So here's the question for the day: Are we at war? It's important to me, since I'm spending a bunch of time digging into the Democratic field and trying to see if I can support one of them, and if so, who. Today, I had two 'blips' that made me pose this question. A column in the LA Times Opinion section, by one of their military correspondents, and something in our Technorati listing (note the new UI, and that it seems to work consistently now!). Phaedrus (cool pseudonym, BTW) writes:
Truth is, there isn't enough real risk to even be asking the question. Truth is, the Bushies are deliberately exaggerating the risk as a means of manipulating the people. They're psychological terrorists their own damn selves. If right wingers would stop acting like incredibly cowardly wimps, we could get back to trying to act like a democratic nation. I don't have much hope.
In the Times, William Arkin criticizes the Democrats from the left:
From none of the candidates have we heard anything approaching a strikingly new vision of how the United States should think about national security in a post-Cold War era marked by terrorism. And that's not because no such vision is conceivable. Rather, it's because the major Democrats ... like a herd of dairy cows trundling across a pasture ... have unthinkingly fallen in behind the tinkling bell of establishment assumptions about the world and how the United States should deal with it. ... With so little argument on the broad principles, it's no wonder Bush feels he owns the national security debate, especially at a time when America is "at war." And to me, that is precisely where the Democratic candidates for president, including Dean, have failed: They have not challenged the central premise of the Bush doctrine on national security — the endlessly repeated assertion that the United States is "at war." Initially, the "war on terrorism" was a figure of speech — like the "war on poverty" and the "war on drugs." To the extent that the "war on terrorism" has become more than that, it's because the Bush administration has elected to initiate military action in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and other countries of Southeast Asia, the Horn of Africa, the Caucasus and elsewhere. If the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon can be likened to Pearl Harbor, there has been nothing to match the subsequent wholesale advances of Japanese forces across Asia. And there has been no mobilization of American society — except for how the Bush administration allowed Al Qaeda's puny army to keep the American public spooked and worried about the future.Wow. Pretty strong words. The suggestion, as I understand it, is that the conflict we find ourselves in is a creature of our own making - that we're sending troops to battle the phantoms of our own fears. He's suggesting two theses with which I disagree pretty strongly: First, that 'Al Quieda's puny army' posed no real threat to us; and second, following from the first, that our military actions abroad are starting a war where there was none before.
But Americans need to seriously consider whether the long-term threat to our civil liberties is justified by the protections we may (or may not) be afforded against terrorist attacks. Reasonable people could argue for different strategies. There are alternatives that might be equally effective in reducing threats but less alarming to the public, less divisive among our allies, less go-it-alone, less in-your-face. Subtler strategies are possible. Borrowing a page from stealth technology, for instance, the United States could lower its profile as a target even as it strikes at the heart of specific terrorist groups. There's nothing soft or dovish about the punch of a Stealth B-2 bomber; it's just harder to strike back at.Well, we probably agree that the Homeland security steps taken by this administration (and largely planned in the last Congress) do more to limit our civil liberties than they do to limit our exposure to centrally-planned, large scale terrorism. His last notion, that somehow America can "lower it's profile" in a world where its existence is seen as a triumph of mercantilist colonialism is kind of a challenge, and calls out for elaboration. I'll assume that we embrace Kyoto and push away Israel; hand over our troops to the ICC (which recently was offered a case that the British use of cluster munitions in Iraq was a war crime). But maybe he means something else...and I continue to fascinated by the left's support of covert action and assassination ('Subtler strategies...') in this conflict.
"As commander in chief of the U.S. military, I will never hesitate to send troops anywhere in the world to defend the U.S.," Dean says. He might as well be Bush if this is what he really thinks.I'm inclined at this point to toss the author out as someone I should read with a serious eye. If the President of the United States isn't supposed to send troops anywhere else in the world to defend the U.S., what's the point of the job? To appeal to the U.N. for assistance, like the Rwandans, so that a decade later, they can hold hearings on what went wrong?
In the end, it comes down to the Democratic Party assertion that it could run the same war and execute many of the same policies more competently. "Me too" didn't work for Thomas E. Dewey in 1948. And Franklin D. Roosevelt argued successfully during World War II election campaigns that it was unwise "to change horses in midstream." Today, Democrats need to ask themselves: If we are in fact "at war" and facing such high stakes, why would the American public want to risk changing the White House leadership now? Seeking a penetrating answer to that question might be good politics. It would certainly be a public service.Here's the $64,000 question, indeed. I strongly dislike most of Bush's domestic policies, and think that he's doing substantial damage to our economy and polity by implementing them. In a world where 9/11 had never happened, I wouldn't for a moment be considering supporting him. And I'd be looking at other issues in choosing someone in the Democratic field than "do they have a coherent response to this?" So here's my research and thinking project for this week, as I'm travelling: Is my perception that this is a serious war wrong? Obviously, I don't think so, but every so often it's good to check. UPDATES: * The Times gave a bio of Arkin: "William M. Arkin is a military affairs analyst who writes regularly for Opinion. E-mail: warkin@igc .org". I went over to the www.igc.org website, and you should too, to help put some perspective around his writings. I'm still going to chew on the question, however. * Calpundit responds.