On the heels of the GOP's resounding defeat in the mid-term elections came news that only 31 percent of Americans approve of President Bush's handling of Iraq. This will increase pressure on the new Congress to do something about Iraq. Democrats should resist the temptation for quick fixes. They must step back and take a broader view: acknowledge America has lost the war in Iraq and is in danger of losing the "war" on terrorism.
Americans aren't used to defeat. We envision ourselves the number one country and, in many ways, we are. Nonetheless, the premiere military power in the world has failed in Iraq. Moreover, the U.S. has a dysfunctional national security policy that's not proving effective at curtailing terrorism.
Recently, there's been a wave of books about the failure of the Iraqi occupation. They range from Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor's authoritative Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq to Bob Woodward's tell-all State of Denial. Beyond the technical details-not enough troops were sent to handle the occupation, the military chain-of-command failed to recognize the rise of the Iraqi insurgency-these books paint an appalling picture of White House leadership. Of course, no one who studied the career of George Bush should be surprised that he was ill prepared to serve as commander-in-chief. Nor that Dick Cheney was poorly equipped to be Bush's second-in-command. But, what's disturbing is how weak their team has been: Apparently, Colin Powell had no influence on Bush and Cheney. It's said that Condoleezza Rice is completely out of her league; totally unprepared for the terrorist threat and the resulting turmoil in the Middle East. And, Donald Rumsfeld, supposedly the most seasoned member of Bush's team, became increasingly dysfunctional: turned into an egotistical martinet who wouldn't hear criticism and, therefore, neutered the Joint Chiefs of Staff and surrounded himself with sycophants.
The disturbing truth is that America is stuck with this failed leadership for two more years. This has ominous consequences: the war in Iraq will probably drag on. Get worse. Meanwhile, Al Qaeda is making a comeback in Afghanistan and the Iraq war is fueling terrorism in the Middle East.
This grim reality provides the context for the 110th Congress: A failed Administration, a lost war, and an increasingly dangerous world. Thus, Democrats have two huge challenges: First, they must propose a new strategy for combating global terrorism. Then, they have to find a way to move their plan forward in the face of Bush's unwillingness to consider anything but "staying the course" in Iraq and his national security policy.
On March 29th, Democratic leaders unveiled their own national security strategy, 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. We can expect the Democratic majority to pass legislation mandating some of these changes.
New Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, promises to focus on Homeland Security from the beginning hours of the 110th Congress. The Democrats' 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, and which Pelosi plans to address in "the first 100 hours" of the new Congress. A vital component is 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."
Nonetheless, many of the failures of the Bush Administration will be difficult to address from Capital Hill. This dilemma is dramatically apparent in the matter of WMDs. Real Security promised that Democrats will "Secure by 2010 loose nuclear materials that terrorists could use to build nuclear weapons or "dirty bombs." MIT Professor Stephen Van Evera noted, "Amazingly, in the two years after 9/11 no more loose nuclear weapons and materials were secured than in the two years prior ... This policy lapse is among the worst failures of government in modern times." Unfortunately, can't force the Bush Administration to address the WMD problem.
The new Congress will be able to address some of the Administration's national security failures. And, Democratic Leaders will have improved access to the bully pulpit. Realistically, these changes are unlikely to move the President from his dysfunctional policies towards Iraq and national security.
What Democrats must do is begin the 2008 Presidential campaign in January of 2007. Candidates such as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton should challenge the President on National Security and tie these failures to the GOP. Begin a national debate on the failures of a Republican Administration.
Bush has lost the war in Iraq. That doesn't mean we have to lose the "war" on terrorism.