NATIONAL SECURITY….National security is likely to be the most important issue in the 2004 campaign, and it’s also the single biggest vulnerability of the eventual Democratic candidate for president. So what should a Democratic national security plan look like?

Even if I could do it, it’s impossible to spell out a detailed policy prescription in a blog. But it’s an important discussion to have, and I’d like to list at least the broad outlines of a realistic liberal approach to national security in the post 9-11 era. Some of this will appeal to other liberals, some of it won’t, but at least we should start talking about it. Here are six points to think about:

  1. Any sensible policy needs to have both short term and long term components, and in the short term we need to accept the fact that the military sometimes has a role to play. As unpalatable as this is to some liberals, there are trouble spots in the world that are simply not amenable to friendly persuasion.

  2. Terrorism is a global problem and it calls for global solutions: we need allies to provide intelligence information, police assistance, forward bases for our military, overflight rights, and an endless array of other help. We are far safer and more effective acting with friends than we are acting on our own, and our next president needs to be someone who understands this and has the grit and persistence to forge the alliances that George Bush is either unable or unwilling to. In the end, just as we won the Cold War by banding together with likeminded democracies, we will win this war the same way.

  3. At the same time, we can’t fall prey to the idea that terrorism can be defeated primarily via intimidation and military force. Israel and the surrounding Arab states have been trying out this theory for the past 50 years and the results are plain: countries can be defeated in war and subjugated, but terrorists can’t be. Oppression simply makes them even more furious and desperate, and unless you think you can kill all the terrorists in the world ? and experience says that you can’t ? you need a long-term plan that involves more than just endless war.

  4. Rich countries rarely go to war against each other, and while there are occasional exceptions, rich societies rarely breed large and persistent terrorist movements. Therefore, if we truly want to be safe from terrorism in the long term, we need a foreign policy aimed at making poor countries rich. Tolerance and democracy will follow. This is an enormously sensitive and difficult problem, and I don’t pretend to know how to attack it, but it’s imperative that it be our goal. Nothing else will work.

  5. On the domestic front, we need to spend money more wisely. Missile defense is an expensive boondoggle, a holdover from an era in which Soviet ICBMs were the biggest threat to our country. Threats today are far more likely to arrive on a container ship than on the tip of a missile, and this is where we should be spending our resources. George Bush has been spectacularly negligent in attending to the real risks of homeland security ? Jonathan Chait’s New Republic article is a good place to start for details on this ? and the successful Democratic candidate needs to propose an expansive and toughminded plan for domestic security to replace the quickie coat of paint that the Bush Administration has gotten away with so far.

  6. Finally, we need to accomplish all this without feeling like we have become a country under siege. John Ashcroft’s assault on the constitution and Tom Ridge’s endless orange alerts need to be exposed for the scaremongering that they are, and the INS’ hamhanded assault on Arab Americans as a way of covering up their own incompetence needs to be halted. We need to stop scaring our own people, and instead get down to the serious and difficult work ahead.

Republicans and their neoconservative brethren have a foreign policy that is seemingly based on the naive idea that having the world’s biggest military machine and using it frequently will make us safe from terrorism. It won’t ? instead it will simply make us hated and isolated. Democrats need to expose this for the reckless folly that it is and offer up a comprehensive plan in its place that offers genuine hope for the problems of the real world, not the fantasy solution of democracy at gunpoint favored by the Bush administration. It’s time to get started.

UPDATE: Point 4 has been edited slightly to remove some ambiguities.