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Defeating Bush, Defeating Terrorism

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The latest polls indicate Americans no longer see a connection between Iraq and Bush's "war on terror." The tide of public opinion has shifted: voters see Democrats as capable as Republicans on national security. Two and a half months before the mid-term congressional election, Democrats have an opportunity to convince Americans of a somber truth: continuing Republican hegemony weakens the U.S. and strengthen terrorism.

The Democratic tactic has been to attack Bush's occupation of Iraq. To lament his mismanagement of the war and of Homeland Security. No one can disagree with this. But, the real thrust of the attack should be broader. Democrats must argue that Bush's war on terror is ill conceived and counter productive.

Bush's war on terror was launched with severe flaws: it had an unclear objective and, therefore, an uncertain duration; it utilized only America's military prowess; it failed to involved the U.S. public; and it treated our adversaries as two-dimensional villains rather than the products of a malevolent social system. From the onset Bush's "war" was doomed. It was as if he had decided to attack crab grass by simply mowing it, rather than devoting the time and energy to pulling it out by the roots.

From the onset, Bush's war on terror has been hindered by his mushy definition of terrorist. Bush began his "war" with a deliberately vague description of America's new enemy: a "terrorist" was any group the Administration attached that label to. Democrats must adopt a focused definition: A terrorist organization is Al Qaeda, or any group that adopts Al Qaeda' objectives and advocates attacks on the U.S. mainland or U.S. citizens.

Next, Democrats should point out the obvious: Bush's "war" is not working. It's defused our initial focus on eradicating those who attacked: Al Qaeda. It's squandered our resources, resulted in an enormous deficit. It's created an atmosphere where the inhabitants of the Middle East and Central Asia-the people we are trying to democratize-hate us. It's fostered a geo-political environment where our former allies don't want to work with us.

Democratic leaders should read The Atlantic Monthly article by James Fallows . He reports that in the process of fighting Al Qaeda the U.S. has created an environment where a wide variety of homegrown terrorist groups have flourished-groups similar to those who planned to blow-up trans-Atlantic flights. Fallows suggests that the way to win is to first, take the U.S. out of a state of "war." And, then to reconsider our foreign policy. Republicans aren't going to make either of these changes. It's up to Democrats to come up with a strategy that addresses terrorism, but does not continue Bush's war on terror.

An integral part of a new strategy has to be a plan for Iraq. Democrats need to state the obvious: We should withdraw our troops. However, we also need to enlist the support of the international community to keep Iraq from collapsing in chaos. The Republicans "stay the course" rhetoric will only make the situation in Iraq worse. And, Bush will not gain support from the international community because he's pissed them off.

Democrats should take the position that in dealing with Iraq and the threat of terrorism, in general, America must expand its foreign policy options. The Bush strategy has been to deal with terrorists exclusively by the use of military force. This hasn't worked either in Afghanistan or in Iraq. From the onset of Bush's "war" experts advised that a combined approach was needed; one that utilized diplomacy, intelligence, police action, financial investigation, as well as the military. Bush ignored their advice. Centralized everything under Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld.

Democrats should point out that Bush not only ignored experts warning against over reliance on the military, but also on two other critical issues. The same experts emphasized that in the war on terror the U.S. had to engage in a multilateral effort, enlist the support of the other nations of the world rather than go it alone. Finally, these experts cautioned that in its battle against terrorism America had to remain the "shining light on the hill," a beacon of hope and morality for the other nations of the world. Bush failed on all counts: he embarked on a determinedly unilateral course, bent on establishing the American "Empire." By flaunting international law and attacking domestic civil rights, Bush tarnished the image of America. Turned the envy that most foreigners had for the U.S. into fear. Bush changed America's image from savior to bully.

Finally, Democrats need to tell the truth: Bush's war on terror is not a foreign policy strategy. It's a political one. A carefully conceived, Orwellian strategy to keep Americans paralyzed with fear. To force a Republican-dominated Congress in emergency mode where Administration budgetary, military, and humanitarian abuses are overlooked.

Democrats have a window of opportunity. To take advantage of it, they must go on the offensive: Bush's ill conceived "war" on terror hasn't protected America. It's made us more vulnerable. Republicans aren't "strong" on national security. Their unsound policies have systemically weakened America. It's time for Democrats to step forward with a real alternative.
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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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