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September 08, 2006

Credit where Credit's Due?
Posted by Michael Signer

In advance of next Monday's memorial of 9/11, the conservative strategists are performing an intriguing little dance nowadays -- like when little kids dare each other to run into a water fountain and come right up to the edge but retreat, nervously giggling. 

The question they're wrestling with:  are they going to start trying to take credit for five years without another domestic terrorist attack, or aren't they?  You can start to feel the credit-taking creep into their rhetoric, albeit hesitantly.  Check out this deliciously tantalizing bit of politics on House Republican Conference Secretary John Doolittle's site:

If Sept. 11, 2006, passes without a terrorist attack on our soil, Congress should thank our homeland defenders with a formal resolution. Before the November elections. And let's see who votes against it.

If?  It's not just morbid; it's alarming.  The broader questions are (a) is security ever properly the subject of partisan, campaign-type politics, and (b) is the basic proposition -- that we're safer now than then -- accurate?

On (a), the answer is no.  It was just wrong, wrong, wrong for the Bush Administration to stage a vote authorizing force against Iraq three weeks before the 2002 mid-term elections -- unabashedly injecting partisan politics into an issue of enormous policy significance.  The Administration has reaped a whirlwind from that profound error, both politically (by ensuring that progressives would be mired in legitimate resentment for years) and policy-wise (by ensuring that broad domestic support -- the sine qua non for American nation-building -- would never come).

On (b), the answer is no, too, as revealed by a recent stunning report by Third Way.  The report, titled "Neo Con," simply contrasts what the Administration has said about national security over the past 5 years, and where we are now.  You should look at the report on your own, but here are a few highlights:

Estimated number of insurgents in Iraq in 2003:  5,000; estimated number of insurgents in Iraq in July 2006:  More than 20,000

Afghanistan:  Number of suicide attacks in 2001-2004:  9; number of suicide attacks from 2005-2006:  64.

China's holding of US debt in 2001:  $60 billion; China's holding of U.S. debt in 2006:  $328 billion.

And this quote from the impressive master of political jujitsu, Bill Kristol, who seems able to be on all sides of everything at all times -- on the one hand, the biggest supporter (conceptually) of a war in Iraq, on the other hand, banging the Administration over the head for the problems with the war (practically) -- when, of course, the marriage of concept and practice was the issue ALL ALONG:

"North Korea is firing missiles.  Iran is going nuclear.  Somalia is controlled by radical Islamists.  Iraq isn't getting better, and Afghanistan is getting worse. . . I give the president a lot of credit for hanging tough on Iraq.  But I am worried that it has made them too passive in confronting the other threats."


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Wasn't it 8 years between the last Islamic terrorist attack on US soil (1993 World Trade Center bombing)and Sept. 11?

Why is 5 years such an achievement? Every other president has accomplished that.

The Tonkin Gulf resolution in 1964 also came to a vote just before an election. Back then, an incumbent Democratic administration was under attack from the right, while in 2002 the Democrats in opposition were under attack from the right. However, what caused Democrats in each case to press for, or vote for, war was not just domestic political pressure but also perceptions at the time of what was at stake in the world. It was only with hindsight that a majority of Democrats later changed their minds.

We may have another moment of decision in six months, when (if current scheduling holds) Iran will begin fuelling its nuclear reactor at Bushehr. If President Bush intends to go to war with Iran over its nuclear program, this may be the point at which he tries to do so.

Will Congress (possibly with one or both houses under Democratic control) authorize the President to take military action if measures short of war do not bring Iranian compliance with the limits we demand on its nuclear program?

A vote, if it comes, could be framed in a way that is very awkward for Democrats. Republicans could argue that Democrats are soft on terror and nuclear proliferation if they refuse to authorize force. Democrats could point out that we heard this argument before we went into Iraq. Or Democrats could argue that a nuclear Iran will behave no differently from other major states with nuclear weapons.

But will Democrats in fact make an argument that implies we cannot defeat Iran and therefore shouldn't try? Or that we should trust Iran to be responsible in its handling of nuclear weapons?

Republicans may be at fault when they press for wars that the country cannot win, but Democrats also have a responsibility for the consequences of their own votes (one way or the other). As the opposition party today, they also have a deeper responsibility for how the debate is framed.

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