An old, tired talking point

AN OLD, TIRED TALKING POINT…. Back in 2004, then-President Bush liked to tell campaign-rally audiences, “[John] Kerry said, and I quote, ‘The war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering law-enforcement operation.’ I disagree…. After the chaos and carnage of September the 11th, it is not enough to serve our enemies with legal papers. With those attacks, the terrorists and supporters declared war on the United States of America — and war is what they got.”

The point was hardly subtle — Bush and Republicans battle terrorists with the most powerful military in the world; Democrats fight al Qaeda with cops, lawyers, and intelligence-agency bureaucrats.

The argument has always been pretty ridiculous, but five years later, the talking point hasn’t gone away. Here’s Dick Cheney on CNN yesterday:

“…I think part of the difficulty here as I look at what the Obama administration is doing, we made a decision after 9/11 that I think was crucial. We said this is a war. It’s not a law enforcement problem. Up until 9/11, it was treated as a law enforcement problem. You go find the bad guy, put him on trial, put him in jail. The FBI would go to Oklahoma City and find the identification tag off the truck and go find the guy that rented the truck and put him in jail.

“Once you go into a wartime situation and it’s a strategic threat, then you use all of your assets to go after the enemy. You go after the state sponsors of terror, places where they’ve got sanctuary. You use your intelligence resources, your military resources, your financial resources, everything you can in order to shut down that terrorist threat against you.”

This does help explain why Dick Cheney’s views on national security issues are so misguided.

As the former V.P. sees it, treating counter-terrorism as a “law-enforcement” issue is simply a responsive/reactive matter. Bad guy commits act, good guys finds bad guy, bad guy faces criminal charges. But that’s a silly characterization of reality.

There’s no great mystery here. If we want to stop al Qaeda and prevent terrorist attacks, law-enforcement operations, in conjunction with intelligence gathering, are what works. In January, for example, U.S. officials and Pakistani police arrested a key suspected al Qaeda terrorist. We didn’t send in an Army battalion to capture Zabi ul Taifi, and we didn’t invade Pakistan, we used a law-enforcement operation that probably saved a lot of lives. It was a great success, dependent on international cooperation, law enforcement, and intelligence gathering. It’s exactly the kind of dynamic Dick Cheney perceives as ill-advised.

This shouldn’t even be controversial. A federally-funded study by the Rand research center recently explained that to defeat al Qaeda, the United States needs to rely … wait for it … less on force and more on policing and intelligence gathering. Seth Jones, the lead author of the study and a Rand political scientist, told reporters, “Terrorists should be perceived and described as criminals, not holy warriors, and our analysis suggests there is no battlefield solution to terrorism. The United States has the necessary instruments to defeat al Qaeda, it just needs to shift its strategy.”

Shift, that is, away from Dick Cheney’s way of doing things.