Friday, July 28, 2006

No Ideas versus Bad Ideas

George Will described the 1992 Republican presidential primary between Pat Buchanan and President George H. W. Bush as a campaign of bad ideas (Buchanan) against no ideas (President Bush). As harsh (and predictably partisan) as it sounds coming from a conservative Republican, the Democrat "debate" over foreign/national security policy is a bad ideas versus no ideas debate.

Before I get started I should acknowledge that there are a few Democrats who are serious about national security. The problem is that being such a Democrat is grounds for being booted out of the US Senate by one's own political party. Joe Lieberman's nip and tuck primary race against Ned Lamont is really exhibit A of Democrat weakness on national security issues. Lieberman has good hawkish credentials having voted for the first war against Saddam Hussain in January 1991 and the second in October 2002. And just to prove himself to be a real atypical Democrat, Lieberman hasn't given a "I was wrong to have voted that way" speech as have John Kerry, John Edwards, John Rockefeller and many others.

And to be fair there is a Democrat named Peter Beinart. He is genuinely serious about national security too. More on him later. But the rest of the Democrat party can divided into two wings on national security issues: The militant doves and the hard line poll takers.

The Militant Doves

The militant doves include Michael Moore, Cindy Sheehan, Ward Churchill and much of the Hollywood crowd. Not all of them think that America is the real "axis of evil." Still, few among them really believe that America has much to offer the rest of the world and most would view a decline in America's influence in the world as a positive event. They think "the war on terror" is just a scam by Dick Cheney and his cronies to make a buck. Why Cheney decided to quit his job as CEO of Haliburton for the Vice Presidency when the VP job earns a faction of CEO pay as means of making a boatload of money is a mystery to everyone except those militant doves. Russ Feingold is probably the most coherent of this group and he has a serious shot of winning the Democrat presidential nomination in 2008.

The hard line poll takers

These Democrats are much harder to figure out because their views on the whether we should have toppled Saddam Hussain's regime or renewed the Patriot Act depends a lot on how popular such ideas are among the polled public. If the polls show that American people are supportive of the war in Iraq, these Democrats are too politically savvy to pass up a press conference where they can say, "Hasta la Vista, Saddam Hussain." But if the war becomes difficult and the American people reduce their support of the war, the Democrats are, again, too politically savvy to avoid those microphones and say, "My vote for the authorization (of the war against Saddam) was really a vote against going to war." Among these Democrats the words, "I actually did vote for the $ 87 billion before I voted against it," represent the kind of sophistication that they wish was more visible in the White House.

Here's where Peter Beinart's Washington Post column titled Pander and Run weighes in.
After years of struggling to define their own approach to post-Sept. 11 foreign policy, Democrats seem finally to have hit on one. It's called pandering. In those rare cases when George W. Bush shows genuine sensitivity to America's allies and propounds a broader, more enlightened view of the national interest, Democrats will make him pay. It's jingoism with a liberal face.
Further, Beinart writes:
[Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki's] views were hardly surprising: Iraq is not only a majority-Arab country; it is a majority-Shiite Arab country. And in a democracy, leaders usually reflect public opinion. Maliki's forthright disagreement with the United States was a sign of political strength, one the Bush administration wisely indulged.

But not congressional Democrats. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid demanded that Maliki eat his words or be disinvited from addressing Congress. "Your failure to condemn Hezbollah's aggression and recognize Israel's right to defend itself raise serious questions about whether Iraq under your leadership can play a constructive role in resolving the current crisis and bringing stability to the Middle East," wrote Reid and fellow Democratic Sens. Richard J. Durbin and Charles E. Schumer on July 24.

How, exactly, publicly humiliating Maliki and making him look like an American and Israeli stooge would enhance his "leadership" was never explained in the missive. But of course Reid's letter wasn't really about strengthening the Iraqi government at all; that's George W. Bush's problem. It was about appearing more pro-Israel than the White House and thus pandering to Jewish voters.

Reid's letter is not an anomaly; it is part of a pattern.
Winning in 2008

It's hard to see how the Democrats will be able to win with this sort of "tell me what to think on national security" attitude. A low moment in Bob Dole's 1996 Presidential campaign happened early on when Dole said, "I'm willing to be Ronald Reagan. If that's what you want me to be, I will do it." National security is a rare public policy issue where many voters will openly admit that they don't know what needs to be done and look to their politicians for wisdom. A freightening thought to be sure. But a practical necessity. Nearly five years after the September 11th attacks and the Democrats show no sign of delivering.