Monday, March 22, 2004

Mutual Assured Destruction

In the early days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the Bush White House cut by nearly two-thirds an emergency request for counterterrorism funds by the FBI, an internal administration budget document shows.

The document, dated Oct. 12, 2001, shows that the FBI requested $1.5 billion in additional funds to enhance its counterterrorism efforts with the creation of 2,024 positions. But the White House Office of Management and Budget cut that request to $531 million. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft, working within the White House limits, cut the FBI's request for items such as computer networking and foreign language intercepts by half, cut a cyber-security request by three quarters and eliminated entirely a request for "collaborative capabilities."
Good job by the Center for American Progress in bringing these documents to light. They need to be out there on the public stage. That said, I think they're mostly useful in a Mutual Assured Destruction capacity.[1] The Republicans have been citing Kerry votes to eliminate weapons programs, divorced from context - attempting to make him look weak on defense. With this report of FBI cuts, Democrats can now do the same to Bush. What's the context of the FBI cuts? It's not clear from this article, but if they don't have to pay attention to that, then (in a MAD sense) neither do we. As long as we know that MAD is what we're doing.

Did the FBI need the extra $1 billion that was cut, $700-odd million of which was later restored by Congress? Probably they did. But not every law-enforcement program requested after 9/11 genuinely increased the nation's safety, and - from a civil liberties perspective, if for no other reason - Democrats should be careful about assuming the rhetorical position that the FBI should automatically get everything it asks for.

All that being said, I'll be thrilled if these revelations about the FBI budget push the Bush campaign into being more nuanced in interpreting the meaning of program cuts. It will be great if this takes the Kerry-voted-to-cut-defense weapon out of their hands. In the meantime, let's keep the real solid arguments about Bush's defense record front and center.

[1] MAD, for those readers too young to remember the Reagan era, was the doctrine that if my weapons can blow your country into its component atoms, and your weapons can blow my country into its component atoms, both of us will back off from those weapons and not use them. It worked okay.