In 2012 presidential election, national security bound to be a top issue

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The midterm elections are about many, many things. The elections have been nationalized by supporters of the Tea Party movement. Establishment Republicans have largely survived primary challenges, only to realize the electorate isn’t embracing them as reasonable voices. Voters are sending a different message entirely: the Democratic establishment — led by President Obama, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid — is perceived as overreaching, grasping and power-obsessed. It’s a familiar meme; Republicans worth their political salt found this out in both the 2006 and the 2008 elections.

America’s elected leaders and political chattering classes have been engaged in the Potomac Two Step for so long that they forgot that to win you have to be successful in more than one genre of dancing. Polls nationwide, district by district, show an electorate fiercely engaged and fiercely enraged by overspending and the perception that the leaders in Washington are narcissistic, corrupt and too busy securing their own jobs that they’ve forgotten that Americans need jobs too.

Unemployment hovers just below 10 percent. The Gallup underemployment number hovers just above 18 percent. Our total national debt is just below $14 trillion. The debt ceiling was raised to $14.3 trillion less than a year ago, and even with the likely Republican majority in the House come January, there is no way to un-ring that bell.

And that’s not all. With the midterms over, the Republican presidential sweepstakes for 2012 will begin in earnest. President Obama’s political team will organize his bid for reelection. Tea Partiers across the nation are likely to be astonished as the consultants they’ve been so cozy with begin to draw new lines in the sand with 2012 contenders.

As with every presidential campaign, national security will emerge as a front-line issue.  This weekend was filled with stories about a thwarted bomb plot hatched in Yemen. From Yemen, to the UAE, to the UK and France and cities across the United States, packages were tracked. Cargo flights were stopped. Passenger planes carrying suspicious packages were guided in with military escorts. President Obama announced that explosives had indeed been identified.

Republicans better hope they choose a nominee who can ace the national security test. One of the lessons of the Bush years is that it works to remind voters that if they aren’t safe, nothing else matters.

Once we get in the weeds, into the details of national security, intelligence collection and dissemination, matters of covert operations, or especially the designation of enemy combatant v. detainee v. criminal, the politics become murky and radioactive.

President Obama still faces the specter of a trial — whether in Guantanamo Bay or federal district court in New York City — of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a.k.a. KSM. This may be one case where common sense and the will of the people force the president’s hand one way or another.

Recent cases exploit the differences between the enemy combatants in Guantanamo, like KSM, and other political prisoners held by less hospitable hosts. Last month, former Ambassador at Large for the Office of War Crimes Pierre-Richard Prosper secured the release of Reza Taghavi. Taghavi is a Los Angeles businessman who was lured into an elaborate scheme that led to his unwarranted, unjust detention in Iran for 30 months.

Elsewhere, the detainee versus political prisoner meme has turned dark.  In the Western Sahara, a territorial dispute long mediated by the United Nations burns brighter than ever. The Polisario Front, backed financially and militarily by the Algerian government, holds hostage a man named Moustapha Salma Sidi Mouloud. Once an inspector general for the Polisario’s police force in the Tindouf refugee camps, Mouloud now sits confined in an undisclosed location because he spoke out in favor of a proposed autonomy plan for the Western Sahara. The plan would allow thousands of indigenous people to return to their homeland instead of being held in Algerian camps within close proximity to al Qaeda recruiting camps.

In Northern Africa, across that vast expanse from Morocco in the west to Sudan, Egypt and Ethiopia in the east, the smallest spark could ignite a conflagration of jihad, extremism, war, trafficking of weapons and evil. The 2012 elections may well hinge on this reality.

In 2001, America suffered an attack of unprecedented proportions. Then, the catalyst was the assassination of Afghanistan’s Ahmed Shah Masood — the Lion of Panjshir — in Afghanistan. We cannot anticipate what the catalyst for the next 9/11 will be.

Securing our nation against all enemies, foreign and domestic, should be based on reactionary details as they emerge on the nightly news. Today, we worry about Yemen. Tomorrow, which nation?

President Obama and the next Republican nominee must possess the gravitas and knowledge to adequately address whatever threats we face. As former President George W. Bush noted many times, we must be right 100% of the time. A terrorist needs to be right only once.

Elizabeth Blackney is best known as a media and communications strategist to private sector clients, US Senate and gubernatorial campaigns, as a political emissary, confidante and commentator.