LAYING DOWN A MARKER…. The argument over national security policy faded from the front page this week, but the New York Times‘ Frank Rich does a nice job reminding readers about a point that shouldn’t go overlooked. The headline reads, “Who Is to Blame for the Next Attack?”

Cheney’s “no middle ground” speech on torture … struck the same cynical note as the [Republican National Committee’s] ads, as if the G.O.P. was almost rooting for a terrorist attack on Obama’s watch….The new president, he said, is unraveling “the very policies that kept our people safe since 9/11.” In other words, when the next attack comes, it will be all Obama’s fault. A new ad shouting “We told you so!” awaits only the updated video. […]

The harrowing truth remains unchanged from what it was before Cheney emerged from his bunker to set Washington atwitter. The Bush administration did not make us safer either before or after 9/11. Obama is not making us less safe. If there’s another terrorist attack, it will be because the mess the Bush administration ignored in Pakistan and Afghanistan spun beyond anyone’s control well before Americans could throw the bums out.

In a very good New Yorker piece last week, Jeffrey Toobin touched on the same issue.

Even worse than Cheney’s distortions was the political agenda behind them. The speech was, as politicians say, a marker — a warning to the new Administration. “Just remember: it is a serious step to begin unravelling some of the very policies that have kept our people safe since 9/11,” Cheney said. “Seven and a half years without a repeat is not a record to be rebuked and scorned, much less criminalized. It is a record to be continued until the danger has passed.” Cheney’s all but explicit message was that the blame for any new attack against American people or interests would be laid not on the terrorists, or on the worldwide climate of anti-Americanism created by the Bush-Cheney Administration, but on Barack Obama.

For many months after the 9/11 attacks, Democrats refrained from engaging in the blame game with the Bush Administration. Cheney’s speech makes it clear that, should terrorists strike again, Republicans may not respond in kind.

This generally goes unsaid, but it’s a key aspect of the recent Cheney crusade — if something horrible happens, we’re not supposed to blame the team that left this mess for Obama to clean up, we’re supposed to blame Obama himself. If only the president kept torturing people like Cheney wanted, we’d all remain safe indefinitely.

This isn’t especially new, but it seems to be increasingly common. Back in January, just 48 hours after the president’s inauguration, Marc Thiessen, George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriter, argued, “During the campaign, Obama pledged to dismantle many of [Bush’s] policies. He follows through on those pledges at America’s peril — and his own. If Obama weakens any of the defenses Bush put in place and terrorists strike our country again, Americans will hold Obama responsible — and the Democratic Party could find itself unelectable for a generation…. President Obama has inherited a set of tools that successfully protected the country for 2,688 days — and he cannot dismantle those tools without risking catastrophic consequences.”

Jason Zengerle noted at the time, “You almost get the sense guys like Thiessen are hoping for an attack so that they can blame Obama when it happens.”

That attitude hasn’t changed. Should tragedy strike, a few too many loyal Bushies will want to tear this country apart, and they already seem to be laying the groundwork.

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Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.