The Washington Examiner today published a new op-ed of mine that uses the Ohio Senate race to explore how the GOP is playing with fire in their new Rove-esque attempts to attack Democrats on national security. As I point out, the national security equation has dramatically changed - and the more Republicans go down this route, the better Democrats' chances are in 2006.
This is especially true if Democrats have the courage to stand up and stay on the attack when the GOP barrage comes. Rather than hide from the issue or try to embrace the GOP in more me-too-ism, Democrats have a chance to redefine the national security debate on their own terms - and on terms that relate to reality.
For too long, foreign policy elites in Washington of both parties have defined national security "strength" as willingness by politicians sitting in their comfortable, well-guarded Beltway offices to indiscriminately bomb/invade foreign countries, with little regard for why the military action is taken, or the wider ramifications of the action on America's long-term security. That definition of "strength" also includes politicians' total obedience in handing over more and more money to an intelligence/defense apparatus, even if that money is not going to address the most imminent security threats America faces.
Now, with both Iraq and 9/11, Democrats have the chance to actually tell the truth, and further, win elections by telling the truth. On Iraq, the invading-automatically-equals-strength paradigm has clearly been exposed as a fraud. That strategy hasn't strengthened our security - it has severely weakened it, and polls show the American public fundamentally understands this truth. The real definition of strength is building sturdy international coalitions and having a real plan for victory - one where politicians hiding behind their security details don't spew "bring it on" rhetoric while indefinitely leaving American soldiers as targets in a Baghdad shooting gallery. By those metrics, today's GOP and the D.C. foreign policy gliterrati that back up their exremist policies are among the weakest national security actors in American history.
Similarly, with 9/11, we see the wrongheadedness of the idea that "strength" means simply throwing more money with no real oversight at the intelligence/defense apparatus. People in the 1990s who stood up and tried to change intelligence/defense spending priorities and focus our national security agencies on the real threats at hand were the visionaries who showed true strength. The go-along to get-along politicians who bowed down to the military-industrial complex were the ones who weakened our national security.
In Ohio, Sen. Mike DeWine (R) was a top member of the Senate Intelligence Committee when the pre-9/11 intelligence failures were happening and he didn't lift a finger to refocus our national security apparatus on terrorist threats and away from a Cold War mentality. He clearly knows the Democratic case against him is powerful - and that's why he's panicking with his new ads dishonestly invoking 9/11 to attack his opponent, Rep. Sherrod Brown. Thankfully, Brown isn't backing down. Instead, he's staying on the attack - and that's one of the reasons he is holding a lead in the polls against DeWine. Other Democrats would be wise to follow Brown's lead, rather than following the lead of people like Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh (D) who is using his fledgling presidential campaign to selfishly undermine his own party and reinforce tired old neoconservative lies about the outdated definition of "strength." It is time for real Democrats to be proud of their record - because their record is both a compelling campaign narrative and far more "strong" on national security than their opponents.