Monday, February 14, 2005

Anti-War Candidates, Security Moms and Democrats

The conventional wisdom is that the Democrats need to convince the public, especially the security moms, that they can be trusted with national defense, an area where they are consistently outpolled by Republicans. Pundits also argue that the anti-war position of many prominent Democrats is going to continue to hurt them with these security moms at the polls unless they find some way to recast themselves as strong supporters of the military.

I agree. I think that Democrats have not made a good enough argument that one can oppose a particular war and not be a pacifist. Part of the problem, of course, is that many Democrats in Congress, such as John Kerry, originally did support giving Bush the authority to invade Iraq. Their vote was based on faulty intelligence that suggested that Iraq was far more of a threat than it was. I think it's fair to say, "if I knew then what I know now, yes I'd vote differently." Everybody, in fact, was snookered by this Administration.

Yeah, I know that in theory they did not deliberately "cook the books" when it came to intelligence reports, but that they were as fooled as the senators and represenatives by the faulty intelligence. Yet there were reports, by Seymour Hirsch in the New Yorker among others, that Dick Cheney had been visiting the CIA and that some agents, in fact, did feel they were under pressure to produce information that supported the Administration's contentions about weapons of mass destruction. Indeed, no less than Colin Powell angrily rejected one report and refused to quote it. And both former treasury secretary Paul O'Neill and security advisor Richard Clark wrote in separate books that the Bush Administration was obssessed with Iraq from day one of the administration, long before 9/11 even happened. And this Administration has a history of cherry picking the facts they want and ignoring those that don't suit their agenda. So, a good case can be made that they wanted to get us into Iraq for reasons that actually had nothing to do with weapons of mass destruction, defending our nation from attack or real national defense of any kind.

Any case that Democrats make to convince the public that they take national defense as seriously as Republicans has to begin with the distinction between the war in Afghanistan and that in Iraq.

A real case can be made that it was right to invade Afghanistan and terribly wrong to do the same in Iraq, even given what little we knew about WMDs in the beginning. This is the position of former Democratic Senator Bob Graham of Florida, no leftwing dove. Senator Graham sat on the Senate Security Committee. At one point, he chaired it. And he was convinced that Saudi Arabia was a far bigger threat to our security than Iraq. He began a run for president specifically because he was opposed to the invasion of Iraq. Yet he was never a peacenik.

To start with, like another presidential candidate famously opposed to the war in Iraq, he supported our incursion into Afghanistan. That other presidential candidate, by the way, was Howard Dean, who has always insisted that he was no dove and that he supported going into Aghanistan, just as Graham did. Here's the reason why.

It is not true that al Queda was a stateless terrorist organization, which would indeed have made it hard to retaliate for the dreadful attack they launched on us. They were indeed under the sponsorship of a state. And they had the full support of that state when they attacked us. Furthermore, that state insisted on protecting them and harboring them even when we asked for al Queda and its leader, Osama bin Laden, to be handed over to proper authorities for trial as terrorists. Afghanistan's Taliban, the recognized, official rulers of that state refused to turn over bin Laden, continued to give safe harbor and support to al Queda and was intimately tied to them. In fact, the Taliban's leader and bin Laden were related through marriage.

That's why it was morally and politically justified to attack Afghanistan and overthrow the Taliban. Not one western nation, not even France objected. Even the Arab world gave support to the U.S. in Afghanistan. And the anti-war protests here at home were small. The war against Afghanistan actually enjoyed popular support because it was perceived as a war of self-defense. It was, by every definition, a just war. And a necessary one. To have not answered this attack would indeed have invited more and worse from al Queda. They had proven many times over that they viewed Americans as cowards who would not retaliate. We needed to prove them wrong. And we needed to weaken them. Which we did. And for that, I do commend President George Bush.

However, when we began to contemplate attacking Iraq, the whole mood of the world changed toward us. Suddenly, most of the citizens of western Europe opposed our aggression We went from being seen in a sympathetic light to being villifed even by those whose governments supported the war, like Great Britain.

And the anti-war opposition grew in the U.S. People who rallied proudly round the flag suddenly found themselves at anti-war demonstrations. This nation was once again a divided nation. What was the difference?

Where Afghanistan was a just war, there was no real justification for invading Iraq. It was totally a war of choice. And it was a very bad choice that has left us arguably more unsafe. For one thing, it has swallowed up both military and financial resources that prevented us from capturing Osam bin Laden and decimating al Queda. Instead, they have recouped in the wild tribal lands and mountains that border Pakistan. While weaker than they were before 9/11, they still present a threat to our security.

In addition, as today's Washington Post has pointed out, Iraq has gone from being a secular nation with a tyranical leader but no real nuclear weapons threat to an Islamist nation that now looks sympatheticaly towards Iran, which Bush has called one of the axis of evil. With the Iraqi election of the Shiites and Kurds, who are expected to support Iran just as we are getting ready to pressure them to give up their nuclear ambitions, we have gotten a little less safe. And unlike in Iraq, the nuclear threat in Iran is real, as it is in North Korea, another nation whose genuine threat we are less able to address because of our incredibly careless adventure in Iraq.

And somehow, the Democrats have to lay out this criticism of Bush's foreign policy failure to the American people. They must make the case that this administration has shown poor judgement and has failed miserably in Iraq. Because of this blunder, we are more vulnerable than ever. If I were a security mom, I'd be very scared and very mad at Bush right now. And it's the Democrats' job to explain to those security moms why they should be so afraid and why they need to vote the Republicans who showed such poor judgement out of office.

The Democrats must also present the case that this administration is now cutting funds for urban first responders. It has failed to secure the ports, both sea and air. And it is not prepared to deal with a bioterrorist assault. It couldn't even handle providing adequate protection for flu season. The Democrats need to remind the public that they were the ones who insisted upon stronger security and a professional Transportation Authority to provide security at our airports, replacing the reprehensible incompetency of the private companies, like Argenbright, who did the job before 9/11 and failed to do a better job even after that day. It was also the Democrats, led by Senator Joe Lieberman, who fought for a Homeland Security Department when Bush was originally opposed.

Democrats need to make a case that it was their ideas, which Republican only adopted grudgingly, that have made our country a little bit safer today and not the neo-conservative Republican inspired invasion of Iraq.

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