Achilling re­minder about ter­ror­ism

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Don­ald Lam­bro

Pre­ven­tion of the plot to blow up 10 jet­lin­ers bound for Amer­ica has sharply boosted Pres­i­dent Bush’s ap­proval scores for his han­dling of the war on ter­ror­ism and home­land se­cu­rity.

Last week’s im­proved poll num­bers were a po­lit­i­cal vin­di­ca­tion of Mr. Bush’s laser­like fo­cus on the ter­ror­ist threat that his Demo­cratic crit­ics dis­missed as fear-mon­ger­ing and cam­paign hys­te­ria meant to frighten Amer­i­cans into vot­ing Repub­li­can.

But the Is­lamic bomb plot, un­cov­ered by Bri­tish intelligence, with the as­sis­tance of other coun­tries, in­clud­ing Pak­istan and the U.S., was a chill­ing re­minder that the ter­ror­ist war is real and that the plot­ting to kill as many of us as they can re­mains a cen­tral is­sue in the midterm elec­tions.

It was also a grim re­minder that events in the next three months could swing this elec­tion in one di­rec­tion or an­other. What if yet an­other plot, this one right here in the U.S., is dis­closed? What if Septem­ber 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist mas­ter­mind Osama bin Laden is killed or cap­tured?

Re­port­ing the poll’s find­ings, Newsweek’s Mar­cus Mabry noted that “the most mur­der­ous ter­ror plot to be pub­licly ex­posed since Septem­ber 11 dis­rupted more than air travel. It roiled pub­lic opin­ion, too.”

The poll of more than 1,000 Amer­i­cans still showed Mr. Bush’s

prob­lems across

a range of is­sues,

in­clud­ing the

Iraq war, but it

also showed “a

sig­nif­i­cant boost

in vot­ers’ opin­ions of his han­dling of the ter­ror

threat.” A hefty

55 per­cent ma­jor­ity now ap­prove of Mr.

Bush’s han­dling

of the war on ter­ror­ism and pro­tect­ing home­land se­cu­rity, a big 11-point boost since May (40 per­cent still dis­ap­proved).

It also showed the cor­re­la­tion be­tween ter­ror­ist threats and the pres­i­dent’s ap­proval rat­ings. In the ebb and flowof com­pet­ing is­sues in any elec­tion, vot­ers some­times need re­mind­ing when key is­sues might fade or are shoved aside by other news events.

The grim reve­la­tion that ter­ror­ists planned to blow up pas­sen­ger planes fly­ing from Great Bri­tain to the U.S., and pos­si­bly from here to there, too, knocked com­pet­ing sto­ries — from Is­rael’s bat­tle with the Hezbol­lah ter­ror­ists to the war in Iraq — off the na­tion’s front pages.

Not only was the ter­ror­ist threat very po­tent again and closer to home, but Amer­i­cans were re­minded of the steps Mr. Bush and the Repub­li­can Congress took to un­cover and thwart that threat: reau­tho­riza­tion of the Pa­triot Act (that Se­nate Demo­cratic leader Harry Reid tried to kill), sur­veil­lance of ter­ror­ist phone calls to cells in the U.S., and Fed mon­i­tor­ing of bank ac­counts used to fi­nance ter­ror­ist plots here and abroad.

Democrats and their left-wing, an­ti­war al­lies in the bl­o­go­sphere who have been con­demn­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s global sur­veil­lance tech­niques seemed strangely silent on the is­sue. I can see why.

The White House and Repub­li­cans are in­tent on mak­ing the threat of an­other ter­ror­ist at­tack the piv­otal is­sue in an elec­tion the could turn on a sin­gle ques­tion: Which party will keep us safe?

If there was a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in the Democrats’ line of at­tacks this year, it was that Mr. Bush’s poli­cies in the war in Iraq and the war on ter­ror­ism have made us less safe. But the Democrats were los­ing that ar­gu­ment last week as they have been los­ing it through­out most of this year. The Newsweek poll found 44 per­cent of Amer­i­cans said they trusted Repub­li­cans “to do a bet­ter job han­dling the war on ter­ror­ism than the Democrats, ver­sus 39 per­cent who say they trust the Democrats more, a 5-point lead for the GOP.”

Still, generic con­gres­sional polls show a ma­jor­ity of vot­ers will vote Demo­cratic in Novem­ber, and Democrats are try­ing to make Mr. Bush and the Iraq war the cen­tral is­sue in their cam­paigns. But if the elec­tion turns on the threat of ter­ror­ism and who will keep us safe, the num­bers could turn in the GOP’s fa­vor.

The bomb plot story, how­ever, could fade and with it, pos­si­bly, con­cern about the ever-present ter­ror­ist threat. But high level Repub­li­can strate­gists tell me they aren’t go­ing to let that hap­pen. Mr. Bush and the GOP will cam­paign on the is­sue ag­gres­sively from now un­til Elec­tion Day to keep it in front of the elec­torate. White House po­lit­i­cal strate­gist Karl Rove has made that clear to party lead­ers and to Repub­li­can can­di­dates. It is the GOP’s strong­est na­tional se­cu­rity is­sue and clearly the Democrats’ weak­est.

The only other ques­tion is: Will the ter­ror­ists reignite this is­sue in the weeks and months to come? The chances are they will and, if so, the is­sue will come back to the fore with a vengeance.

In the 2004 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign a NewJersey wo­man told a re­porter she had al­ways voted Demo­cratic, but was vot­ing for Mr. Bush be­cause of the ter­ror­ist threat. “There’s no maybe in his voice,” she said.

Her con­cern about the ter­ror­ists who threaten our way of life and about the Democrats’ per­ceived soft­ness on this is­sue could be the piv­otal is­sue yet again when vot­ers go to the polls on Nov. 7.

Don­ald Lam­bro, chief po­lit­i­cal correspondent of The Wash­ing­ton Times, is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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