Are We Feeling Secure Now?
Lost in all the post-election navel-gazing and recriminations is one undisputable fact: the Democrats are in serious trouble in the national security/foreign policy arena. I don't agree with people like Paul Freedman who argue that terrorism, not gay marriage, was the deciding issue in this election. Irrespective of this ongoing debate, however, the Democrats have to approach national security issues with more than just platitudes and "get tough" posturing.
We all remember Tom 'n' Dick's disastrous decision in the weeks leading up to the 2002 midterms to take national security "off the table" in order to focus on bread and butter economic issues. That turned out real well, right? Now, I think Kerry did a much better job in criticizing the administration's numerous shortcomings in the war on terror. Indeed, he drew some real blood in pointing out bin Laden's Tora Bora getaway. However, I was extremely disappointed at Kerry's inability to develop a coherent national security strategy beyond vague promises to rebuild international alliances. This is even more inexcusable when you consider that Kerry has been in the Senate for 20 years (no country bumpkin state governor is he) and that he was known for his expertise in foreign policy/national security issues. Alas...
What I find even more problematic is that the "next generation" of Democratic leaders is even more inattentive to national security issues. All the prominent Democrats with foreign policy experience are either retired (e.g. Gary Hart, Sam Nunn, Lee Hamilton, Bob Graham), or in the twilight of their careers (e.g. Robert Byrd). If Jane Harman and Jay Rockefeller constitute our foreign policy up-and-comers, color me distinctly unimpressed.
Indeed, we saw this most clearly in the Vice Presidential debate. Edwards clearly looked uncomfortable talking about Iraq and the war on terrorism, even as Cheney was spouting lie after lie. It was only in the second half of the debate, when the focus shifted to domestic issues, that Edwards seemed in his element. To me, this is the biggest handicap Edwards faces as he gears up for a 2008 run.
Ultimately, I don't think there's any way that the Congressional Dems will be able to turn around this deficit on foreign policy/national security issues. As with so many other things, we'll have to look outside the party for help. Whether we like it or not, the Republicans have done an effective job in building think tanks (e.g. AEI, Center For Strategic and International Studies, etc.) and journals (most prominently The National Interest) to groom policy experts on national security issues. Therefore, I hope that organizations like the Center For American Progress learn from this model, and consciously strive to shape the Democratic foreign policy/national security platform in the years to come.
Finally, I urge you all to read Heather Hurlburt's article on this precise issue. Although it's two years old, many of the criticisms she makes (unfortunately) remain relevant today. Here's a sample of her sage advice:
Democrats are in this position precisely because we respond to matters of war politically, tactically. We worry about how to position ourselves so as not to look weak, rather than thinking through realistic, sensible Democratic principles on how and when to employ military force, and arguing particular cases, such as Iraq, from those principles. There are a lot of reasons for this failure, including the long-time split within the party between hawks and doves. But we will never resolve that split, nor regain credibility with voters on national security, until we learn to think straight about war. And we will never learn to think straight about war until this generation of professional Democrats overcomes its ignorance of and indifference to military affairs.