While the third and last presidential debate wasn’t supposed to be about foreign policy, it is the overriding issue in this election and impossible to separate from supposedly “domestic” issues, such as taxes and homeland security. Wars, after all, cost money: and, these days, they also incur risks on the home front. Kerry utilized these connections to get in a zinger when the moderator, Bob Schieffer, brought up the immigration issue: Bush winced as Kerry opined that 4,000 illegals a day are coming over our southern border, and cited in the follow-up recent cases of Middle Easterners getting across. Maybe he meant this. Or possibly this.
Another Kerry zinger: when the subject of “assault weapons” came up, Kerry said that the terrorists can get them in America, and furthermore claimed that Osama bin Laden’s “handbook” instructs terrorists in how to do this once they get here. While this Al Qaeda Handbook is a complete fabrication one that seems as though it might be a figment of the Telegraph‘s imagination it sure was an effective ploy. Especially since the President never answered him.
Note also that Kerry kept digging away at a sore spot in this administration’s record, the disastrous “outsourcing” of the task of getting bin Laden to Afghan warlords, and the diversion of resources into Iraq when the real enemy was allowed to get away. We raised a similar point here in this space early on, and, as I pointed out in a previous column, the Kerry talking point about our fatal dependence on Afghan surrogates was lifted almost word for word from Michael Scheuer‘s Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror.
As I have noted before, however, Kerry appropriates the antiwar narrative and then draws an entirely counterintuitive conclusion. If it was “the wrong war at the wrong place at the wrong time,” as he puts it, then why pledge to continue a military occupation he believes ought never to have been launched in the first place?
One particularly scary incident, however, underscored the great danger poised by George W. Bush’s reelection, and that was the President’s answer to a question on the importance religion plays in his policy decisions. After talking briefly about his own personal commitment to religious belief, he segued rather smoothly into foreign policy. The only time GWB seemed passionate, fully engaged, and authentic, is when he talked about the intensity of his belief and its relation to his foreign policy of relentless aggression. “I believe,” he averred with messianic fervor, that
“God wants everybody to be free. And that’s a part of my foreign policy.”
Pointing to the Afghan election turned into a fiasco by credible allegations of fraud he said:
“I believe that the freedom there is a gift from the Almighty. And I can’t tell you how encouraged I am to see freedom on the march.”
Something’s on the march, alright, but it isn’t freedom: it’s fanaticism fueled by a dangerous theology, and a mortal threat to the peace of the world. Such rhetoric is meant to fire up his core constituency snake-handling holy-rollin’ Bible Belters and neocons alike who see the American State as the instrument of God’s Will on earth. So let’s rain bombs down on Fallujah and maybe Teheran, as well because George W. Bush’s reelection will represent the mandate of Heaven.
The low point of this debate will be mainly remembered as Kerry’s inexplicable raising of Mary Cheney’s lesbianism, but for me it was Bush’s response to his opponent’s citing of the President’s statement that he didn’t care all that much about finding and catching Osama bin Laden. The President pulled a face, and said, with genuine conviction,
“Gosh, I just don’t think I ever said I’m not worried about Osama bin Laden. It’s kind of one of those exaggerations.”
Gosh golly gee willikers, to all appearances he quite sincerely believed he never said it, even though he uttered the words on a memorable occasion: at one of only three extended press conferences of his presidency, held in March 2003. Roll that tape .
“QUESTION: ‘Mr. President, in your speeches now you rarely talk or mention Osama bin Laden. Why is that? Also, can you tell the American people if you have any more information, if you know if he is dead or alive? Final part deep in your heart, don’t you truly believe that until you find out if he is dead or alive, you won’t really eliminate the threat of ‘
“THE PRESIDENT: ‘Deep in my heart I know the man is on the run, if he’s alive at all. Who knows if he’s hiding in some cave or not; we haven’t heard from him in a long time. And the idea of focusing on one person is really indicates to me people don’t understand the scope of the mission.'”
Downplaying the significance of a man who plotted the murder of 3,000 Americans, Bush averred that “terror is bigger than one person,” claimed that OBL is “a person who’s now been marginalized,” boasted that the Al Qaeda leader “has met his match,” and continued:
“‘So I don’t know where he is. You know, I just don’t spend that much time on him, Kelly, to be honest with you. I’m more worried about making sure that our soldiers are well-supplied; that the strategy is clear; that the coalition is strong; that when we find enemy bunched up like we did in Shahikot Mountains, that the military has all the support it needs to go in and do the job, which they did .’
” QUESTION ‘But don’t you believe that the threat that bin Laden posed won’t truly be eliminated until he is found either dead or alive?’
“THE PRESIDENT: ‘Well, as I say, we haven’t heard much from him. And I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s at the center of any command structure. And, again, I don’t know where he is. I I’ll repeat what I said. I truly am not that concerned about him.‘”
The President and his neoconservative advisors used 9/11 to launch a crusade to “transform” the Middle East into a “democratic” pile of rubble. But they couldn’t have cared less about the perpetrators of that horrific crime, and, as Kerry continually reminds us, made only a halfhearted effort to capture or kill bin Laden and his core followers.
Kerry’s line of attack effectively subverts the Bushies’ principal strategy, which is largely dependent on GWB’s image as the righteous avenger of 9/11. It also calls into question the credibility of a President and Vice President who have spent much of this campaign running away from their own words.
These guys are in denial not only when it comes to the failures of their foreign policy, but even where it concerns what they’ve said on the public record. They’ll lie right to our faces, in front of a television audience of millions, without so much as blinking.
And that is what is truly frightening about the Bushies: the deadpan manner in which they recite the most blatant, easily-checked falsehoods. They truly believe there isn’t anything they can’t get away with, as long as they put the proper “spin” on it.
God help us if they’re right.