Democrats in Congress have been carping recently about what they see as the Bush administration’s use of the war for political purposes. Sen. Robert Byrd (D., W.V.) took to the Senate floor to condemn the president’s visit to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Lincoln, and Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) is calling for an investigation. But they might take a look at one of their own who is using the war on terror, including Monday’s attack in Saudi Arabia, to further his presidential ambitions.
Sen. Bob Graham (D., Fla.) said on Tuesday that the attacks in Saudi Arabia were the result of Bush’s failure to properly prosecute the war on terror. “It could have been avoided,” he said, “if you had actually crushed the basic infrastructure of al Qaeda.” This is a remarkable statement — but it is little more than the opening salvo from a man running for president, against a popular incumbent with a successful track record in Afghanistan, Iraq, and elsewhere.
Graham went on to assert that the war on Iraq was “a dangerous distraction from the war on terror.” A war that we were prepared to win, he claimed, before the Bush administration “took us off the war on terror.”
Graham claimed that al Qaeda had been substantially weakened and “on the ropes” last year, but the buildup to Operation Iraqi Freedom drained people and resources and allowing the terror network to regenerate.
But that’s not quite true. Just this year, in the height of the planning for the invasion of Iraq, numerous al Qaeda leadership were captured or killed. Successes in the war on terror during this time include the arrest in March of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who many believe was responsible for planning the 9/11 attacks. Administration and intelligence officials, through joint efforts with nations around the globe, have captured leaders, destroyed facilities, and disrupted hundreds of planned attacks, all while successfully liberating Iraq. The administration can, after all, walk and chew gum at the same time — despite Graham’s rhetoric.
Graham, though, is running on something the eight other candidates in the Democratic field don’t have: current credentials on national security. Until January, he served as chairman of the Senate’s intelligence committee, and he thinks he can beat Bush from the right on national-security issues through attacking administration efforts to fight terror. Yet he plans to stay on the left for the primary owing to his resistance to the successful operation in Iraq.
Surely Graham knows that the terrorists who launched the attack would have killed Americans whether we went into Iraq or not. The war on terror will take many years, if not generations, and the assertion that it could have been won by now if only American forces had focused all their attention on terror not Iraq is not only foolish, but dangerous. At least 20 people were killed in the Riyadh attack, including seven Americans. Their deaths should not be a Graham campaign strategy.
Regardless of who is in the White House, the fight against international terrorists will not be won this year, it will not be won next year, and won’t be won during the next Democratic administration. It will be a long fight, especially, when as Bush said Tuesday in Pierce City, Missouri, “it doesn’t take much money to put a car bomb together: It takes hatred.”
The war on terror can and will be won. But it won’t be accomplished through rhetoric by presidential candidates. “The best way to protect the homeland.” Bush said, “is to track down these killers one by one and bring them to justice. That’s the policy of the Bush administration.”
It should be the policy of the entire government — even those with their hat in the ring.
— Robert Stewart is a former Army intelligence analyst who was stationed in Southwest Asia during the Gulf War. He now writes on security issues from Washington, D.C.