Cowboys And Eggheads

President Bush 05/31/2005
This column was written by Eric Alterman.
Liberal Democrats today are faced with an unhappy paradox. The most significant factor in John Kerry's defeat was that, according to exit polls, 79 percent of voters who said terrorism or national security determined their vote chose the chickenhawk over the war hero. Though they agreed with the Democrats on most issues -- and agreed, by a 49 to 45 percent margin, according to election day exit polls, that the Iraq War had made us less, not more, secure -- a majority of voters still felt safer with the idea of George W. Bush minding the store. Based on the evidence, it is almost a perfectly irrational reaction to reality. Everything the Bush Administration has done in the security realm has proved not merely wasteful and ineffective but counterproductive. Consider the following:
  • Osama bin Laden remains free, and al Qaeda has been allowed to regroup.
  • Iraq, which was not a terrorist threat before Bush attacked it, now accounts for the killing and maiming of Americans daily.
  • North Korea, the world's most dangerously irrational regime, stands poised to test a nuclear bomb.
  • Iran, another regime motivated by fear and hatred of the United States, also stands poised to develop a nuclear weapon.
  • The most obvious terrorist targets in America -- nuclear and chemical plants, water and food supplies and transportation networks -- remain as vulnerable to terrorists as they were on September 10, 2001, endangering as many as 12 million people in a single attack.
  • Outside our borders, America is hated as never before, inspiring terrorist recruitment across the Islamic world.

    All of these negative developments are the result of Bush Administration policies that required the reversal or rejection of Democratic alternatives. In some cases the Administration achieved its aims by deliberate deception, fooling more than a few supposedly tough-minded "liberal hawks" about not only its evidence but also its intentions -- and in a few cases it did so with scare tactics designed to exploit the emotions aroused by the 9/11 attacks. In none of these instances, however, did the Administration win its argument with an honest assessment of the evidence or consideration of available alternatives.

    Democrats have a separate set of answers for the problems that bedevil US security policy, as Matthew Yglesias concluded after he surveyed a host of foreign policy programs from the leading Democratic-oriented think tanks and independent analysts in a recent issue of The American Prospect. He found a strong consensus on the kinds of steps necessary to develop a foreign policy that will increase our level of protection from catastrophic terrorist attack at home while rebuilding our alliances for the purpose of frustrating the organization and implementation of attacks from abroad. Yglesias included reports from the Democratic Leadership Council, the