Voters Must Beware of Republicans' Terrorism Trap

This is not about the war in Iraq.

It has nothing to do with Joe Lieberman.

This is the Republican trap.

Don’t fall in.

“They have tried to keep it together -- they have to make it one in people’s minds in order to cover the strategic error of Iraq,” says James Webb, Democratic Senate candidate from Virginia, and former member of the Reagan administration.

From the very beginning, the Republican slip of hand has been to convince people that the war in Iraq was the answer to 9/11.

It wasn’t. It isn’t. It never was.

It isn’t the answer to British hijackers either.

This really has nothing to do with the war in Iraq. It needs to be said over and over.

It’s the distraction from focusing on airline safety, on Usama bin Laden, on America’s true enemies. It’s one of the reasons we are so hated around the world.

“The war in Iraq had nothing to do with the war against international terrorism, or very little to do with the war on terrorism,” Webb says in interviews. “It has distracted our attention, it has pulled our forces in, and we are now in a situation where we have 135,000 on the ground, which affects our ability to do a lot of things that we would be able to do otherwise.”

Being anti-war has nothing to do with being soft-on-terrorism or ready to lead the world in dangerous times.

Being anti-war means having the resources we need to fight terrorism effectively.

No party is in favor of taking bombs on airplanes. As to whether either party is better at keeping them off, we are likely to hear more about that than we care to.

The Republicans have only one minor advantage left in the polls. They are now trailing on everything – starting with the war in Iraq, and then continuing on with the economy, the environment, health care, foreign policy-- in some cases well into the double digits-- with the only exception being terrorism. And their lead on terrorism is quite small.

So what do you do when you’re leading on exactly one issue?

What do you do when you have a slight winner and a loser. The loser, of course, the big loser, is the war in Iraq. You marry them, of course.

This is the August surprise. It’s what they have to work with, and they will try to milk it for all it’s worth.

They will try to connect Lieberman’s defeat with the attempted hijackings and say that the Democratic Party is being hijacked by the anti-war, anti-defense (pro-terrorism) crowd. Have you ever heard of anyone who was pro-terrorism? Who wanted to spend less on airport security? Who thought planes were too safe? What could be more ridiculous? But that will be the line.

What Dick Cheney started on Wednesday, saying that Lieberman’s defeat suggested the Democratic Party was not prepared to lead in dangerous times, was just the beginning.

Who is going to let them get away with it?

Say it ain’t so, Joe. Wouldn’t that be a classy gesture? You know it’s not true. They’re saying this about your colleagues of decades standing. Joe Lieberman himself should stand up to that kind of talk. If he fails to, he will continue to lose the respect of his former colleagues and supporters, voters included.

This is what happens when you turn your back on your party. Then others attack your party and they come to you and ask you what you think. And moments like these will define Joe Lieberman as much as his run for the vice presidency did.

His decency is on the line now as much as it has ever been. He knows better. This is another occasion for Lieberman to distance himself from his fellow Democrats, another step in his losing his Senate seat.

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Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.

Estrich's books include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System," "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders," "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women" and "Sex & Power," currently a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel.

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