Thursday :: Jun 5, 2003

How Democrats Can Deal With National Security

by Steve

Democrats either running for president or plotting how to deal effectively with the GOP between now and November 2004 are confronted with the issue of how to tackle the national security advantages that Bush and Karl Rove have manipulated for themselves. The combination of a savvy, craven, and ruthless strategist, the advantages of incumbency, and a totally stage-managed lap dog media means that Democrats will have few opportunities to score points against the White House on the issues of national security and foreign policy. As a result, the party and the candidates must choose their targets wisely, not fight unwinnable and wasteful battles that challenge “the realities on the ground,” be relentless in going after the targets that are selected, and keep the media engaged in the effort by never retreating.

Fresh evidence of the challenge exists in the overall timidity of the Democrats on the national level to exploit possible weaknesses where they exist, as evidenced by the pathetic, cowering inability of some Senate Democrats (Evan Bayh and Chris Dodd) over the weekend on the TV chatfests to speak aggressively on the issue of Bush’s WMD deceptions in the war run-up. Additional evidence exists in the recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll on the issues of Iraq and Iran, where voters do not feel that Bush misled them on WMDs, and where voters also feel that the war was worth it even if WMDs are not found. Tied to this are the advantages of incumbency, as seen in the large number of the pictures in today’s papers from the White House showing a George Bush with his arms out as a great statesman and peacemaker beseeching Sharon and Abbas to come together and bridge their differences. This, coming from a man who until three weeks ago has been as AWOL on Middle East peace as he was in Alabama on Guard duty in 1973. Since he and Karl control the media, they can overcome their disadvantages in a relative hurry by stage-managing events to place an image in voters’ minds that is contrary to his past disengagement and that is disingenuous to the difficulties ahead. Gone from the media’s lexicon are their reminders from just a few weeks ago that Bush had done nothing on the issue for two and a half years.

In order to challenge Bush on national security and foreign policy, I think first it is critical to grudgingly accept some facts on the ground (FOTG) that will exist between now and November 2004, rather than pursue lost causes and disregarding realities that we will face. Once we acknowledge these realities, we can focus on areas that can yield results rather than waste time on vote-losing efforts to tilt at windmills. These realities as I see them are as follows.


As concerned as many of us are about the poor planning, the potential for civil war, the ongoing deaths of soldiers, and the fiscal drain upon our country from the occupation, the polls are starting to show that voters don’t care any more about Iraq and have moved on. When a majority tell you that they believe things are going well in Iraq, that the war was justified even if WMDs were oversold, and that toppling Saddam was worth it no matter the collateral damage, any continual drumbeat about the war’s premises and its illegality will not register with voters. They have simply moved on. Unless we suffer hundreds deaths or a return to a war status in Iraq, voters will continue not to care while being spoon-fed Laci Peterson/Martha Stewart/Hillary Clinton pabulum by the media. The WMD issue is a bigger issue than Iraq, and goes to the issue of trust, which I think is one issue in national security that has legs, as I talk about later.


As another FOTG, we need to assume that Bush will find a reason to go into Iran before the election, and not after. He will need another distraction from the economy, packaged overtly as a terrorist threat and covertly as a threat to Israel. He is getting little resistance to the idea so far from our allies, and the Democrats, like they are on the WMD issue, show every appearance of repeating the same mistakes as they did before the midterms by not planting in the voters’ minds over and over again that Bush will use the next domino on the “Axis of Evil” scorecard to distract us from dealing with real needs here at home. Worse yet, nearly two-thirds of those polled think that Iran is at least a long-term threat to this country, and given the nation’s acceptance of the Bush concept of preemptive attacks by US forces on potential terrorist threats, it will not take Rove much to ramp up Iran in 2004 like he did in 2002 for Iraq. The only way to stop this now in its tracks is for the Dems to preempt the move themselves by continually talking about the upcoming war drive as a fait accompli while stressing the need for Iran to abide by its international nuclear agreements and continue to demonstrate that it is not importing Shiite terror into Iraq. Also, the Dems can begin now, if they have the guts, to lay down the marker that the country will not be misled into another war in Iran based on faulty and intentionally-misleading intelligence generated by the right wing, like what happened in Iraq. But again, will a Democrat with foreign policy gravitas actually do this?

