A twist on the ‘kept us safe’ argument

A TWIST OF THE ‘KEPT US SAFE’ ARGUMENT…. As the Bush/Cheney administration was poised to end, and there were an abundance of pieces reflecting on the Bush era, the most common defense tended to be that Bush “kept us safe.” I’ve never understood this argument.

Indeed, it’s generally offered with a series of pretty important caveats. Except for the catastrophic events of 9/11, and the anthrax attacks, and terrorist attacks against U.S. allies, and the terrorist attacks against U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Bush’s inability to capture those responsible for 9/11, and waging an unnecessary war that inspired more terrorists, and the success terrorists had in exploiting Bush’s international unpopularity, the former president’s record on counter-terrorism was awesome.

Now, with recent torture revelations bringing the Bush/Cheney record back into focus, we’re not only hearing the “kept us safe” argument again, we’re hearing it the context of abusing detainees. Noemi Emery makes the case in the Weekly Standard (via Matt Duss).

Some Democrats, from the White House on down, are pushing the idea of a “truth commission,” a la South Africa, to deal with the “harsh measures” used by the Bush administration in interrogating al Qaeda detainees. Good. Let’s have lots of truthtelling. Please bring it on.

Let’s tell the truth about Bush’s conduct of the war on terror, which is that it’s been a success. His ultimate legacy hasn’t been written — Iraq is improved, but not out of danger — but the one thing that can be said without reservation is that the country was kept safe. He delivered on the main charge of his office in time of emergency, in a crisis without guidelines or precedent. Attacks took place in Spain, and in London, in Indonesia and India, but not on American soil, which was the obvious target of choice. Bush couldn’t say this before he left office, for obvious reasons, and after he left, attention switched to the new president. This little fact dropped down the memory hole, but with all this discussion, it will rise to the surface.

First, the notion that the former president was reluctant to talk about his national security record before he left office is pretty silly. Bush and Cheney, in the hopes of giving their legacy a boost, spoke about little else towards the end of their terms. Indeed, Duss noted, “Bush said this a lot before he left office. In fact, he delivered a special last formal address to the nation specifically to make that point.”

Second, Emery’s is setting the bar awfully low for “success.” As Matt Yglesias concluded, “I find this whole line of argument truly and deeply baffling. The overwhelming majority of Americans to ever be killed by foreign terrorists were killed during Bush’s presidency. And even if you give him a pass on 9/11 itself it’s still the case that his conduct of the ‘war on terror’ led to the deaths of thousands more Americans.”

Emery is so convinced of Bush’s counter-terrorism “success,” she wants the torture debate — it still pains me to type those two words together — to help shine a light of the former president’s record on the issue. Indeed, she’s taunting Bush’s critics on this, saying, “Please bring it on.”

How very odd.