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Monday, January 23, 2006

Confronting Karl Rove

This past Friday night, the man sometimes known as "Bush's brain," Karl Rove, delivered a widely covered political speech before the Republican National Convention. In the address, Rove argued that his party should continue to make national security a partisan issue in forthcoming debates and elections.

I saw this bit on TV earlier this morning:
At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview - and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.
Democrats need to confront Rove directly.

Want to know what I'd do as a Democratic strategist or speechwriter in 2006? I'd take Rove's words and reverse "Republicans" and "Democrats" and replace "9/11" with "Iraq." Try this on for size:
At the core, we are dealing with two parties that have fundamentally different views on national security. Democrats have a post-Iraq worldview - and many Republicans have a pre-Iraq worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic, not at all. But it does make them wrong - deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong.
I'd continue:
In Iraq, Republicans used America's tremendous military power to provoke terrorists and create al Qaeda outposts where they did not exist before.

They also pulled important security assets out of Afghanistan before the hunt for al Qaeda, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden was finished. As a result, even today, the future of Afghanistan is uncertain and the main perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks on America remain at large.

Worse, even after learning that Iraq under Saddam Hussein had neither weapons of mass destruction programs nor operational ties to Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush and the other Republicans who control Washington boldly declare that would still make war on Iraq if forced to decide again. They would again choose to make Afghanistan and al Qaeda a lower foreign policy priority than Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

Before the war, Republicans in power in Washington ignored the caution urged by some of America's strongest political allies and they ignored the analysts and policy advisors who were telling them about the likely weakness of the Iraq WMD intelligence data. The President observed millions of people protesting against war in February 2003 and dismissed them as an irrelevant "focus group." Now, Bush and the other Republicans in power ignore the adverse effects of the Iraq war on America's national security.

Promoting liberty in the Arab and Muslim worlds is a tremendous political goal, but there is absolutely no evidence suggesting that the best way to do this is at the point of American bayonets. The far more threatening Soviet Union and its Eastern European empire were brought down by vigilant containment -- not war. South Africa's brutally racist apartheid regime too was ended by the worldwide application of sanction and disapproval -- not war.

If it wants to democratize the Middle East while also fighting a "war on terror," America should be applying the lessons of the bloodless "velvet Revolution," and uneager to repeat the mistakes that lead to the violent insurgency in Iraq. The elections there have been somewhat helpful and promising, but America has lost more than 2200 lives, spent over $200 billion, and has seen its armed forces bogged down in an internal insurgency that even America's military leaders say promises to go on for many, many years.

Iraq was not a "central front" in the war on terror until the Bush administration threw a dart at the Middle East and decided to invade a country that did not pose a significant security threat to American interests. Had that dart landed on Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or Egypt, a similar nationalist insurgency would have been created with bloody consequences. Note, however, that the connections to al Qaeda and anti-American terrorism are stronger in every one of these states than they were in pre-war Iraq.

America must be vigilant about the threat from terrorism and nuclear weapons proliferation, but it must also be smart. It must not worsen its security situation by undertaking wasteful and deadly wars against tin horn dictators.

Few states in the Arab or Muslim world are free and democratic and America has a long-term interest in promoting its values in that part of the world. However, the "war on terror" is a separate objective altogether. In fact, the raw data reveal that most victims and perpetrators of terrorism are citizens of democracies.

Obviously, that is not a strong argument against democratization. However, it does demonstrate that the Republicans in Washington misunderstand the threat from terrorism. As the former CIA al Qaida specialist Michael Scheur has repeatedly argued, and many studies demonstrate, terrorists do not hate America because of its freedoms. Terrorists attack America and Americans because they disagree with specific aspects of US foreign policy.

We should not therefore give in to the terrorists, but it makes no sense to create yet another reason for the Arab and Muslim worlds to hate America. And make no mistake about it, the Iraq war is extremely unpopular in the Arab and Muslim world. We may claim to be offering them liberty, but the great mass of people in the Arab and Muslim world see the war as just another western occupation of their land that should be resisted.

The US has never apologized to anyone for invading Iraq under what now amounts to false pretenses. While many other states around the world agreed that Saddam Hussein was a horrible leader who certainly behaved as if he had something to hide, few states agreed that it was a good idea to topple his regime.

Even the top-level Republicans who served in the political administration of George H.W. Bush understood why the war was a risky and bad idea. Their early '90s warnings now seem quite prescient: Bush Sr. feared creating "an unwinnable urban guerilla war." Colin Powell thought that such a war would pose an "unpardonable expense in terms of money, lives lost and ruined regional relationships." Dick Cheney thought "we would have been bogged down there for a very long period of time with the real possibility we might not have succeeded."

These former leaders were right at the time and it is not at all clear why the situation in Iraq merited a new view. Former Bush Sr. National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft made these sorts of arguments again in the op-ed page of the Wall Street Journal in August 2002, but no one listened to him.

What American cannot abide, however, is the failure to learn from this horribly costly foreign policy mistake. In the three and a half years since Republicans in Washington decided to invake Iraq, they are yet to learn the important lessons of that conflict. They continue to say they'd make the same choice again.

With Iran on the international agenda, and problem-states like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia still to be addressed, Americans must not give the Republicans another chance to repeat the mistakes of Iraq.
Typical of Rove, he addressed the issue of Iraq by trying to take this strong potential issue for Democrats and turn it against them. He tried to link Democrats to the "cut and run" strategy of "immediate stand down of U.S. troops in Iraq and withdrawal by the end of April."

Democrats must not let Republicans get away with this in 2006. Moreover, they must turn this political issue into a winning campaign point so as to assume the reigns of power and put American foreign policy back on a better course.

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