Democrats Must Abandon the War on Terror
by Chris Bowers, Thu Dec 30, 2004 at 11:01:38 AM EST
The war on terrorism, launched in Afghanistan shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, has degenerated into a manhunt for top al-Qaida leaders, including Osama bin Laden, Graham said. Meanwhile, "we have allowed the basic structure of al-Qaida to continue. . . . We're also finding that al-Qaida has a deep farm team and they're able to replace those who are killed or detained."
Graham said he would have continued to pursue the war on terrorism in Afghanistan and Pakistan and moved into other countries, such as Yemen. He said al-Qaida has a presence in 30 to 40 countries, including the United States, but the extent of that presence is classified.
Graham, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, said his criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war on terrorism is not politically motivated and noted that he made similar comments last fall before becoming a candidate.John Judis, July 11, 2003:Dean's opposition to the war in Iraq may help him in the primary -- and has certainly helped make him a credible candidate -- but it is likely to hurt him against Bush. Even if the United States remains bogged down in Iraq, and even if popular doubts about the invasion and occupation grow, Americans are still likely to credit Bush with trying to wage a vigorous war against terror. And they will consider voting for a Democratic candidate only if they believe he can do likewise.Democratic debate, September 25th, 2003: Q: As president, what would be the least popular, most right thing you would do?
LIEBERMAN: I'm going to prosecute the war against terrorism and win it even if it's unpopular because that's here our future security rests.Progressive Policy Institute, October 30, 2003: Too many on the left seem incapable of taking America's side in international disputes, reflexively oppose the use of force, and begrudge the resources required to keep our military strong. Viewing multilateralism as an end in itself, they lose sight of goals, such as fighting terrorism or ending gross human rights abuses, which sometimes require us to act -- if need be outside a sometimes ineffectual United Nations. And too many adopt an anti-globalization posture that would not only erode our own prosperity but also consign billions of the world's neediest people to grinding poverty. However troubling the Bush record, the pacifist and protectionist left offers no credible alternative.Wesley Clark, March 17, 2004: And I was one of those who said that the attack on Iraq was a mistake because it was a distraction from the war on terror. Now, we are still waiting to see exactly all the levels of proof that will come out of this attack on Spain. But if we operate on the assumption that this is an offshoot of al Qaeda, then you have to ask yourself, well, what's the lesson here on this? And the lesson seems to me what we have been saying all along. The military is but one part in the campaign on terror.
You cannot win the war on terror with special ops, Delta Force and stealth bombers alone.Lieberman, June 16, 2004: Thank you to the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies for sponsoring this important symposium on the future of Iraq and the war on terrorism. Through gatherings such as this one, the Foundation is helping "lead the war of ideas in the battle between freedom and totalitarianism."
Today I want to discuss the war we are waging against Islamic terrorists in Iraq and around the world, and to argue that it is fundamentally a war of ideas and a war of values, a war of conflicting visions of humans and history, of faith and country. The war on terrorism we are fighting goes to the very heart of America's national purpose and national security. Our core principles of freedom and opportunity are at stake.Kerry Campaign Press Release, September 24, 2004: Kerry Pledges to Fight a More Effective War on Terror. Backdrop to speech:
When liberals talk about America's new era, the discussion is largely negative--against the Iraq war, against restrictions on civil liberties, against America's worsening reputation in the world. In sharp contrast to the first years of the cold war, post-September 11 liberalism has produced leaders and institutions--most notably Michael Moore and MoveOn--that do not put the struggle against America's new totalitarian foe at the center of their hopes for a better world. As a result, the Democratic Party boasts a fairly hawkish foreign policy establishment and a cadre of politicians and strategists eager to look tough. But, below this small elite sits a Wallacite grassroots that views America's new struggle as a distraction, if not a mirage. Two elections, and two defeats, into the September 11 era, American liberalism still has not had its meeting at the Willard Hotel. And the hour is getting late.Ed Kilgore, December 29th, 2004 Now that we are past the "first-post-9/11" presidential election, and the original decision to invade Iraq is becoming less relevant to the present situation, are Democrats over the worst of their national security handicap? Can they unite around a credible and distinct message and agenda that convinces a majority of Americans they can be trusted to defend the country decisively, but more intelligently than the bellicose and unilateralist GOP?
