A DEFICIT OF UNDERSTANDING. The Boston Globe has an article today detailing just how either disingenuous or frighteningly clueless (or some of both) the Republican candidates are on the subject of Iraq and terrorism:

In defending the Iraq war, leading Republican presidential contenders are increasingly echoing words and phrases used by President Bush in the run-up to the war that reinforce the misleading impression that Iraq was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

In the May 15 Republican debate in South Carolina, Senator John McCain of Arizona suggested that Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden would "follow us home" from Iraq -- a comment some viewers may have taken to mean that bin Laden was in Iraq, which he is not.

Former New York mayor Rudolph Guiliani asserted, in response to a question about Iraq, that "these people want to follow us here and they have followed us here. Fort Dix happened a week ago. "

However, none of the six people arrested for allegedly plotting to attack soldiers at Fort Dix in New Jersey were from Iraq.

Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney identified numerous groups that he said have "come together" to try to bring down the United States, though specialists say few of the groups Romney cited have worked together and only some have threatened the United States.

"They want to bring down the West, particularly us," Romney declared. "And they've come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda, with that intent."

These comments are all head-spinningly ignorant, as others have pointed out. But they are particularly notable in light of the fact that whenever Republicans criticize Democrats for having alternative suggestions on how to stop terrorism, what is it that they inevitably say? That the Democrats don't understand terrorism. It's the polite version of "you want the terrorists to win," perhaps, but it is quite alarming coming from a group of people that not only display ignorance about terrorism, but wallow in their ignorance, celebrate it, and cast ignorance as the only proper standpoint from which to approach the world. Remember how John Kerry was pilloried for his appreciation of "nuance"?

When John Edwards criticized the idea of the "war on terror," President Bush called him "naive," and others said much the same thing. Sean Hannity said Edwards isn't "up to the task of understanding the nature in the battle in the war that's being waged against us." For good measure, Hannity told an Edwards supporter, "The fact that you support him is frightening to me, because it tells me you don't understand the nature of the times we live in."

So what does it mean to "understand" terrorism? Does it mean that one knows something about the various terrorist groups, what motivates them, where they get their support, how they operate, where their strengths and weaknesses lie? Just the opposite, of course. "Understanding" seems to consist of knowing as little as possible about these things. Even discussing those kind of details means you don't understand. "Understanding" means viewing terrorism in the most simplistic, even childish way one can. Terrorists bad! We kill them! Bang, bang, yay America! Try to imagine what would have happened to Mitt Romney if he had actually said, "In fact, Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al Qaeda are all very different groups with very different goals. We need to grasp those differences if we're going to combat all the threats that face us." His opponents would have questioned his terrorist-hatin' bona fides in about twelve seconds.

Why, then, would conservatives frame their criticism of Democrats so often in terms of what Democrats "understand"? For the same reason Fox calls itself "fair and balanced" -- because they know it drives liberals crazy?

-- Paul Waldman

You may also like