September surprise: Democrats must fight and win on American security

by Brent Budowsky
Reprinted with permission of the author.

This is a call to action: Democrats are in real danger of losing another election by making the same mistakes they made in 2002 and 2004. The President and the war fever Republicans in Congress are banging the drums for the new wars they want to fight, using the old and false charges they always make, using taxpayer financed propaganda pumped into the conservative media machine, and mainstream media again buys into the big lie.

We must be honest: again the Democratic response has been feeble; but this time we must fight hard, fight tough, and fight now. We must challenge our leaders to fight the fight; we must challenge the large Democratic donors to do what Republican financiers have done for 30 years: stand with those who get the message out and take the offensive to make our case.

We are the party of security; we are the party that stands for freedom and democracy and the American idea; we are the party that can lead rather than alienate the democratic alliance of nations; we are the party that protects and supports the troops, vets and military families.

We should ask the president, who dares to compare himself with the leaders of the Second World War: why do you send our troops to war without enough armor, bandages and helmets? Why do you mismanage the war you wanted so desperately that the Marine Corps estimates that 70% of our casualties were preventable?

We should ask the President, who presumes to compare himself to the great generation: how can you permit up to 19% of active duty troops to be paid so poorly, and treated so badly, that they are forced to desperately borrow money at Mafia-like interest rates of 300 to 400% while you go to your glitzy fundraisers and tell millionaire contributors eating filet mignon how much you support the troops?

We should demand of this man who dares to compare himself to those who rallied a united America in the 1940's: why do you permit oil company executives to pay each other hundred million dollar packages, while Middle America gets ripped off at the pump, poor Americans must choose between hunger and freezing in the winter, vets get hurt by closing military hospitals, and troops get hurt by Republicans pushing to cut funding for brain injured heroes?

We should challenge this partisan, who compares himself to Eisenhower and to Roosevelt: why don't you put war profiteers in jail, rather than taking their money in campaign contributions, while they cheer you on at champagne fundraisers, as you boast of the wars you fight, while troops ask Mom and Dad to find the supplies you never provided?

We should demand of this partisan who compares himself to the founders of NATO: why did you almost completely ignore the advice of our democratic allies, why did you so shamelessly demean the Chief of Staff of the Army and others who warned you, and why have you totally and completely failed to exercise the diplomatic and political leadership that is a prime duty of the leader of the free world?

We should challenge this partisan whose mistakes, blunders and wrongs have created so many new terrorists around the world, and done so much damage our reputation and credibility everywhere, and imposed so much harm to our military families and troops: exactly how many more wars do you want to fight?

We should ask the President, Republican Congress and their talk show warriors: If you want war with Iran, where will you find the troops, and will you bring back the draft?

If you want war with Syria, where you will find the troops, and will you bring back the draft?

If you want war with Korea, where will you find the troops, and will you bring back the draft?

If you want world war, permanent war, and endless war while you oppose every diplomatic opening urged by our allies: who will fight, who will sacrifice, and who will pay for this war fever and war partisanship that has done so much damage to our nation, our security and our military families already?

Democrats should immediately announce that if voters choose a Democratic Congress they would immediately appoint a group of nationally respected military experts such as Senator Nunn and General Zinni to work with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to create a sensible, sustainable security policy and reasonable, workable exit strategy for Iraq.

The case we take to the voters is this: if you want the people in the room making these decisions to be Bush, Cheney, Rove, and Rumsfeld, vote Republican. If you want new cooperation with long admired military experts bringing together the best of America for a more sensible policy, vote for us.

Beyond this, it is high time to bring integrity and bipartisanship to the public use of terror threats; and high time to end the politics of fear with a new standard of professionalism and bravery.

Democratic Leaders should announce their September Surprise: that if either House of Congress becomes Democratic there will be a formal examination of all previous terror alerts, to determine whether political operatives overruled intelligence professionals--to substitute partisan fearmongering for protecting the nation.

First let's make clear the Republican plan: to abuse the anniversary of 9-11, as they abused 9-11 for political purposes in 2002 and 2004, with a series of taxpayer-financed fearmongering initiatives. The World War III attack has begun; led by the President, pumped by the conservative media machine, bought into by network and cable news.

We must take the initiative, and soon. Remember the widely touted Miami terror bust, initially discussed with great fanfare, which turned out to be little more than a pseudo-cell composed of Moe, Larry and Curly?

