Herman Cain's Divisive War Rhetoric

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How would a President Cain treat civil libertarians and critics of interventionism? If his past columns are any indication, he'd brand them as terrorist sympathizers and allies of the enemy.

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The longer Herman Cain is a front-runner in the GOP primaries, the more likely it is that some enterprising reporter or opposition researcher will listen to the archives of all the hours of talk radio he's done, digging out the bits that strike the average non-talk-radio-listening American as offensive. I presume such moments exist, because I've just read all the columns that Cain wrote for an audience of movement conservatives. They're hardly the stuff of Ann Coulter, but neither are they sober or fair minded. And it's Iraq war skeptics who have the most reason to take offense.

Explaining his support for the invasion, occupation and nation building, Cain wrote that President Bush "did not start this war to pipe pilfered oil from Baghdad to Crawford. He ordered retaliation against a worldwide Islamic terrorist network hell-bent on destroying Western civilization." In June 2006, he took aim at civil libertarians and those who sought to end the Iraq war. "Have no doubt about it -- there are some Americans, including members of Congress -- who want the terrorists to win," he wrote. "Every time we receive significant intelligence about the enemy, our enemies from within say we obtained is [sic] unconstitutionally, as if terrorists should receive the benefits of our constitutional protections. Every time we achieve a military victory they call for us to 'redeploy' the troops. Setting a date certain for troop withdrawal is like placing a sign in your yard telling the local burglar the times you plan to be away from your home with the front door unlocked. Our enemies from within see our national security as just another political issue."

That same summer, he said this: "Three groups are waging a spectacularly unified propaganda war against the Israeli military, the U.S. military and the Bush administration. They are the liberal media outlets, liberals in the U.S. Congress and the United Nations. In a world with a 24/7 microscopic news cycle, one statement that is twisted, misunderstood or misrepresented can sway public opinion and political reaction more than 1,000 tanks and 10,000 bombs." Lest his point be misunderstood, he concluded the column by noting that "the liberals' propaganda machine has become the press operation of the Islamic terrorists who plot to destroy America, her military and western civilization. American liberals are fighting the war against our great nation with words instead of bullets. Left unchallenged, their words can be just as lethal."

Soon afterward, Cain took the next logical step, calling the Democratic candidates for the 2008 presidential nomination "Hezbocrats." And in a separate column he impugned the patriotism of Democrats, writing that their "attempt to send the terrorists a media-gram of when we will withdraw from Iraq makes no sense, except to claim a political victory at the expense of national security." It's a theme to which he'd return. Here, for example: "All the Democrats have proposed is surrender to the terrorists in the form of an internationally televised withdrawal date and a ridiculous piece-meal war funding bill to constrain the war fighters on the battlefield and hijack the president's authority."

It is likely that the Republican nominee will be someone who supported the Iraq war. Especially given the fact that many GOP voters now regard it as a mistake, however, is it really wise to elevate a candidate under the mistaken impression that it was retaliation for the September 11 attacks? A candidate who presumed that calls for withdrawal were motivated by putting politics ahead of national security? Someone who casts civil libertarian concerns about intelligence gathering and unconstitutional behavior as evidence of being in league with the enemy? 

A man who uses phrases like "enemies from within" to describe the press and the opposition party, who dismisses civil libertarians, and who suggests a substantial number of Americans "want the terrorists to win" has no business being president of the United States. He belongs on talk radio.

Leave him to it.


Image credit: Reuters
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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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