The head of the Republican Party accused Democrats of being willing to surrender the tools necessary to combat terrorism as the GOP tries to capitalize on its national security advantage in a tough election year.
Faced with President Bush’s low approval ratings and diminishing support for the Iraq war, the Republican strategy is to make the war on terrorism a central campaign issue and argue that Democrats hold a pre-Sept. 11 view of the world.
Ken Mehlman, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, stressed that argument in a speech Friday at the organization’s two-day summer meeting, similar to points made by White House adviser Karl Rove in January.
“America faces a critical question,” Mehlman said in his prepared text. “Will we elect leaders who recognize we’re at war and want to use every tool to win it, or politicians who would surrender important tools we need to win?”
America at crossroads?
If Democrats win control of Congress, Mehlman claimed that their leaders will stop the National Security Agency from eavesdropping on foreign terrorists and pursue impeachment of President Bush.
The Democratic National Committee dismissed Mehlman’s comments, saying his “desperate rantings won’t change the fact that Bush and his rubber-stamp Republicans are in deep trouble with the American people who can see right through their trickery and spin.
“The American people will not be fooled again,” said Karen Finney, a spokeswoman for the DNC.
Mehlman singled out House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean.
“As foreign jihadists call into the United States, do we use (National Security Agency) technology to stop sleeper cells before they hit us? Or do we surrender use of this technology, as Nancy Pelosi and Howard Dean would have us do?”
‘United States has to bring resolution’
Democrats and some Republicans have questioned the legality of President Bush’s domestic spying. The Bush administration contends that the warrantless wiretapping is needed to combat terrorism.
Mehlman also selectively quoted from comments made by Rep. John Dingell of Michigan in a recent television interview. The Democrat argued that if the United States is going to be an honest broker in the Middle East, it must talk to Israel and Hezbollah.
“I happen to be — I happen to be against violence, I think the United States has to bring resolution to this matter. Now, I condemn Hezbollah as does everybody else, for the violence,” Dingell said.
Conservative Web sites and Web logs have used only snippets of Dingell’s comments. Mehlman said Friday, “As our allies fight this same war on other fronts, should we support them, or should we — as the longest-serving Democrat in the House and possible committee chairman John Dingell said — ‘not take sides for or against Hezbollah.”’
The political terrain looks rough for Republicans, with polls showing that many voters prefer the Democratic candidate in their district to the GOP pick. Not only is control of the House and Senate at stake, but the future of Bush’s agenda in the remaining years of his second term.
Throughout the dismal polling on approval ratings for Congress, Republicans hold the upper hand on national security issues. Last month’s Associated Press-Ipsos poll found that the GOP has an advantage over Democrats on foreign policy and fighting terrorism — 43 percent to 33 percent — and a smaller edge on handling Iraq — 36 percent to 32 percent.