There are real grounds for optimism here. At the level of policy elites, there's not a lot of disagreement among Democratic foreign policy thinkers about the road forward for America, even if there remain disagreements about the road that led us to Baghdad. Early this year, the DLC's think tank, the Progressive Policy Institute, helped put together a manifesto entitled Progressive Internationalism that presented a tough, smart, clear foreign policy strategy for the country that was highly critical of Bush without succumbing to defeatism in the war on terror or ignoring the real differences that will continue to cause problems between the U.S., our traditional allies, and multilateral organizations. A very broad array of Democratic foreign policy gurus signed onto this document. It's probably a good first draft for Democratic unity on international issues going into the next election cycle.We claim that Bush is not effectively fighting the war on terror. We attempt to redefine the war on terror. Sometimes, we argue that we are not taking the war on terror seriously enough. However, this all misses the main problem we, as Democrats and liberals have with the "war on terror." The problem goes something like this:
- The War on Terror is a conservative frame. It is a phrase that was invented by Bush speechwriters after 9/11 for the sole purpose of casting the upcoming shift in foreign policy in terms that would evoke the conservative worldview in both the majority of the nation and the majority of electorate.
- The War on Terror evokes specific conservative ideas that include, but are not limited to, all of the following: the need for continuing escalation of the size and influence of the military industrial complex; a simplistic conceptualization of identity revolving primarily around the notion of a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West; a view that threats can only be countered and tamed through the use of force; justification of any United States military action overseas, whether unilateral or pre-emptive.
- When Democrats and liberals argue that Bush is not properly conducting the war on terror, they end up supporting that frame and all of the ideas it evokes. When Democrats and liberal hawks urge their candidates and fellow party members to take the war on terror more seriously, they end up reinforcing that frame in the mind of the nation and electorate and all of the conservative ideas it carries with it. When Democrats and liberals argue that there is ore to the war on terrorism than military actions they end of enhancing the power of the "war on terror" frame in the mind of the nation and the electorate and all of the conservative ideas the frame itself reinforces.
- That so many Democrats are not only willing, but also chomping at the bit to go along with the conservative frame of the "war on terror," is the main reason why Bush won in 2004. By repeatedly and unquestioningly reinforcing the "war on terror" frame, we aided conservatives in their goal of pushing the country decidedly into the conservative camp when it came to foreign policy. That we continue to claim that Bush is losing the war on terror, that conservatives do not understand the war on terror, or that we do not take the war on terror seriously only serves to worsen the problem. By using the frame "war on terror," we continue to reinforce the conservative ideas I listed above in the minds of the electorate and then wonder why the country keeps voting for conservatives.
I'd like to make this point for the zillionth time: we can never, ever, ever beat or even come close to Republicans on the "war on terror," because the "war on terror" is an inherently conservative frame. Nominating a General will not help. Arguing for the immediate invasion of seven new countries will not help. As long as we are living in an age of two ideological coalitions, there is nothing that we can ever do that will make us appear more capable of fighting the "war on terror" to the national electorate than the conservative coalition currently appears. Our only path to victory over Republicans and conservatives in the "war on terror" is, for the love of God, to stop using the conservative frame "war on terror" and work to end the dominance the frame currently holds over our national appraisal of foreign policy.
I have argued that in order for liberals to make a compelling "national security" case, we need to do so on our own terms, rather than on conservative terms. Of course, sock puppets like From and Reed make this argument as well, but then go on an use the phrase "war on terror" four times in the next sentence. However, there are cases where liberals and progressives support international intervention and conservatives generally do not, such as preventing genocide and annexation (if you have any doubts as to what conservatives think of using the armed forces to stop genocide, go back and read the roll call on the Senate vote to authorize air strikes in Kosovo). Liberals also have a philosophy for dealing with "rogue nations" known as "containment." Further, liberals and progressives are inherently anti-totalitarian, and thus not only support the vigorous prosecution of war criminals, but also favor the support of democratic groups that work to overthrow totalitarian regimes from within. Still further, liberals have long believed in the power of humanitarian and economic aid to help people's lives and turn them away from paths of violence and authoritarianism, as demonstrated in programs such as the Peace Corps and our current position on tsunami relief.
These are the liberals and progressive views on foreign policy, and these are the ideas we need to evoke in the mind of the electorate. We will never win on these issues either by going along with the current, dominant conservative frame "war on terror," or by engaging in various contortions in an attempt to redefine what the "war on terror" means. We can only win by developing a compelling frame that evokes our ideas in the mind of the electorate, and by having that frame become dominant over the "war on terror." If we instead continue to provide linguistic support to conservative ideology, we will continue to lose as long as foreign policy remains fore grounded within the national ideological debate. As long as we are fighting a "war on terror," conservatives have already won and elections are practically foregone conclusions. We must abandon the "war on terror" immediately. That is something the Kerry's, Beinart's, Dean's, From's and Moore's of the American left all need to learn, and learn fast.