The American people, as usual, don’t buy either the Republican or the Democratic party lines.
They agree with the Republicans and President Bush that the War on Terror is essential. They embrace the GOP’s views on the Patriot Act and National Security Agency wiretaps.
But Americans agree with the Democrats that Iraq has nothing much to do with the War on Terror. The latest New York Times survey shows that a majority believes that Iraq it not part of the War on Terror.
So it’s time for triangulation. Bush and the Republicans need to stop alienating voters by arguing that Iraq is an indispensable front in the War on Terror. They should center their fall campaign to keep control of Congress on the national-security issue sans Iraq.
Bush doesn’t need to reverse course on Iraq. He doesn’t need to pull out the troops and send them home. He doesn’t even need to set a timetable for withdrawal. But he does have to stop talking about Iraq and talk, instead, about homeland security.
Bush and the Republicans under attack — Sens. Mike DeWine, Conrad Burns, Lincoln Chafee, Jim Talent and Rick Santorum, and numerous House members — need to talk about the Patriot Act, the NSA wiretaps and the resources allocated to homeland security. They should talk about Iraq only when asked, and then only briefly.
Yes, the war in Iraq is connected to the War on Terror. Obviously, al Qaeda is behind many of the attacks in Iraq. Obviously, the streets of Baghdad are the alternative to Manhattan as the place in which the War on Terror is waged.
But, equally obviously, it is political suicide to insist on drawing the connection. So, Republicans: Don’t even think about it!
Democrats are vulnerable on all of the domestic-security issues. Just as Republicans hurt themselves when they tie Iraq to the War on Terror, Democrats impair their chances to win by opposing the NSA wiretaps and the Patriot Act along with our Iraqi involvement.
The key is for Republicans to talk about the specific instances in which the Patriot Act and the NSA wiretaps helped us to foil terrorist attacks. John Spencer, running against Sen. Hillary Clinton, has pioneered the way by tying her December 2005 vote against closure on the Patriot Act extension and her voluble opposition to the NSA warrantless wiretaps to the plot to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge.
Evidence indicates that the bridge would’ve been in smithereens without the Patriot Act. The act forced the sharing of information between the federal security agencies and the NYPD, which triggered the flooding of the bridge with New York cops. Telephone intercepts indicated that the terrorist charged with destroying the bridge told his handlers that the NYPD presence made the bridge "too hot." Feds have indicated to The New York Times that the NSA wiretaps played an important role in the apprehension of Lyman Faris for his plot to destroy the bridge.
Bush and the GOP need to leave a defense of the war in Iraq behind in their bid to keep control of Congress. After all, what is more important to the American people — a war thousands of miles away or the immediate threat to homeland security so recently evidenced by the plot to blow up jetliners over the Atlantic on the London-to-New York route?
Republicans can’t afford to insist on being re-elected for the right reasons. But if they take what American public opinion is prepared to give them, they can yet salvage this election.
Eileen McGann coauthored this column.