Election Issue: Terrorism
By Alan Shapiro
To the Teacher:
Terrorism and its relationship to the Iraq war is the most potent issue in the 2006 elections. The student reading below presents Republican and Democratic opinions on the subject, as well as that of U.S. intelligence agencies.
Differing Views on Terrorism and the Iraq War
President Bush, 8/21/06: "What all of us in this administration have been saying is that leaving Iraq before the mission is complete will send the wrong message to the enemy and will create a more dangerous worldÖ.And there are a lot of people in the Democrat Party who believe that the best course of action is to leave Iraq before the job is done, period, and they're wrongÖ.I repeat what our leading general said in the region. He said if we withdraw before the job is done, the enemy will follow us here. I strongly agree with that."
President Bush, 8/31/06: "The war we fight today is more than a military conflict. It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century." Bush called today's terrorists "successors to Fascists, to Nazis, to Communists and other totalitarians of the 20th century." He also cautioned Americans against feeling that the threat of terrorism in this country is disappearing because there has been no attack in five years. "That feeling is natural and comfortingóand wrong," said Bush.
Vice President Cheney, 8/19/06: "If we follow [Democrats'] advice and withdraw from Iraq, we will simply validate the Al Qaeda strategy and invite more terrorist attacks."
Defense against terrorism is the Republicans' strongest election issue. In an August 2006 New York Times/CBS News poll, respondents gave the president's handling of terrorism an approval rating of 55%. Asked which party would do a better job of handling the terrorist threat, a September Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll showed a 49% to 32% Republican lead over the Democrats. However, a more recent poll (Oct. 18-19) by Newsweek asked people which party they would "trust to do a better job" handling "the war against terrorism at home and abroad." In that poll, 40% of respondents said Republicans and 40% said Democrats.
Republicans running for the House or Senate tend to stress the danger of terrorist attacks on the US and the absence of any attacks, under their leadership, since 9/11. They work to convince the public that the country would not be so secure under Democratic leadership.
Democrats maintain that they would make the country more secure, not less, than the Republicans.
Some Democrats argue that the president's poor handling of the war in Iraq has attracted terrorists to that country who would otherwise not be there. Now, they say, these individuals are receiving excellent training in terrorist tactics and strategy.
However, Rep. John Murtha of Pennsylvania, responding to President Bush's speech of 8/31, said that "Iraq is not overwhelmed by foreign terrorists; it is overwhelmed by Iraqis fighting Iraqis. Foreign terrorists account for less than seven percent of the 'insurgency' in IraqÖ.More ideological jargon is not going to solve the quagmire in Iraq. We need a new direction."
Rep. Rahm Emanuel of Illinois, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Committee, speaking about the Republicans: "They've only got fear to sell."
Ned Lamont, Democratic candidate for the Senate in Connecticut: "Americans are tired of being told that anything but the Bush-Cheney line on defense is akin to support for Al Qaeda. Our best chance of success requires that Iraqis take control of their own destiny. America should make clear that we have no designs on their oil and no plans for permanent bases. While we will continue to provide logistics and training support as long as we are asked, our frontline military troops should begin to be redeployed and our troops should start heading home."
Democrats point to the conclusion of US intelligence agencies that the Iraq war has promoted terrorism and made the US more vulnerable to it.
According to US intelligence agencies, 9/23/06: "The American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism andÖ the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks." This conclusion is "a consensus view of the 16Öspy services inside the government in a National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] approved by John Negroponte, director of national intelligence, and titled, "Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States." It asserts "that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe."
President Bush responded at a news conference (9/26/06): "You know, to suggest that if we weren't in Iraq we would see a rosier scenario, with fewer extremists joining the radical movement, requires us to ignore 20 years of experience. My judgment is: The only way to protect this country is to stay on the offense."
The NIE report summarized: "Four underlying factors are fueling the spread of the jihadist movement: (1) entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness; (2) the Iraq jihad; (3) the slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations; and (4) pervasive anti-U.S. sentiment among most Muslimsóall of which jihadists exploit."
1. What questions do students have about the reading? How might they be
2. What is an "ideological struggle"? Does it apply to the struggle against terrorists? If so, how? If not, why not?
3. What is your understanding of the competing views of Republicans and Democrats on terrorism and Iraq? Which makes the most sense to you? Why?
4. The overall approval rating of the president as shown in various polls is 40% of the public. Why do you think this is so? Why has he gotten higher ratings on his handling of terrorism?
5. How do US intelligence agencies view the relationship between terrorism and Iraq? Why?
6. What specifics can you cite to support or to oppose that NIE conclusion on each of the "four underlying factors" in "fueling the spread of the jihadist movement"?
If you cannot answer this question with specifics, how might you inquire into the subject? What sources might you investigate?
1. Discuss your view of the following quote from President Bush's 8/31 speech to the American Legion: "If we give up the fight in the streets of Baghdad, we will face the terrorists in the streets of our own cities."
2. Discuss your view of the following quote from Nancy Pelosi of California, Democratic leader in the House of Representatives: "Democrats believe it's time for a new direction in Iraq, with responsible redeployment of US forces from Iraq that begins this year."
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