Nazis vs. al Qaeda

NAZIS VS. AL QAEDA…. If Republican leaders want to sound even remotely credible on national security, they’re going to have to open a history textbook. With increasing frequency, they’re arguing that suspected al Qaeda terrorists are a more serious threat than WWII-era Nazis.

The latest to make the claim: GOP Rep Pete Hoekstra, at a press conference today announcing the GOP’s new “Keep Terrorists Out Of America Act,” which is designed to restrict the housing of Guantanamo detainees on American soil.

Asked by a reporter whether this wasn’t comparable to the detainment of Nazis in prisoner of war camps during World War II, Hoekstra said the two were “night and day” because of the threat of “homegrown terrorism” and because of 9/11…. Hoekstra appears to be making a slightly different argument: That the individual terror suspects are a greater threat than individual Nazis were on American soil because of their alleged association with terror.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made a similar claim last week, telling Stanford University students, “Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States…. Three-thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.”

The argument, in a nutshell, is that Nazis were bad, but at least they didn’t kill Americans in America. Since al Qaeda has, it makes the terrorist threat more serious than the German threat in World War II.

The flaws in this kind of thinking are overwhelming. First, as a factual matter, Rob Farley recently noted that German troops did, in fact, kill Americans in and around US territorial waters between January and June 1942. Farley explained, “I suspect that an attack on an American ship in US territorial waters would be interpreted by just about anyone as an attack on the homeland of the United States.”

Second, the comparison is just bizarre on its face. Millions of Nazis took large swaths of Europe by force; tens of millions died. Al Qaeda is a group of lunatics who live in caves.

The context of all of this is what to do with 250 detainees at Guantanamo Bay. The United States detained 425,000 Axis Powers prisoners of war, many of them Nazis. Gitmo holds about 250 guys, who can be locked up pretty easily.

I’d just add that in the 1940s, the Republicans of the era didn’t feel compelled to run ads telling the public that FDR wanted to send Nazis “to a neighborhood near you.”