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Winning the War on Terror

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The latest Gallup Poll indicates that heading into the mid-term elections, voters are most concerned about Iraq/The War on Terror, Corruption in Government, and Economic issues such as healthcare and gas prices. They see Democrats as better able to handle all of the issues except for Terrorism. On June 28th Foreign Policy and the Center for American Progress released a survey of a bipartisan panel of foreign-policy experts where 84 percent said that the US is not winning the war on terror. If George Bush and his Republican lapdogs are not winning this war, what the Democrats would do differently?

On March 29th, Democratic leaders unveiled their national security plan Real Security: The Democratic Plan to Protect America and Restore Our Leadership in the World. Real Security has five components: military preparedness, the war on terror, homeland security, Iraq and energy independence. "Democrats offer a plan for Real Security to rebuild our military; equip and train our first responders and others on the front lines here at home; provide needed benefits to our troops and veterans; fully man and equip our National Guard; ...and, restore Americans' confidence in their government's ability to respond in the face of a terrorist attack or natural disaster."

Real Security implies that if they had control of Congress, Democrats would have different priorities for the war on terror than do Republicans. The Dems mention several of these: Their first would be to "finish the job in Afghanistan" by eliminating Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and the Taliban.

Dems would place more emphasis on diplomacy, as opposed to having military force be our only option in the war on terror; "renew longstanding alliances that have advanced our national security objectives." They recognize the systemic nature of terrorism and propose to "Eliminate terrorist breeding grounds by combating the economic, social, and political conditions that allow extremism to thrive." They add that the US should "lead international efforts to uphold and defend human rights."

Unlike the Bush Administration, Real Security spends time talking about the problem of nuclear proliferation. Dems promise to "Secure by 2010 loose nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build nuclear weapons or "dirty bombs."

Of course, many of us believe that "winning" the war on terror ultimately depends upon withdrawing from Iraq. Democrats, in general, appear to have aligned behind the "timetable for withdrawal" position and this is reflected in "Ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces." On June 15th, House Minority Leader Pelosi amplified this position in a floor speech, Democrats are calling for a new direction in Iraq. Our new direction would say to the Iraqi people: we will not be in your country indefinitely, we will not construct permanent bases, and we will not control the flow of your oil. We will work with you and your neighbors diplomatically to ensure that the reconstruction of Iraq is successful. We will do as Mr. Murtha advocates: we will 'redeploy and be ready."

The other two components of Real Security are homeland security and energy independence. The Dems homeland security plan has four aspects. It begins with a promise to "Immediately implement the recommendations of the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission including securing national borders, ports, airports and mass transit systems;" something that the Bush Administration has neglected to do and that, unfortunately, most Americans are not aware of. A vital component of this is the screening of all containers and cargo bound for the US. Another essential is the safeguarding of "America's nuclear and chemical plants, and food and water supplies." While the Bush Administration has pumped billions into the bloated bureaucracies of the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security it has shortchanged America's first responders. Real Security addresses this with a promise to "Provide firefighters, emergency medical workers, police officers, and other workers on the front lines with the training, staffing, equipment and cutting-edge technology they need." Dems expand the definition of first responder: "investing in the public health infrastructure and training public health workers."

While the Bush Administration pays lip service to the necessity for energy independence, the Democrats' Real Security plan actually proposes an achievable objective: "Achieve energy independence for America by 2020 by eliminating reliance on oil from the Middle East and other unstable regions of the world." The Dems program would "Increase production of alternate fuels from America's heartland including bio- fuels, geothermal, clean coal, fuel cells, solar and wind; promote hybrid and flex fuel vehicle technology and manufacturing; enhance energy efficiency and conservation incentives."

It's one of the great paradoxes of modern political history that a Presidency widely regarded as one of the worst in American history, someone who is viewed positively by much less than half of all voters, is seen as "strong" on terrorism. Why?

Part of the answer stems from the effective use of propaganda by the Bush Administration. The President keeps telling the American people that he has kept us safe and that we are winning the war on terror. This isn't true, but it's certainly what Americans want to hear. But another part of the answer arises from the public perception that Democrats are divided and irresolute. The poll finding that the public still sees George Bush as better able to fight the war on terror is an indication that Americans remain fearful. They are looking for strong leadership and don't see it coming from the Democrats. As a result, they cling to Bush even though he's proven that he doesn't know what he's doing. It's a sad commentary on why America isn't winning the war on terror.
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Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. In a previous life he was one of the executive founders of Cisco Systems.
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