Spinning with the enemy

SPINNING WITH THE ENEMY…. John Brennan, President Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, had an op-ed in USA Today this week, offering a persuasive and accurate assessment of the administration’s handling of the Abdulmutallab case. It explained quite clearly why the criticism from the GOP is simply wrong.

But towards the end of the piece, Brennan added a provocative sentence: “Politically motivated criticism and unfounded fear-mongering only serve the goals of al-Qaeda.” This, according to conservatives, was evidence that the administration is equating dissent with subversion — an assertion conservatives made repeatedly throughout the Bush/Cheney era.

To be sure, I disapprove of any effort, by anyone, to characterize criticism of U.S. leaders as “emboldening terrorists.” But that’s not what Brennan wrote. In reality, “unfounded fear-mongering” really does serve al Qaeda’s goals. When prominent American voices tout terrorists’ failures as “successes” and give al Qaeda the attention it craves, those voices indirectly make terrorists’ p.r. efforts easier. As Jay Bookman recently noted, “Cheney, Kristol and a lot of top Republicans in Washington are acting as unpaid PR agents for al Qaida, trying to turn even its failures into successes. The attempted bombing of Flight 253 was a terror attack; a terror attack succeeds only if it terrorizes its target audience.”

This was almost certainly Brennan’s point, and it’s entirely defensible.

But conservatives, anxious to once again play the victim, are pretending to be outraged. Take Joe Lieberman, for example.

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) appeared on MSNBC Thursday afternoon, and made a bold pronouncement on the political debates surrounding the interrogation of Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the suspect in the attempted bombing of Flight 253: That critics of the White House should not be accused of aiding al-Qaeda.

The catch here is that during the Bush years, Lieberman himself made some similar comments about critics of the Iraq War — saying that when they attacked the Bush administration they were harming America, or helping al-Qaeda, or attacking America’s allies.

It’s funny how that happens.

Throughout the Bush/Cheney era, this was as common as the sunrise. Dissent was equated with disloyalty. Prominent conservatives would casually throw around words like “treason,” “traitor,” “fifth columnists,” and “Tokyo Rose” comparisons. In his capacity as the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer went so far as to warn Americans that they “need to watch what they say.”

It wasn’t complicated — to be patriotic was to support the president in a time of war. “Don’t you understand?” conservatives would ask Bush/Cheney detractors. “Al Qaeda can hear you. We can’t appear divided in a time of crisis. We can’t let the world think our Commander in Chief lacks Americans’ support. We can’t show weakness — and you’re helping our enemies.” As Eric Kleefeld noted, it’s a sentiment Lieberman himself offered with varying degrees of subtlety before Election Day 2008.

And yet, the moment the Deputy National Security Adviser makes a reasonable assessment about Americans inadvertently helping terrorists’ p.r. efforts, conservatives throw a fit. Their crocodile tears are hardly moving.