The politics of terrorism have shot to the forefront, as both
President Bush and his Democratic rival, Sen. John Kerry, grapple
with a heightened terror threat aimed at the nation's financial
Both men face the challenge of addressing a potentially grave
situation without appearing to take craven political advantage of
it. But with just three months before the Nov. 2 presidential
election, the political dimension of anything either man says or
does is impossible to ignore.
For Bush, the task is easier. As president, he holds the levers
of power and can show leadership by taking action and using his
bully pulpit to ease the public's jitters. Bush Monday endorsed two
of the recommendations of the 9/11 commission, including the
appointment of a national intelligence director and a national
counterterrorism center, though he would not base them at the White
House, as the commission had proposed. Polls have consistently shown
Bush beating Kerry by a wide margin on terrorism - the only issue
where Bush is ahead in a deadlocked race.
"We are a nation in danger," Bush said Monday in the Rose Garden.
"The best way to protect the American homeland is to stay on the
Bush embraced, with modifications, the bipartisan panel's most
overarching recommendations in its 567-page report.
In asking Congress to create the position of an intelligence
director, Bush said the director would not be based in the White
House, a recommendation of the commission that some believe could
politicize the post. Currently, the CIA director not only heads his
own agency but also oversees the US intelligence community, which
has grown to 15 agencies. But the director has neither budgetary
authority nor day-to-day operational control of the other agencies.
Under the reorganization Bush is backing, the CIA would be
managed by its own director, while the national intelligence
director would assume the broader responsibility of leading the
intelligence community government-wide.
As for the counterterrorism center, Bush said it would build on
the anlytical work already being done by the Terrorist Threat
Integration Center, which opened in 2003.
For Senator Kerry, the only course is to comment from the
sidelines, and imply that Bush has made the country less safe since
9/11, without saying it outright. "The question is, are we as safe
as we ought to be given the options available to us," Kerry said at
a campaign event Monday at a firehouse in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Democrats have long blamed Bush for resisting establishment of a
Department of Homeland Security and appointment of a 9/11
commission, which he ultimately embraced. They also argue that the
US invasion of Iraq deflected attention and resources away from the
battle against Al Qaeda, and has thus made America less safe.
Still, analysts say, Kerry faces a challenge in arguing to voters
that they should throw out an incumbent president at a time of grave
threat, and after nearly three years with no new attacks on American
soil, regardless of whether Bush deserves credit for that or not. …