North Korea

As another FOTG, under the radar screen, Wolfowitz and Rummy have already laid the groundwork for military action against North Korea over the last several weeks. The media has been full of stories about the Pentagon repositioning the troops away from South Korea and Europe into more forward areas conducive to pre-emptive strikes against terror targets. Several stories this week that got little attention also point out that the Pentagon has already drawn up plans for how to attack the North while minimizing civilian casualties. Even though Russia and China have put Washington on notice that a military attack upon Pyongyang is not acceptable, Bush is prepared to ignore Pyongyang’s pinpricks and keep ignoring them until they starve or until after the election, when he can risk a miscalculation of this magnitude. The only opening I see for the Democrats here is on the issue of why Bush is abdicating responsibility for preventing a known proliferation risk when he has the means to prevent it.

The Road Map and the Middle East

As another FOTG, although Bush was as AWOL on the Middle East as he was in Alabama in 1973, Rove has managed to spin that disengagement into Bush the Statesman in less than two weeks. Voters feel that Bush should have this as one of his priorities, and Bush will dedicate just enough energy on it to fit that bill, without dedicating enough to actually accomplish something meaningful. It is another FOTG that Bush will not want to push Israel too much to risk a Lieberman moving to outflank him on the right with the Jewish Lobby, but he needs to push them just enough to maintain the Bush the Statesman image. If the “terrorists” act up again and make it easy for Sharon to back away, all the better for Bush to ramp up the Iran campaign even sooner. Voters will eat up Bush the Statesman because it addresses one of their unmentioned concerns that he is a lightweight when it comes to diplomacy. Rove will play this for all it is worth. Until Iraq blows up, until the truth about Afghanistan begins to seep out, or until it becomes clear that he really isn’t interested in making the full commitment to achieve peace, it will work.

Terrorism and Preemption

Another FOTG is that not addressing national security and voters’ fears post-9/11 is a recipe for a Democratic washout next year. We all know that Rove and Bush have built and maintained a climate of fear that they use to smother dissent, eliminate discussion of domestic GOP vulnerabilities, and create support for the preemptive policy of starting wars to allegedly stop terrorism before we get hit again. It is a FOTG that voters are giving Bush a pass on this issue due to the lack of another domestic attack since 9/11, and the “successes” in Afghanistan and Iraq. As long as sending our forces into other countries to stop terrorists seems to be working, Joe Sixpack loves it, as long as it is not his son or daughter doing the dying. They don’t want to hear about why the war in Iraq was wrong, illegal, or oversold to us. They don’t care anymore about Iraq, Afghanistan, or WMDs, but they are still afraid and Bush seems to be protecting them. As a result, attacks against Bush based on anti-war or “he lied to us” messages will fail, unless you can tell the voters how you will keep them safe and show why Bush has gotten lucky while lying to you about the threat we face and his efforts to protect us.

What to Do and Say

You may disagree with my FOTGs, as I expect some of you will. But I think arguing as if some of the things I have laid out do not exist is a waste of time and energy and will keep us from grabbing the votes we need to compete with Bush. I think the successful Democrat(s) will have to do several things, some of which may be risky, to gain traction and compete with Bush.

First, we must make a major case that what happened on 9/11 was in fact preventable. No amount of “we are facing a mortal enemy more lethal than any else that has come before it” bullshit will cover this over. Bob Graham is on the right track here when he says that Bush ignored the warning signs and didn’t act on the intelligence that was already out there. By charging Bush with dereliction of duty in the matter of preventing 9/11, it forces Bush to say it wasn’t possible to predict with certainty what did happen. And that then opens up the issue once and for all about what was known and in circulation prior to 9/11, which is exactly what the Bushies are trying to avoid right now. They would need to explain the 8/6/01 President’s Daily Briefing, the disregarding of overseas intelligence reports specific to Bid Laden’s use of commercial airliners as missiles against domestic targets, the FBI/flight school leads, the lack of increased airport security post 8/6, the lack of fighter interceptor response after the first plane hit the tower, the ignoring of the Rudman/Hart report from February 2001, the airlifting of Bin Laden family members out of the country in the week following 9/11, etc.

