Column No. 112 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - June 29, 2006

Last week I presented a series of defense/national security issues/positions intended to show how the Democrats can go over onto the offensive in this political and realm. In the interim it has become clear that doing so will be essential if the Democrats are going to have any chance at all to retake either House of Congress much less both.  Karl Rove has made it clear what he will have the Republicans running on so-called “national security” and “national strength” planks.  (Believe me, indicted or not, cooperating witness [and we won’t find out about that until the Libby trial next year] or not, Rove will running the national Republican campaign at least for this year.).  The Republican posture and posturing will not be on the war per se. Given the disaster that the war is for both Iraq and the US, to do so would be a disaster for them.  No, he will have the Republicans running on the “Democrats are wimps or worse,” the “Democrats are terrorist-sympathizers,” the “Democrats simply cannot be trusted with national security” themes.

Rove knows better than any other modern political consultant that, as I have said before here and elsewhere, there are two principal elements to the strategy for winning elections.  First is to control the agenda.  Second is “Always attack; never defend.”  In 2000, 2002, and 2004 Rove demonstrated his genius for arranging things his way and the Democrats demonstrated their genius for falling onto his trap every time.  Last week we discussed the DLC’s current strategy, essentially a re-run of theirs in the three previous national elections: “by golly, we’ll argue on your agenda.”  As we saw, they are doing it again.  If they control what the national Democratic Party does, losses in both 2006 and 2008 are all but assured (unless there is Deus Machina, like absolute proof that the Georgites arranged 9/11 or the next Great Depression arrives).  They want to be “muscular,” but being “muscular” in the Roveite way, “‘Staying the course’ equals ‘muscular’ and everything else doesn’t,” plays right into his hands.  They cannot win with that one.

The truly “muscular” Democratic position would be not “we can do these people one better.”  It would be to set our agenda, which means a) ignoring Rove’s and b) always attacking, never defending (a major part of which is indeed setting the agenda).  Here is summary of the attack points that I made last week, followed by a positive proposal for each.  By the way, some of these will be considered “tough.”  Yes, being tough would be unusual for Democrats, but when Republicans in the Congress make speeches saying the Democrats who do not support Bush’s open-ended Iraq policy are supporters of terrorist, well . . . .

1.                  9/11 happened on Bush’s watch, despite ample warnings.  Why should the nation trust him on security any longer?

2.                  They may have caught and killed al-Zarqawi but according to our own military, al-Qaeda is a very small factor in the Iraqi insurgency.

3.                  If the Georgites did not mis-lead about the reasons for going into Iraq, they were totally incompetent in handling the intelligence information about what the true situation was.

4.                  They have depleted and weakened our armed services in fighting a war for which it is ill-equipped and not properly trained.

5.                  They have turned the world against us (see the recent Pew Research international poll).

6.                  They have created large numbers of new terrorists, not reduced their ranks.

7.                  They have done virtually nothing to strengthen homeland security in the homeland.

8.                  They are totally incompetent in handling natural disasters.  They could be even worse in handling man-made ones.

9.                  They have depleted the national treasury by going to war on borrowed money while making the nation’s rich even richer with their ever-expanding tax cuts.

10.              They love military solutions to problems that cannot be solved using the military.

And so, here is a set of positive programs to deal with the listed massive deficiencies*:

1.                   Create a truly effective national counter-intelligence/counter-terrorism program, like the one proposed by Richard Clarke on the day Bush took office and rejected by Ashcroft the day before 9/11.  It would begin with the reorganization and depoliticization of both the FBI and the CIA.

2.                   Develop a world-wide program to find al Qaeda where it exists, which is not principally in Iraq, and eliminate it.  This would mean in part going back into Afghanistan, with a truly multi-national force, to truly put the Taliban out of business.  We must begin to reduce the number of terrorists in the world, not increase it as our current Iraq policy is doing.

3.                   To establish as policy to share as much information about military and intelligence operations with Congress and the American people as possible, not as little as they think they can get away with.

4.                   I have dealt with the subject of Iraq withdrawal previously in this space and will surely do so again.  Once it is completed, the US military must be completely rebuilt and redesigned, so as to focus on the kinds of missions it is likely to face in the future, not simply on arms packages principally designed to produce huge profits for the military industry.

5.                   We must re-establish a multi-lateral foreign policy, to develop the allies that we will increasingly be in need of in the future, and we must turn towards the UN, not turn our back on it at our peril as we are doing now.

6.                   We must develop a homeland security system that focuses first and foremost on the tasks at hand like strengthening port security, not at developing evermore sophisticated systems for spying on Americans and violating the basics premises and provisions of Constitutional Democracy.

7.                   We must develop an entirely Federal-state-local coordinated and properly funded system for predicting and reacting to natural disasters.

8.                   For as long as we remain in Iraq, our forces must be properly funded.  To do this, we will institute a special “war tax.”  It will be raised by rescinding the Bush tax cuts from 2001 forward, rescinding the tax rebates for the energy industry, and eliminating all Congressional “earmarks” from legislation for the duration of the War.

If our arguments are to be winning ones, they must be formulated on our agenda, not Rove’s. For starters, one simply does not respond to “cut and run,” unless one wants to say: “The only cutters and runners in this situation are the Republicans.  They cut the intelligence to fit their pre-ordained agenda and ran into a war they just had to have.”  But the primary argument must be that “all the way down the line, the Bush Administration has made our country not safer, but less safe, much less safe.  We Democrats can do better, much better.”

* Please note that I most recently presented a detailed proposal for dealing with the war issue itself on The Political of 15 December, 2005, my Column No. 89 "AN IRAQ EXIT PROPOSAL."