Having announced several months ago that they would make national security the pivotal issue of the 2006 Congressional election, Republican strategists are now having trouble getting the Administration’s talking points straight. With Iraq dragging down the President’s poll numbers and with Hezbollah winning the public relations war in the Middle East, Republican pundits and officials like Dick Cheney and RNC chairman Ken Mehlman have seized on London’s recent arrest of twenty-three British citizens who were allegedly planning to blow up planes across the Atlantic. But the news that law enforcement stopped a terrorist plot and that young British Muslims have been radicalized by British and American policies does not make for natural GOP talking points. Many of the Republican spokespeople playing up the arrests are the same ones who ridiculed John Kerry just two years ago for saying the fight against terrorism should be primarily a matter of law enforcement and intelligence gathering. Law enforcement, we were told, was for wimps. Real men took the “war on terror” to the terrorists themselves.
In fact, one of the more popular Republican mantras has been that “we are fighting them over there so we don’t have to fight them here.” Thus Iraq was said to be the central front in the war on terror. But there is increasing evidence, backed up by British and US intelligence studies, that the war has not only been a training ground for terrorist fighters in the region but has greatly increased the number of would-be terrorists in places like Britain.
Yes, by all means, let us debate national security, and whether Bush Administration policies have made us more secure. In his latest press conference, Bush insisted that it would be a “huge mistake” to leave Iraq. But Bush and those Republicans who continue to support the war–along with Joe Lieberman, now running as an independent–have a lot to account for: 2,600 Americans killed, more than 18,000 wounded, upwards of $1 trillion in direct and indirect costs, untold Iraqi civilian deaths, the unprecedented loss of US power and influence in the region, the diversion and exhaustion of US military capabilities and the elevation of Iran as a regional power. As a result, US forces are now trapped in the middle of a civil war, the target of both Sunni insurgents and Shiite militias, trying to protect a government loosely aligned with Iran and openly sympathetic to Hezbollah.
The Bush Administration (and, unfortunately, too much of the Democratic opposition) also has much to account for with regard to its unconditional support of Israel’s iron-fist policy toward the Palestinians and Lebanon. The road to peace and democracy in the Middle East, we were told, ran through Baghdad. Once the regime of Saddam Hussein was eliminated and democracy established in Iraq, the Palestinians would have no choice but to accept Israel’s preferred solution to Palestine.Yet Israel’s effort to impose its solution was met not with Palestinian compliance but with the election of Hamas and even more resistance. The escalating violence has been the predictable result of the Israeli and US policy of seeking to prevent Hamas from governing.
As a result of Israel’s barbaric bombing of Lebanon, Israel and the United States are now more hated and despised than ever in the Arab world. America’s moderate Arab allies are on the defensive, worried about the increase in Iranian influence, on the one hand, and the growing discontent of their own populations, on the other. Islamist groups are on the rise in much of the region. And, given the Administration’s seeming determination to escalate its war against what it calls Islamo-fascism, the prospects for even greater furies, including a showdown over Iran’s nuclear program, are on the horizon.
A more sensible course than the Administration’s ever-escalating war on terror would be a serious diplomatic effort to address the legitimate grievances of the Islamic world, beginning with the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the US occupation of Iraq, combined with an effort to expand law enforcement and intelligence cooperation with other countries. By denying Islamic extremists the imperial enemy they need to succeed, we can help local reformers gain the upper hand in the struggle to define the future of the Middle East. In light of the Administration’s colossally destructive pattern of failure, let us indeed debate national security–not to score political points but with the goal of finding a way out of the violence and hatred that threaten to engulf the region and with it American security for decades to come.