Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bayh asserts security credentials

Bayh asserts security credentials

For Howey Political Report Sept. 14, 2006

Evan Bayh has been working overtime to assert his national security credentials. In the week since the end of the Senate's summer recess he has made repeated calls for Congress and the president to make changes in the prosecution of the war on terror.

On Monday, five years after the national tragedy of Sept. 11, 2001, President Bush told the American people that the war against terrorists "is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century, and the calling of our generation."

The safety of America, he said, "depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad."

According to Sen. Bayh, the administration's policies - and the president's leadership - are insufficient to meet these challenges. In the past seven days he has:

• Criticized Senate leadership for their inability to pass an intelligence authorization bill for the second year in a row;

• Blasted Congress for failing to implement all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations;

• Lamented "the bureaucratic and dysfunctional nature of Washington" in announcing he had successfully inserted an amendment into defense appropriations legislation to fully fund a previously ignored and then delayed U.S. Special Operations Command request for Predator unmanned aerial vehicles;

• Joined with Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to request at least one hearing on the state of U.S. human intelligence collections on Iran before the end of the month in light of "the intelligence failures in Iraq."

On the day after the events of 9-11, Sen. Bayh issued a statement resolving "to make those who have perpetrated this terrible act pay for their crimes." Like nearly all Americans, he abandoned politics and partisanship to support the president in developing an appropriate response to the terrorist attacks.

"There's a strong bipartisan atmosphere here in Washington the likes of which I have not seen before," he said after President Bush's speech of Sept. 20, 2001. "It is unfortunate that it took tragedy to bring it about, but today, there are no Democrats or Republicans in Washington, only Americans. We are going to work with our President to make sure that we protect our country, punish those who committed this crime, and do whatever it takes to make sure this never happens again."

Yet partisanship was clearly back in vogue as early as July 2002, when Bayh presided as chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council that rapped "a confused and compromised Bush administration and a hapless, interest-group-driven GOP."

An article in the July 29, 2002, issue of the DLC magazine, The Blueprint, stated "The administration's one great success in the fight against terrorism, the military campaign against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, is beginning to look like an exception to a general rule of uncertainty and drift."

Bayh's unease with the administration's policies did not prevent him from supporting the invasion of Iraq in a resolution tendered a few months later. He joined 76 other senators, including most Democrats, in voting to authorize the attack. News reports of the time indicate Bayh teamed with Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) in "leading a bipartisan effort to give the president the authorization he has asked for." (Kwame Holman, PBS News Hour)

"I am pleased to join with my colleagues today on a bipartisan basis to authorize the President of the United States to use appropriate force to defend the national security interests of our country," Bayh said in a speech offered Oct. 2, 2002, when Resolution 46 was submitted (Iraq Watch). "I join in this effort with a sense of regret that events have come to this. No one can contemplate the use of military force with much satisfaction, but I also approach this debate with the firm conviction that the time has come to unite, to take those steps that are necessary to protect our country, including the use of force, because all other avenues have been exhausted and seem unlikely to lead to the result of protecting the American people."

By May 2004 Bayh was clearly dissatisfied with the administration's "conduct of our Iraqi policy." During an appearance by Donald Rumsfeld before the Armed Services Committee prompted in part by the Iraqi prison scandal, Bayh asked the secretary of defense point-blank:

"Would it serve to demonstrate how seriously we take this situation, and therefore help to undo some of the damage to our reputation, if you were to step down?" Bayh asked Rumsfeld.

"That's possible," Rumsfeld said.

At the time Indiana's former governor said he didn't really expect Rumsfeld to quit. "[T]here are broader questions here about the conduct of our Iraqi policy," he said on an appearance with Fox News Sunday, "and that all goes to the Oval Office. So, I don't think Donald Rumsfeld ought to be made a scapegoat for that."

In August 2004 the president told the New York Times he had made "a miscalculation of what the conditions would be" in post-war Iraq. By September the death toll of U.S. soldiers topped 1,000. In October, Paul Bremer, who had been Bush's civilian administrator in Iraq, said the U.S. "paid a big price" for not having enough troops on the ground after overthrowing Saddam (CNN). Also that month, a CIA report concluded "Hussein did not possess stockpiles of illicit weapons at the time of the U.S. invasion in March 2003 and had not begun any program to produce them," CNN reported.

