Charles Krauthammer’s piece in today’s Washington Post nicely sums up the arguements to be made against Democrats in the wake of Ned Lamont’s victory. It is the perfect bait: We are “anti-war.” He uses the term or “anti-Vietnam War” nine times in the short piece. The arguments, as neat as they are, are easily refuted. But I won’t go there. And neither should any Democrat. The last thing we need to be is defensive. Rather, it’s time to tell our own story, have confidence in it, and retell it as often as possible. That’s a little tougher challenge that refuting Mr. Krauthammer, but with much greater returns. And after all, when our opponents only narrative is “stay the course,” they’ve got both hands tied behind their backs.
As I mentioned in yesterday’s short post about the AP story outlining how both parties used yesterday’s terrorist scare to score political points, at least Lamont’s victory seems to have stiffen a few blue spines. That’s a good first step.
There’s a pretty good post at a blog I wasn’t aware of until yesterday. It lays out the Iraq challenge for Dems pretty well.
One, people are troubled by the war and that anxiety leads them to oppose the war in general…essentially they want to remove the anxiety and the easiest way is to oppose, or in other words, end the troubled war effort. Two, despite opposition to the war, a majority of people realize it is impractical to withdraw immediately, or in other words, while they don’t like the war, they realize it may have to continue for some period of time. Three, they still hold to the notion of winning the war regardless of their opposition and their desire to end the conflict.
… In the interest of achieving Democratic control of the House or the Senate, I am convinced that the Democratic Party and Ned Lamont must take the lead in proposing alternate and specific plans for a successful exit from Iraq. Should we allow Republicans to frame the topic, I fear Democrats may suffer the same fate that we encountered in 2004 when Rove and the RNC were able to portray the Democratic position as one inclined to concede defeat in Iraq and therefore a weakened position on national security and the war on terror…a position I’m convinced the American public is not yet willing to embrace and that I believe has been supported by polling data as well as the Connecticut outcome.
But this approach limits us to telling the public how we’ll fix George Bush’s mess. That’s too narrow a focus.
To negate Krauthammer’s “anti-war” frame, we need to explain how we would strengthen our military and how we would employ it. I have long argued that Iraq may have been the perfect country to invade and Saddam Hussein the perfect maniac to overthrow. But it was the wrong time because Iraqi Muslims weren’t ready for a revolution and certainly didn’t trust the U.S. to be their patron saint. (Besides, we were not done in Afghanistan.) Iraqis may well have accepted our military help, if we first had proven to them our appreciation of the core issues to Muslims throughout the Middle East. That would require our brokering a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and then our strong stance for democracies in those countries where the monarchies and dictators are still “our friends.” We need to make the case of why that approach is not “anti-war” but rather a practical approach that ensures our long-term security and our children’s freedom from fear.
Bush has already done most of the heavy lifting for us. His judgement in foreign affairs is so widely discredited, not by pundits and intellectuals but by Main Street Americans, that they are primed for an alternative. And to those who say that no amount of negotiation or diplomacy will stem the flow of arms from Iran to Syria to Lebanon or Iran’s nuclear ambitions, it should be clear to most that they would not have been so emboldened had the Iraq War proven our incapacity to stop them. The carrot and stick approach won’t work only because we no longer have a stick to wave. It’s proved flaccid.
I believe it’s Tom Friedman whose suggested that we need to go to Iran and Syria and ask, “What will it take?” They have a price. And for the right price, they will be willing to make some concessions that we want.
Whatever we offer, it will not be enough for the Islamic radicals. But right now our foreign policy is causing their number to multiply geometrically on an almost daily basis. Once we address their frustrated followers core issues, that number will shrink, making the employment of our military more effective. Right now, we’re just playing whack a mole and now we’re prohibiting water bottles on planes.
It’s a fundamental precept that in a political argument you never repeat your opponent’s charge. Let’s not say why we’re not anti-war, but what we are. In the three months to election day, we should be able to craft a narrative that resonates with voters. It will be defeatist nor anti-war. It should be a strong statement of our responsibilities in the world and our willingness to fight for them.
UPDATE: Fortunately, Democratic voices are not taking the bait, including Kevin Drum.