DEMS AND TERROR….I’ve been noodling around with an idea lately that I want to share. I’m not really prepared to defend it in a lot of detail, but it’s worth getting some feedback about, so I’m going to try it out on you guys in its current hazy state.
Here’s the proposition: after several years of vacillation and uncertainty over Iraq and national security, Democrats have recently achieved a fairly considerable consensus on how to move forward. I don’t want to overstate this: obviously there are still plenty of differences among major players in the party. But if you take out, say, the Chomsky wing on the left and the Lieberman wing on the right, there’s a surprising amount that the rest of us agree on.
Domestically, we nearly all agree that we should spend more on things like port security and chemical plant security. We mostly agree on strengthening cooperation between the FBI and the CIA, but we oppose large-scale infringements of civil liberties like the NSA program as both wrong and unnecessary. We oppose torture and we oppose rendition. We support a far more serious energy policy for both environmental and national security reasons.
On the overseas front, we largely agree that, in the long term, we can only eliminate militant jihadism if we eliminate support for jihadists among the vast majority of Muslims in the Middle East. This requires genuine support for democracy, serious economic and trade programs aimed at the Middle East, and a public diplomacy program vastly superior to the laughable efforts currently underway. We support a far more active role for the United States in negotiating a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians. We support a hardnosed dedication to diplomacy and negotiation, Richard Holbrooke style. We recognize that the moral high ground isn’t just a nice thing to have, it’s crucial to winning support for our policies ? and that means a renewed dedication to taking seriously international institutions such as arms control regimes and the United Nations. Military action, when absolutely necessary, should be as sharp and pointed as possible, oriented toward counterinsurgency, not invasion and regime change.
What else? Nearly everyone in Democratic circles agrees that the war in Iraq was a mistake, though there’s still a fair amount of disagreement about what to do about this now. On Iran, I think most Democrats believe, along with Fareed Zakaria, that we need to take a deep breath and put aside the current Republican hysteria on the subject. Bombers and cruise missiles aren’t going to solve our problems here.
Again: I’m not trying to sound too Pollyannaish. There are still disagreements. Still, five years after 9/11 I think Democrats finally have about as much of a consensus as any out-of-power political party is ever likely to have on a subject as complex and intractable as foreign policy in an age of radical jihadism.
So here’s my proposition: At this point, it strikes me that our problem is less about agreeing on policy than it is about agreeing on marketing. We have enough consensus on policy that we can move forward if we only have the courage of our convictions about this stuff. We need to talk about our approach out loud, we need to believe that people aren’t too scared or stupid to make sense of it, and we need to be clear that we think Republicans are taking a hysterical approach to national security that’s both partisan and foolish. For some reason, though, most Democrats seem unwilling to risk saying this with any serious conviction, relying instead mostly on generic attacks on George Bush. Or so it appears to me.
So how about some feedback on this? I think our consensus on policy is somewhere around 70%, which is good enough for now. Am I being too optimistic? Is that enough in any case, or are there still some disagreements so serious that no marketing is possible until they’re resolved? And can we win elections by aggressively selling this approach to jihadism? Or are we still afraid of being called appeasers?