Remember the recent London terror bust, which appears to have been legitimate, BUT was dramatically overstated in its immediacy, AND wrongly turned into a red alert, and THEN surrounded by talk from British counter-terrorism officials that the Bush Administration pressured them to go public prematurely?

Anybody wonder why terror scares and terror fears always seem to surface at politically opportune moments, and then disappear right after elections, as they completely disappeared after the 2004 election?

Does anyone believe it is coincidence that every major terror threat is accompanied by fearmongering calls to action by Karl Rove before Republican groups, or by Vice President Cheney, who has, incredibly, been proven almost completely wrong, on almost every major terror and war fear issue?

USA Today and others have reported public statements by former Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge that he strongly opposed many of the terror alerts, thought they were completely unwarranted, and in many cases were not even close to being supported by real intelligence.

In advance of the Republican October Surprise, Democrats should attack with our September Surprise, and announce that on the first day of a Democratic Congress, the Democratic Congressional Leadership will appoint a truly respected and non-partisan national security expert to work with the appropriate Committee of Congress in a full, objective, fact-based investigation of the history and credibility of terror alerts.

Congressman Ridge is a good man, a solid guy. It is more than troubling that he appears to have been strongly opposed to a number of terror warnings, but was overruled by others in the Administration. The country should know why, when, and by whom.

As we approach a historic election again, with the fearmongering campaign well underway as the 9-11 anniversary approaches, I propose that the Democratic Leadership in Congress make it crystal clear, to one and all, that these questions should be asked and answered, under oath, by current and former officials involved in this process of terror alerts:

  1. Reviewing the totality of terror alerts during election years, exactly how many of them were internally opposed by Homeland Security, by counter-terrorism officials, or by American law enforcement officials? Numerically, how many? There is a clear factual record that will provide a clear factual answer.
  2. Of those alerts that were opposed by one or more of the major homeland security, counter-terrorism or law enforcement officials, were any opinions offered, or any pressure applied, by any political operatives tied to the White House or by the Vice President or his office?

Reviewing those terror alerts that were opposed by homeland security or any other terror related officials, there should be a review of all public and background comments in any major media by any officials, to determine whether there was deliberate overstatement which would constitute partisan fearmongering.

In short, if there was significant opposition to a terror warning or alert, on the basis that intelligence did not justify the alert in the minds of security officials, did others lie to the media, on the record or on background, in how they described the situation?

Lets be clear: what I propose is that such an investigation be led by an outside consultant of proven professionalism, objectivity and integrity who would work with the relevant Congressional Committee. I emphasize that such an investigation be truly nonpartisan, scrupulously fair and objective, and fully committed to follow the facts whether they lead to total exoneration, or revelations of wrongdoing.

In fact, I would propose exactly what I proposed before the 2004 election, advice that was not taken--again, by Democrats. Starting today the Leadership should name a small group of code word clearance former high level military and intelligence leaders to begin work today, in a nonpartisan spirit, with homeland security and counter-terrorism officials to ensure total integrity going into the election.

Today, Democratic Leaders can initiate our September surprise, that everyone in the Bush Administration be put on notice right now, that if there is any distortion, twisting or abuse of terror threats there could be substantial liability down the road, and if anyone is aware of abuses in the past, they should come forward, publicly, today.

If there were no abuses, great. If anyone is thinking about trying a new alert, beware, you might be called to put your hand on the Bible and tell us later whether it is warranted. If there have been abuses in the past, come forward now. We live in a democracy; the people should know; the truth will out.

Democrats must understand that this war fever and war partisanship is unprecedented and radically dangerous; and understand that we must have a clear message and that our wealthier Democrats must put power and money behind it, to promote that message as the Republicans have done for three decades.

We are the party of security, democracy, and freedom. We are the party that can mobilize the free world, defeat the terrorists we face without creating new terrorists every day. And we are the party that stands with our troops, their families and the veterans of America.

The stakes are enormous, the Armada against us is huge. But if we fight hard, fight tough, and fight now the people will stand with us, and we will win.

Brent Budowsky served as Legislative Assistant to U.S. Senator Lloyd Bentsen, responsible for commerce and intelligence matters, including one of the core drafters of the CIA Identities Law. Served as Legislative Director to Congressman Bill Alexander, then Chief Deputy Whip, House of Representatives. Currently a member of the International Advisory Council of the Intelligence Summit. Left goverment in 1990 for marketing and public affairs business including major corporate entertainment and talent management.

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