing defense when attacked on national security, largely because they are afraid that if they don’t adopt a veneer of toughness — the Republicans’ specialty — and out-macho them, they will always be tagged as “Democratic wimps.”

But what if, following the example of Republican President Dwight Eisenhower, the Democrats instead adopted a more reasoned approach to national security?

Eisenhower was very skilled in making sure that no international problem was ever labeled as a “crisis,” knowing that this would box him into taking pressure for rash, imprudent acts.

What would Eisenhower have done about Islamic terrorism? Ike, after being subjected to the horrors of World War II, disdained and avoided unneeded military action. He would have quickly realized that the “war on terror” has been counterproductive, especially the part in which the U.S. invades Muslim countries.

After all, the much under-publicized reason that Osama bin Laden began attacking the United States was its meddling and military presence in Islamic countries. The attempted BVD bombing, emanating from a local al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen, occurred only after stepped-up U.S. “covert” military help in recent months to a Yemeni government at war with Islamists.

According to the Islamic faith, every good Muslim must do all he or she can to repel non-Muslim invaders from Muslim lands — and Islamist extremists from poor countries have found that terrorism is their only effective weapon in attempting to do so.

Even if one subtracts the deaths from terrorist attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq (which there is really no reason to do because they were a response to the U.S. invasion of a Muslim land), the number of monthly worldwide deaths from terrorism increased substantially after 9/11. Thus, the “war on terrorism” has not only failed, it has been counterproductive.

Conducting a “war” against terrorists merely makes them warriors instead of criminals and causes more money and fighters to flock to the jihad.

Using a lighter touch — intelligence, law enforcement, and maybe even a rare military strike — to counter terrorism would at least be less likely to make the problem worse. And after all, what is wimpy about calling mass murder what it is — an evil crime?

If anything is unpatriotic, it’s the macho rattling of the saber from the conservative chair-borne brigades — for which five-deferment Cheney is the chief spokesman — because it paints a bull’s eye on America’s back.

Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute. Dr. Eland has spent 15 years working for Congress on national security issues, including stints as an investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office. His books include The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed, and Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.

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