Thursday, August 31, 2006

GOP focus on national security could help Bayh

GOP focus on national security could help Bayh

For Howey Political Report Aug. 31, 2006

He may be on vacation through the end of this week, but the coming days will be crucial if Evan Bayh intends to convince voters he can be "tough and smart" on national security issues.

Less than two weeks before the fifth anniversary of 9/11, President Bush will address the American Legion today in an effort to strengthen support for the Iraq war amid calls from some Democrats and even some Republicans for a timetable to withdraw.

"While most eyes have been focused on the still-recovering Gulf Coast during the first half of this week, the Bush Administration has been dispatching some of its biggest names in national security to test September 11 anniversary messages," according to an item in yesterday's MSNBC political blog, First Read.

The barrage began on Tuesday when Vice President Cheney told a Republican audience in Nebraska some Democratic leaders want to weaken the tools the administration uses to identify and track terrorists while others would "give up the fight (and) retreat" from Iraq, according to the Lincoln Journal-Star. Cheney called on voters in this year's national congressional elections to "reject resignation and defeatism."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was more blunt when he said the war's critics "seem not to have learned history's lessons" and suggested some are attempting to appease "a new type of fascism." "Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased?" he said (Associated Press). Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice offered a speech at the American Legion convention warning of severe consequences if the U.S. leaves Iraq before the mission is finished.

Tracey Schmitt, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Committee, told AP's Devlin Barrett the Democratic candidates' strategy is to criticize Republican efforts to win the war on terror, while elected Democrats are "committed to a strategy that will weaken our ability to defend America and make us less safe at home and abroad."

Democrats expressed outrage at such comments. "All we get is rhetoric and no solutions," Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said in a conference call with reporters (Army Times).

Such talk points to a difficult and potentially divisive run-up to the November mid-terms, but it also creates problems for many politicians from both parties considered potential candidates for the White House in 2008, especially a moderate like Evan Bayh.

Bayh supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. A steadfast supporter of Israel and author of a resolution calling for sanctions on Iran, Indiana's former governor is considered one of the most hawkish Democrats in the U.S. Senate. In the past year he has spearheaded a party effort to assure Americans that Democrats will protect the national interests, often noting in speeches "if they don't trust us with their lives, they're not going to trust us with anything else."

While he has been quick to criticize the administration's handling of the war, calling for Rumsfeld's resignation in December of 2004, he also slams Democrats for failing to convincingly confront the issue of national security.

"Too often, members of our party...try and change the subject when the subject of national security comes up," Bayh said at a May news conference where he endorsed a progressive strategy for defeating jihadism. "They kind of - there's almost a - almost a perceptible cringe in some ways. They know we have some ground to make up, but we can't do that. Neither events nor the other party will allow that."

"[W]e need parties and leaders who are prepared and capable of dealing with it, not a world as we wish it is - as we wish it was, even though we work toward that objective - but a world as it is that regrettably has evil people in it who wish us ill, and we have to be prepared to do - to deal with that."

Bayh endorses a plan put forth by the Progressive Policy Institute in a book entitled "With All Our Might." The institute is a Washington, D.C., based research group that believes "America is ill-served by an obsolete left-right debate that is out of step with the powerful forces re-shaping our society and economy."

Editor Will Marshall and contributor Jeremy Rosner explain, "Progressive internationalism stresses the responsibilities that come with our enormous power: to use force with restraint but not to hesitate to use it when necessary; to show what the Declaration of Independence called 'a decent respect for the opinions of mankind'; to exercise leadership primarily through persuasion rather than coercion; to reduce human suffering where we can, and to bolster alliances and global institutions committed to upholding an increasingly democratic world order."

Over more than 200 pages, the authors lay out the details of a five-part plan "to combat the sources and consequences of jihadist terrorism":

• "marshal all of America's manifold strengths, starting with our military power but going well beyond it"
• "rebuild America's alliances"
• "champion liberal democracy in deed"
• "renew U.S. leadership in the international economy and rise to the challenge of global competition"
• "summon from the American people a new spirit of national unity and shared sacrifice"

Bayh briefly described his own strategy for defeating the terror threat during the May news conference to promote the book's release.

"[M]y a strategy of greater meet this threat; not sitting back in a defensive crouch and waiting for them to come and attack us, but instead, reaching out to embrace our allies and to try and increase our intelligence capability so that we can better identify who is out to harm us and how they intend to go about that, so we can strike them before it's too late. Working with other countries to dry up the financial sources of terrorist funding is vitally important these days. Having the military capability to fight the insurgents, to dry up the failed states, the collapsed places around the world where terrorists can foment their attacks, having those kinds of forces rather than the forces configured to fight a land war on the Northern European plain, which we still spend too much of our resources on to this day."

Time and again Bayh also has said the nation's ultimate security depends on strengthening the country's financial position and ending our dependence on foreign oil.

Staking out these positions has left Bayh vulnerable to attacks from the anti-war wing of the Democratic Party recently responsible for the primary defeat of Sen. Joe Lieberman. Unlike the Connecticut Democrat, Evan Bayh has recanted his support of the invasion.

"I did what I thought was right at the time based on the facts as I understood them at the time," Bayh told the Washington Post Insider in February of this year (see HPR, April 13). "It turned out some of those facts weren't accurate, so of course you'd make different decisions."

By focusing voter attention on the war and national security, the Bush Administration's current public relations blitz creates both opportunity and challenge for the junior senator from Indiana. Democrats must respond to Republican efforts to shape the message on national security. Bayh's success or failure to claim a stake in the fight will indicate the viability of his attempt to win election to the highest office in the land.


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