The war in Iraq is inspiring new terrorists and worsening the threat to America. This is the estimate by America’s 16 spy agencies in their National Intelligence Estimate, written in April, but partly leaked this past weekend.
Of course, this notion has long been considered self-evident by opponents of the war in Iraq. The question is can the Democrats, traditionally seen as weaker on security, use this report and make political gains before November’s congressional elections?
It is true that until now, the Democrats have been tripped up by Iraq. Grassroots supporters and activists hate the war as do leaders like Howard Dean the chairman of the Democratic national committee as well as Nancy Pelosi, Democrat minority leader in the House of Representatives. However, many prominent Democrats did support the invasion of Iraq, specifically Hillary Clinton, likely to run for president in 2008. The result has been internal convulsions, though not quite the same as what happened to the Democratic Party during the Vietnam ear. The party as a whole is torn between those who see near civil-war in Iraq as an obvious target for attacking President Bush and, on the other side, the Democratic would-be presidents, who need to look tough on terrorism and supportive of the armed forces. The result has been fodder for Republican spin-doctors and neither wing fully prevailing.
The estimate should be an opportunity for Democrats to make up their minds. President Bush denied on Tuesday September 26th that the war has made America less safe and he agreed to declassify parts of the document. But damage has been done: some of the report reflects what many anti-war voters have been saying. “The Iraq Jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives” says the report, and is recruiting “supporters for the global jihadist movement.”
President Bush’s troubled foreign policy has been rich opportunity for the Democrats for some time. Some two-thirds of voters apparently think America is less respected than before, and a similar share believe that other leaders have little respect for their president. The trouble has been that the Democrats’ own views are hardly inspiring. In early September they proposed a “Real Security Act”, a 500-page bill that is more a rambling foreign-policy manifesto than clear alternative policy. True the Democrats want more done to capture or kill Osama bin Laden, they want to achieve “energy independence” by 2020, and for Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to be fired. They also propose screening 100% of incoming air- and sea-borne cargo at foreign ports, and working to turn other recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission into law.
As the months close on the Congressional election, Democrats can boast a few advantages on other aspects of foreign policy. Democratic populism on trade and outsourcing thrills middle-Americans, including white-collar workers who worry that globalisation means lost jobs and declining wages. The relatively small number of black voters President Bush wooed by paying attention to AIDS and development in Africa in 2004 largely left him after Hurricane Katrina last summer.
But on other issues, the Democrats are indistinguishable from Republicans: both parties staunchly support Israel, a mistake, though understandable as Democrats have kept most Jewish voters. Where the Democrats have lain low, which is disgraceful has been during the debate about coercive interrogations of terror suspects, content to let the Republicans fight among themselves. Here is an issue that clear opposition should be heard, though sadly, the American public has been left with silence. For those who care the question still remains, can the Democrat’s rally around this intelligence estimate, find their voice and fight a strong opposition campaign that may return both House’s of Congress to them? We shall soon see.