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Both incidents were cited by bin Laden to buttress his view that America was a “paper tiger.” While Obama fears that Bush’s policies have “emboldened al Qaeda,” what they have actually done is send a message that the Sept. 11 attacks emboldened America.
McCain, understandably, is trying to distance himself from President Bush because the incumbent has such low approval ratings. In talking about Iraq, he always emphasizes that he disagreed with the “failed Rumsfeld strategy,” an important point to make, but one that can also come across as overly defensive. If McCain doesn’t remind voters, constantly, that despite all of the difficulties we’ve faced, there has not been a terrorist attack on American soil since Sept. 11, he risks ceding to Obama the charge that the “Bush-McCain” strategy for fighting terrorism has failed. McCain’s candidacy is doomed if this is the conclusion reached by voters.
To expand on a favorite line of McCain’s, this would not only mean losing the election, but it risks losing the war by providing Obama with a mandate to reverse policies that have successfully weakened al Qaeda and prevented further attacks on U.S. soil.
The problem that President Bush is coming up against is that although a leader fighting terrorism will get blamed for what does happen (conflicts over the balance between civil liberties and security, U.S. military casualties, a protracted war), he never receives any praise for what doesn’t happen.
On the morning of the Sept. 11 attacks, Bush’s entire presidency became focused on preventing a repeat of that tragedy. If only one or two years had passed without incident, it could be written off as a fluke. But now that nearly seven years have passed, it’s time to give the President credit for keeping America safe. McCain will be linked to President Bush on the issue of terrorism whether he likes it or not, so it’s imperative that he hammer this point home.