Citzenship, partisanship and common ground in the war on terror

In a recent statement he gave to Politico, former Vice President Dick Cheney accused President Barack Obama of “trying to pretend we are not at war” with terrorists and not doing enough to keep the country safe. Prominent Republican senators have added fuel to the fire by calling for Janet Napolitano, chief of the Department of Homeland Security, to resign after the secretary claimed that “the system worked” in the aftermath of the terror incident.


Democrats, for their part, have retaliated by criticizing the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror. Some have gone further and accused Republicans of trying to score political points ahead of midterm congressional elections this year.

But crises demand civility and common ground. As the president said in recent remarks on the terror incident, “Now is not a time for partisanship, it’s a time for citizenship.” Republicans should acknowledge the real steps the administration is taking to make the United States more secure: a review of the intelligence failures that allowed a known extremist to slip through the cracks, beefed-up screening at airport security checkpoints and closer coordination of terrorist watch lists. Secretary Napolitano announced, furthermore, that she will be going to Spain later this month to kick off a series of meetings she hopes will result in a “broad consensus on new international aviation security standards and procedures.”

But Democrats need to get just how close the country came to catastrophe. At a recent press conference, Napolitano and John Brennan, the administration’s counterterrorism director, spoke about “connecting the dots." That’s an understatement. This is a wake-up call to Obama and his national security team. So much for the touchy-feely posture — let’s hope they all have a real sense of what Bush 43 and his team felt after 9/11.

Few people in Washington have better demonstrated a civil approach than Michael Chertoff, Napolitano’s Republican predecessor at DHS. Speaking recently on Fox News and NBC, Chertoff acknowledged that Napolitano may have made a verbal “misstep” in responding to the terror incident. But he deftly avoided the blame game, expressing confidence in the current secretary and framing what he views to be the real issue. On Fox News, he said:

“What actually emerges, yesterday, is that the problem doesn’t lie with [Napolitano] and her department, it really lies with the intelligence fusion process and the people on the analytical level who were responsible for seizing on the threat information and making sure it was followed through upon.”

As Chertoff suggests, fighting terror and keeping America safe is not the province of a single individual, federal agency or political party. It is a collective, global responsibility. Countries will have to find common ground and share information. And if the system is going to be fixed, it’s going to take America’s thoughtful, civil leadership.


Kathy Kemper is founder and CEO of the Institute for Education, a nonprofit foundation that recognizes and promotes leadership and civility locally, nationally and in the world community.