Second, and directly related to the first issue, is that it will happen again because Bush has failed his commitment and rhetoric to make us safer. He still hasn’t beefed up security to our ports and harbors. He has welched on his commitments to provide more funding for emergency response personnel. He has yet to work out successful agreements and fund effective border security measures and efforts with Mexico and Canada. And many of the recommendations in the updated Rudman/Hart report are still ignored. The successful Democratic candidate can argue that the best way to make this country safer is to take the money that Bush wants to give Rummy and instead use it to do what Clinton did: provide federal funding for another 100,000 police, fire, and emergency response personnel for the next ten years. Voters will understand and like it more that they can have more cops and protection on the street here for far fewer dollars than the Pentagon increases lavished on Rummy. The Democratic candidate can argue that reservists can be called home to work in their communities under their regular commitments and enhance domestic security, rather than be pulled from their families and jobs for months and years, causing untold hardship for all. And Bush will have an impossible time arguing why such a domestic commitment is not a true test of effective national security and as essential as any money we throw away overseas toppling governments.

Third, a national security policy that relies on invading other countries while ignoring security here at home is not a national security policy but a recipe for more terrorism. We need to point out that contrary to Bush and Cheney want us to believe, we are not dealing with the Soviet army here, with thousands of nukes pointed at us in the 1960’s. We are dealing with 3000-5000 well-trained nutcases connected by cell phones with a ready source of Saudi money, who frankly got lucky on 9/11 because Bush let his guard down. These nutcases can be kept on the run by our Special Forces working with other countries in a true international anti-terror campaign to destroy the infrastructure for known terror groups. We can provide anti-terror funding as a bribe to those other countries, and yes, economic aid as well, to build better long-term relationships. This is preferable to the preemptive, “Axis of Evil” approach of PNAC which requires endless wars with our costly military, destroying other countries and breeding even more hatred of and abandonment by America. Countries that we have identified and can prove that host terror can be outed at the UN and required to go along with multilateral anti-terror activities within their borders, or the US will be free to resume the preemptive approach. In this way, we deal with two things. We show a resumed commitment to multilateral approaches within international law. And we can deal with the climate of fear stoked by Bush by using our Special Forces within international law instead of continuous wars of empire and hatred.

Lastly, the Democrats not only need to have an alternate view of national security based on meeting the needs at home and intelligently abroad. They must also restore a sense of hope, some sacrifice, and vision to dealing with our threats in the light of day instead of the fear of night. Using our military with international support, using our Special Forces with the approval of and financial assistance to host countries, or through the full military in obstinate countries that have rejected international pressure is smart and justifiable. It also takes advantage of the public’s support for dealing with terrorism through reasonable sacrifice without turning American into a warrior nation driven by an unending fear from preventable threats. It can show voters that the Democrats believe in a national security strategy that deals with real imminent threats within international law, and with fully funded domestic police/fire/emergency responder personnel working with our reserves to guard our facilities and borders to give us a sense of real security locally. And it can be contrasted with the pathetic, endless war, fear-inspired, broken promise environment created by Bush’s lies and dereliction of duty.

Again, you may disagree with my FOTGs. But moving to a national security strategy that accepts some of the realities we face and improves on them where we can is better than trying to turn the clock back and argue against the electorate that Bush has created. It allows our candidates to go at him for his real weaknesses, undermines his credibility, shows voters that we can deal with their concerns, and offers a positive vision of how to intelligently deal with the threats that face us.

Steve :: 6:05 PM :: Comments (21) :: Digg It!