It is difficult to recall an election more focused on the issue of security. Bush has positioned himself as aggressive in the war on terror and the guy who has the perspective and the vision to keep us safe. That messaging has been somewhat effective as have been the attacks on John Kerry.
But here’s the rub.
The argument is being carried out in a data vacuum. First, the American people have been repeatedly misled. Did the Iraq war distract us and take resources away from Afghanistan and the hunt for bin Laden? We’ve been told the answer is no. Yet a quick look at the CIA’s manpower shift makes it clear that the answer is a resounding yes. Regardless of Tommy Franks enthusiastic op-ed pieces to the contrary, to support the President, one has to believe that Iraq was as critical, if not more critical, to our security than Osama and Afghanistan.
But how can voters who seem to be misinformed about even the most simple of issues possibly assess how we’re actually doing in the war on terror? It is by its nature a largely covert operation. Are there more cells in operation today than there were on September 12, 2001? Would the jihadists now pouring into Iraq be heading towards the U.S. if they weren’t headed for Baghdad? Or did the Iraq effort merely serve as the terrorists’ greatest recruiting tool?
This election season has been largely focused on who’s tough enough. But what really counts is who’s smart enough. And the American people are being asked to grade a test for which they don’t have an answer sheet. And that is largely by design. Every time we get a glimpse of measurable results (the hunt for WMDs, the size of the insurgence, the lack of support from the international community, the dearth of connections between Saddam and al Qaeda), it turns out that this administration filled in almost all the wrong circles on their answer sheet.