By December, apparently, the junior senator had had enough. During a lengthy appearance on CNN's Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, Sen. Bayh called on the secretary to resign. Here is an excerpt from the show's transcript:

BAYH: ...And when you see [then White House Chief of Staff] Andy Card say, "Hey, everything has been great, there have been no mistakes, we don't have to correct anything," you have to wonder what's going on. Look, it's better that wisdom come late than not at all. And we have to learn from these mistakes so that we do better to minimize the number of casualties to win this thing so that we can ultimately come home.

And it's the lack of any introspection that I find to be very troubling.

BLITZER: But I want to just press you on this point. You're a moderate Democrat, well-known.

Do you think he should resign?

BAYH: Well, reluctantly, Wolf, I've concluded that we have to have a different perspective. The commander in chief will be in place for the next four years, so that doesn't leave us many alternatives.

BLITZER: So you want Rumsfeld out?

BAYH: Well, I think that that is the way to go.

But if we don't have different policies, frankly, it will just be a game of musical chairs. What is important here is that we have better policies so that we can be successful in these things.

By February 2006, Evan Bayh was ready to recant his vote on the resolution supporting the invasion of Iraq (see HPR, April 13). After stating he would have made a different decision based on the facts now known, Bayh added, " is legitimate to ask what people have learned, how we would do things different, those kinds of things," Bayh told the Washington Post. "We've got to stop just obsessing on decisions that were made several years ago, and instead focus on where we are, and most importantly, where we're going, and how most effectively to resolve this in a way that is in the national security interest of the United States. That really is the main issue."

Bayh had already assailed Iran as "a grave and growing danger" to U.S. security interests and introduced a resolution calling for economic and cultural sanctions. He did not shy from continuing to push his party to adopt a national security policy that he described as "tough and smart."

"If people don't trust us with our lives, they're unlikely to trust us with anything else," Bayh often told Democrats during his travels through 22 states in the past year. He also slammed Republicans for being "a lot better at national security politics than national security policy."

President Bush and Karl Rove "have undermined our security," Bayh said during a speech two months ago. "Iraq is the foremost example. They have turned it into a tragic, tragic, mess. Democrats can do better."

On Aug. 9, Evan Bayh, once considered among the staunchest Democratic supporters for the war, told an audience at Indiana University South Bend that he supported a flexible timeline for withdrawal from Iraq, according to South Bend Tribune political writer James Wensits.

Bayh said "There's got to be a timeline for progress" that can be flexible "but you have to have a timeline or there's no end to it," Wentsits wrote, also noting the senator suggested the convening of a summit similar to that held in Dayton, Ohio, when the Balkans were breaking up.

Last week Bayh invited reporters to join him in a conference call to discuss the failure by Congress to implement all of the 9-11 Commission's recommendations.

"It is still a dangerous world," he said. "The plot to blow up airliners and kill thousands of people this summer reminds us that there [are] still people who plan to attack our country and kill Americans. We can't let that happen. Not enough is being done to prevent that. The bipartisan commission that studied the causes that led to the 9-11 attack made 41 recommendations. There was a review just recently about how we had done in implementing those recommendations. The report concluded four "F"s, nine "D"s and no "A"s. That's not acceptable. We have to do better."

Several Indiana news outlets have covered Bayh's latest statements. The national media have yet to notice, however. Type "evan bayh" and "national security" into the Google News search engine and the results number about 90 hits for the last month: type in Hillary Clinton and the number is 390; for John Kerry, it's 940.

Sen. Bayh will have an opportunity to improve those numbers over the next few days. Tomorrow he headlines the Iowa United Auto Workers political convention (Indianapolis Star). On Monday he will be in New York to host a fundraiser for Gov. John Lynch (D-N.H.) and gubernatorial candidate Chet Culver (D-Iowa). Former Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke will offer a briefing on foreign policy, according to Bayh's press secretary Meghan Keck. And, in his fifth visit to the Granite State since the 2004 presidential election, Bayh is to be the special guest at the Manchester, N.H., City Democrats' "Countdown to Victory Dinner" on Sept. 24 (

The effort by both parties to shape the message on national security before mid-term elections presents an opportunity for Evan Bayh. Actually, it presents a double opportunity: He has the occasion to further assert his credentials in the area of defense while at the same time demonstrating the leadership critics say he lacks - the sort that inspires as much as it impresses. Should Bayh assume such a challenge and succeed, maybe then his ideas will receive the favorable attention the senator will need if he ever hopes to secure a spot on the ballot in the 2008 presidential election.


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