Yesterday, Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), a decorated war veteran and leading Democratic figure on military affairs, called for an immediate pullout from Iraq. In response, as TNR's Michael Crowley pointed out, two House Republicans engaged in vicious, anti-democratic attacks on Murtha.
Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-AZ) said "many on the Democratic side have revealed their exit strategy: surrender." And most egregiously, Rep. Geoff Davis (R-KY) said this:
Ayman Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden's deputy, as well as Abu Musab Zarqawi, have made it quite clear in their internal propaganda that they cannot win unless they can drive the Americans out. And they know that they can't do that there, so they've brought the battlefield to the halls of Congress.
And, frankly, the liberal leadership have put politics ahead of sound, fiscal and national security policy. And what they have done is cooperated with our enemies and are emboldening our enemies.
To claim that terrorists have "brought the battlefield to the halls of Congress" and that Democrats have "cooperated with our enemies" is truly beyond the pale.
It's important to view this attack in long-run perspective. Each time that Democrats cross a previously unbroken threshold of post-9/11 dissent, Republicans try to silence them by claiming that they are aiding the enemy. Drawing on my 2004 Spinsanity column on this subject, let's reconstruct the timeline.
December 2001: In response to Democratic plans to question parts of the USA Patriot Act during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, John Ashcroft suggests that people who disagree with the administration's anti-terrorism policies are on the side of the terrorists. "To those who pit Americans against immigrants, and citizens against non-citizens; to those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve. They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends. They encourage people of good will to remain silent in the face of evil."
February 2002: Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle expresses mild disagreement with US anti-terror policies, saying US success in the war on terror "is still somewhat in doubt." In response, Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) says that Daschle's "divisive comments have the effect of giving aid and comfort to our enemies by allowing them to exploit divisions in our country."
May 2002: After the disclosure that President Bush received a general warning about possible Al Qaeda hijackings prior to 9/11, Democrats demand to know what other information the administration had before the attacks. In response, White House communications director Dan Bartlett says that the Democratic statements "are exactly what our opponents, our enemies, want us to do."
September 2004: As John Kerry steps up his criticism of the Bush administration's handling of Iraq and the war on terror, Republicans repeatedly suggest that he is emboldening the enemy. Senator Zell Miller (D-GA) tells the GOP convention that "while young Americans are dying in the sands of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan, our nation is being torn apart and made weaker because of the Democrats' manic obsession to bring down our Commander in Chief." President Bush says, "You can embolden an enemy by sending a mixed message. You can dispirit the Iraqi people by sending mixed messages. You send the wrong message to our troops by sending mixed messages." And Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) claims that terrorists "are going to throw everything they can between now and the election to try and elect Kerry," adding that Democrats are "consistently saying things that I think undermine our young men and women who are serving over there."
November 2005: With Democratic critics of the war in Iraq growing increasingly vocal, President Bush lashes out, claiming that "These baseless attacks send the wrong signal to our troops and to an enemy that is questioning America's will. As our troops fight a ruthless enemy determined to destroy our way of life, they deserve to know that their elected leaders who voted to send them to war continue to stand behind them."
Update 11/18: The White House continues to claim that they are not attacking dissent... even as they attack dissent. Up is down!
Q Mr. President, Vice President Cheney called it reprehensible for critics to question how you took the country to war, but Senator Hagel says it's patriotic to ask those kinds of questions. Who do you think is right?
PRESIDENT BUSH: The Vice President.
PRESIDENT BUSH: Well, look, ours is a country where people ought to be able to disagree, and I expect there to be criticism. But when Democrats say that I deliberately misled the Congress and the people, that's irresponsible. They looked at the same intelligence I did, and they voted -- many of them voted to support the decision I made. It's irresponsible to use politics. This is serious business making -- winning this war. But it's irresponsible to do what they've done. So I agree with the Vice President.
Q -- (inaudible) --
PRESIDENT BUSH: I think people ought to be allowed to ask questions. It is irresponsible to say that I deliberately misled the American people when it came to the very same intelligence they looked at, and came to the -- many of them came to the same conclusion I did. Listen, I -- patriotic as heck to disagree with the President. It doesn't bother me. What bothers me is when people are irresponsibly using their positions and playing politics. That's exactly what is taking place in America.
So it's patriotic to dissent, but unpatriotic to play politics with this issue? Isn't that what Bush is doing?
White House communications director Nicole Wallace also told the Washington Post that "There is a recognition that debate and dissent are what make this country strong, especially in a time of war," adding, "But a bright line has to be drawn that separates those things that are maliciously false and flat-out wrong."
Wallace says that dissent makes the country strong... except that every major statement of dissent by Democrats is denounced by White House officials as encouraging the enemy. And she denounces statements that are "maliciously false and flat-out wrong" even as the administration wildly distorts prewar history.
It's all doubletalk.