Liberals on the Warpath The Democrats Get Hawkish

The American people may want to get rid of Bush, but they in no way want to risk losing the war on terror. The consequences: America's Democrats are seeking to position themselves as being more hawkish than the Republicans and Congress has just approved the biggest military budget ever.

By Gabor Steingart in Washington, D.C.


Opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: Voters want a candidate tough enough to fight a multifront war.
AFP

Opponents Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton: Voters want a candidate tough enough to fight a multifront war.

Newt Gingrich was more than satisfied. The archbishop of America's conservatives was purring like a cat when he appeared at a luncheon with foreign journalists. Better yet, a cat that had just devoured a couple of mice.

Gingrich's mice are Democrats who have recently begun challenging wartime President George W. Bush by trying to beat him at his own game. Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama had just raised the issue of terrorist cells in Pakistan and suggested the idea of a US military attack on the nuclear state. "If Musharraf won't act, we will," he told an audience at Washington's Wilson Center. With that kind of rhetoric, the Democrats' new shining hope might as well be called Barack Bush-Obama.

A man like Gingrich, who has conveniently replaced the now-defunct image of the Soviet communists as his public enemy No. 1 with that of the Islamic fanatic, should feel vindicated. In fact, he even praised -- patronizingly, of course -- the young senator, saying that what Obama had to say about Pakistan was spot on. Gingrich is pleased to see a political adversary calling for a new military campaign when everyone else these days is talking about withdrawal. Pakistan, said Gingrich, "is enormously dangerous ... we need to have a strategy for Pakistan." Of course, when someone like Gingrich talks strategy he really means the use of missiles, mortars and flamethrowers.

The wind has shifted in Washington. America, not just its president, is at war. The Democrats are still critical of the failed Iraq campaign, but they are no longer opposed to the "War on Terror" in general. It has been accepted, and not just as a metaphor.

Hunt for Bin Laden 'Not Aggressive Enough'

Opinion polls have shown consistently for months that while most Americans disapprove of Bush, very few are opposed to the worldwide fight against terrorism. Most Americans believe that the campaign against al-Qaida and its ilk is the only conceivable -- in fact, the natural -- reaction against the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The president is not faulted for his declaration of war against the terrorists, but he is blamed for having botched the war in Iraq.

Ninety-two percent of Americans are opposed to an immediate withdrawal from Iraq, and a majority doesn't want to see the US's special detention camp at Guantanamo Bay closed. At the moment, the American electorate's biggest criticism of Bush is that he has "not been aggressive enough" in pursuing terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

The results of opinion polls weigh heavily in the third-largest nation on earth, a country spanning four climate zones. Politicians, no matter how affable, are simply incapable of fully gauging public opinion by meeting with their constituents or making local campaign appearances. In a country as vast as America, professional pollsters play a more important role than anyplace else on earth, especially with elections just around the corner.

The candidate Americans elect to be their next president in November 2008 will serve a parallel role as commander-in-chief of the US military, a position that affords the president virtually totalitarian powers to shape policy.

Who Is Tough Enough for the Job?

Indeed, when voters hit the ballot box in November 2008, they will be looking for more than just a candidate charismatic and clever enough to lead the country politically. They will also ask themselves which of the candidates is sufficiently tough, crafty and brutal to win the multi-front war that the Bush administration has begun.

In these early weeks of the 2008 presidential campaign, the candidates from the two major parties are literally vying for the distinction of being the most crafty and pugnacious of the lot in the public eye. The Republicans, especially former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have kept their steel-plated combat armor on. Their take on the fight against terrorism is to up the ante. Giuliani is fond of saying: "Weakness produces aggression."

U.S. President George W. Bush Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at Camp David: Is Bush still even a conservative?
REUTERS

U.S. President George W. Bush Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai at Camp David: Is Bush still even a conservative?

Anyone who hopes to win the support of middle America -- geographically, sociologically and politically -- has to perform a balancing act of appearing capable of leading the country in war while at the same time not coming across as too eager to fight. Americans want a strong leader, a tough decision maker, not an adventurer. The worst charge one could hurl at a presidential candidate these days is that he or she is soft on terrorism.

In this atmosphere, even the Democratic presidential candidates are lining up to show their support for the troops. In an essay in Foreign Affairs, African-American presidential candidate Barack Obama writes that the US military urgently needs "revitalization." More than any other candidate, Obama insists that a strong military machine is necessary to preserve peace.

Left-leaning Democrat John Edwards, a lawyer who earned a fortune arguing class-action lawsuits, is taking pains to hold his own on national security. Edwards has said that he favors spending more money on special counterterrorism units within the military and CIA. "There is no doubt in my mind," Edwards said, "that we must confront the terrorists with the full force of our military."

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