Obama Must Not Appease Cheney With 'War on Terror'

Mr. President, please don't say the former VP's three favorite words.

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By Jamie Stiehm, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

President Obama will appease a furious former Vice President Dick Cheney today if if he utters three words in his remarks on the state of our national security and intelligence: "war on terror."

Don't do it—three words of free advice, Mr. President. That's ground you cannot give to your chief ideological enemy here at home. As we know from a simple yet loaded term like "9/11," language matters. Cheney once owned the struggle he calls the "war on terror," and he wishes to take it away from you.

Cheney's grimly determined to set in stone this appellation, which he and former President Bush invented and declared on an "invisible" enemy with "shadowy" networks days after Sept. 11, 2001. In a rousing address to Congress on the terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon, Bush asserted this "war on terror" unilaterally, and the nation hasn't been the same since. Not one member of Congress challenged this dark formulation, so spooked were we all by what 19 young Arab men did with boxcutters. Exactly one senator, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, voted against the Patriot Act, which was not far behind.

The "war on terror" framework gave Bush, Cheney, the CIA, and the Army a free pass at the carnival of war. Anything went and nothing was really known by the American people at home. We found out about the failure to catch Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora after the fact. The gruesome human rights abuses at Guantanamo and in Iraq—well, we were last to know. Simply put, we lost a lot of friends in the world community and our moral compass in conflict because Bush, Cheney, and a handful of men ran amok with the "war on terror." Untold millions of dollars in public money disappeared down that hole, too, away from public sunlight, disclosure, debate, or any kind of open process. If there's no accounting, there's no accountability.

Does this sound like history to you, so last decade? Well, Cheney would like nothing better than to bring it back all over again. This former congressman from Wyoming is breaking all the Washington school rules by a campaign of intimidation against a president at only the one-year mark. Obama has wisely steered clear of engaging or giving in: He generally stays away from the Bush-Cheney "war on terror" paradigm to show it's a new day to both foes and friends around the world. They are all watching and weighing his words.

Republican partisanship on terrorism—what a surprise. Democrats are not nearly so nimble when it comes to seizing the chance to make political hay out of terrorist incidents. Do you remember what they did at the Capitol after September 11? Members of Congress joined hands and sang "God Bless America."

There was no blaming the White House for failure to heed spy agency warnings that al Queda was poised to attack inside the United States, one given directly to the president himself on his vacation ranch in Texas in August 2001. No, none of that stuff. Democrats gave a president in his first year tremendous bipartisan support after the September 11 attacks.

That leads me to my last point, a sore in our American parlance. Somehow the media went with the phrase "9/11" after hearing rescue workers and politicians say it over and over. "9/11" makes the attacks sound like an accident that could not have been prevented and lets the Bush administration off the hook entirely. We say "Pearl Harbor" for the place where the attack that shall live in infamy happened in 1941; let's say a somber "September 11th" to sum up the date a national calamity hit in 2001.

Wonder if Dick Cheney thought that one up, too.

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