Friday, January 18, 2008

"Blindsiding" the Democrats on Foreign Policy?

Thomas Edsall argued yesterday that the GOP could "blindside" the Democrats on foreign policy in the November election:

While many Democratic strategists are confident that the deteriorating economy virtually assures the victory of their presidential candidate on November 4, there is a quiet debate over whether the party and prospective nominee are likely to get blindsided by Republicans raising issues of terrorism and national security.

Republicans are making no secret of their intentions in the general election.
Edsall follows this introduction with some comments from party insiders on both sides of the divide. He indicates, for example:

Alex Castellanos, Republican media strategist, told the Huffington Post that the continuing concerns of American voters about the dangers of another terrorist attack will be the engine behind a Republican victory in November...
Read the whole thing.

It's likely that Republicans will get the benefit of the doubt on national security this fall. The Democrats have been weak on that issue for decades, and the improvement in Iraq over the last year has lessened some of the demands for withdrawal in the electorate.

But it's not as though the Democrats haven't thought about what they'd do on international policy. Yet, that's pretty much exactly
what Captain Ed argues when discussing the Edsall post:

According to Edsall, the Democrats have high confidence in succeeding on economics in this cycle. They expect the economy to worsen in 2008 and make it easier for them to sell higher taxes and more entitlements to nervous voters. They wonder whether the Republicans will somehow sandbag the election by talking about national security and terrorism instead, a battle for which Democrats are apparently unprepared.

Let's pause a moment and let this sink into the consciousness. More than six years after 9/11, the Democrats still have no comprehensive national security or counterterrorism plan....

They have no preparation for this discussion, and apparently consider it some kind of dirty trick....

Somehow, the Democrats feel that an election that focuses on policy for the government's primary duty works out to an unfair attack. They don't want to engage on that topic, but instead focus on everything else.
While it's true that the Demcrats haven't engaged foreign policy issues as much as they might, it's a stretch to intrepret Edsall's essay this way. Edsall himself indicates a diversity of opinion on the potential for blindsiding:

Opinion on the likely strength of such Republican challenges to the Democratic nominee varies widely.
But more importantly, all of the remaining Democrats in the race have published a major statement of their foreign policy views in Foreign Affairs, our top American foreign policy journal.

Not only that, a look at the candidates websites shows a considerable bit of information on their international positions.

Hillary Clinton's homepage includes links to some of the candidate's major foreign policy addresses, at
the Center for a New American Security, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, and at the Council on Foreign Relations.

The website also posts
the text of a Clinton speech on Iran, which declares that the White House should defer to the Congress for legislative authorization in the face of an Iranian challenge to U.S. national security; the address also calls for opening diplomatic relations with the Iranian regime.

Over at Barack Obama's campaign home page, the candidate boasts an extensive set of links to
proposals on most of the major U.S. foreign policy issues of the day. Further, the site breaks down some broad issues in great detail, like energy and the environment and homeland security (each of which have a major foreign policy component).

John Edwards - who's committed to staying in the Democratic race until the convention - also provides considerable material on his foreign policy at the Edwards campaign website - for example, on "
reengaging the world," "America's moral leadership in fighting global poverty, U.S. leadership on humanitarian intervention in Sudan and Uganda, homeland security, and terrorism.

Further, in a proposal with potentially disastrous implications for U.S. foreign policy, Edwards has called for
an immediate and complete withdrawal of American troops from Iraq.

A look, then, at the websites of the leading candidates for the Democratic nomination reveals a great deal of information on the likely contours of foreign policy under a future Democratic White House.

What can we expect?

All three of the campaigns have committed to bringing the troops home by ending the war in Iraq. Timetables and numbers on residual troop levels vary, of course, but there's a clear unanimity among the candidates in repudiating the Bush adminstration's policy in Iraq. This is no surprise. Since 2006, Democratic foreign policy debate have not been driven by hard-headed calculations of American national interests, but instead by the scarcely veiled anti-Americanism of antiwar organizations and netroots outfits like Daily Kos and

Further, the Democrats are much more likelty to seek accomodation with Iran over its nuclear weapons development program. Barack Obama, in particular, has made provocative statements on Iran,
in effect blaming the Bush administration for Tehran's support of terrorist organizations committed to the destruction of Israel.

The Democrats -
as laid out in the Foreign Affairs essays - tend to place major faith in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, or tend to champion "rebuilding" America's post-WWII alliances, which have allegedly atrophied under the Bush administration's tutelage. Forget that much of these proposals ignore the contemporary reality of robust cooperation with our allies in global health, energy, and security. The gist is that America needs to rein in its overwhelming global power, to allay supposed fears of a hegemonic tyrant astride the world stage. We need to repair our "international standing."

Oil and the environment? Look for a Democrat to revive the Kyoto process, which could damage the U.S. economy while do nothing to rein in the unrestrained growth in country's like China. How about humanitarian intervention? We could see the revival of foreign policy as social work, which sees international intervention acceptable only when national security interests are not at stake.

But most fundamentally, the Democrats advance a radically different view of the ideological and strategic challenges facing the United States.

At a time when some scholars have argued that
militant Islam will not rest until its mission of global supremacy is complete, the Democratic Party continues to mount aggressive opposition to U.S. counterterror policies that have been effective in protecting the country.

In sum, the issue for conservatives is not whether the Democrats have a "comprehensive national security or counterterrorism plan." They do, or at least the major Democratic campaigns have provided advisory memos and think-tank style public policy articles laying out their positions.

The key fact is that Democratic plans - to the extent they are developed thus far - would take the U.S. away from a forward domestic and foreign policy of antiterrorism and strategic primacy, in the intelligence, law enforcement, and military realms.

Conservative bloggers need to be hammering this point, not whether the Democratic retreatists might be "blindsided" by the Republicans in the fall campaign.