Walter Russell Mead’s two recent pieces (in the Wall Street Journal and in the LA Times) argue that the Democrat’s weakness on defense are likely to cost them the next election. Mead suggests in both articles that the Democrats can win by running to the right of Bush on the war. Kennedy, after all, ran on the “missile” gap and outflanked Nixon on the right. Mead notes that historically, the Democrats have been the “war party” — Wilson, FDR, Truman, Johnson all led us into major overseas commitments. But that really is ancient history. Since 1972, with McGovern, the Donks have been peaceniks. Mead correctly points out that Democrat voters in Iowa and New Hampshire have signalled that opposition to the war is not the issue they care about most. This, he suggests, opens the way to a more hawkish stance for a Democrat candidate. He notes, astutely, that the Clintons are already taking this stance.
Some proposals he offers:
For example, Democrats in Congress could introduce a bill to make it harder for immigrants from countries that condone terror to enter the United States. Or one that would make it easier for the families of terror victims to sue, say, European and Middle Eastern banks and other companies that have done business with terrorist organizations. They could announce a strategy for the war on terror that is more comprehensive than anything the Bush administration has offered — and they could attack the administration for lacking a strategy for victory.
Mead omits one that I think could be a winner — a vocal public attack on Saudi Arabia as oppressive, misogynistic, terror-supporting, undemocratic, Islamic fundamentalist, anti-semitic, and the homeland of the 9/11 hijackers. Attacking Bush’s handling of Saudi Arabia could be very popular.
Still, while Mead would like the Democrat party to move back toward the public mainstream on foreign policy, I don’t see it happening until after the primaries are over, and by then it will probably be too late to convince moderate voters in the general election that they are reliable on defense. Still, this is the area where the Democrats are weakest, and you can count on them making some efforts, even bold ones, to catch up with Bush in this area. Nominating General Clark probably won’t do it, since he has come off as a nutcase.
But there is another bold step the Democrats could take to hammer Bush on his foreign policy — nominate Anthony Zinni for VP.