How Democrats Can Defeat Terrorism and Win Elections
Among the chattering classes, it has recently become commonplace to say that the Democrats are weak on national security. In the 1990s, when domestic issues dominated the public consciousness, polls showed little difference between the two parties on foreign policy. But after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, there was a huge change. Until this spring, every poll taken in the past five years had indicated that the American public trusted Republicans -- seemingly any Republican -- more than Democrats on national security. "Foreign affairs assertiveness now almost completely distinguishes Republican-oriented voters from Democratic-oriented voters," a comprehensive report from the Pew Research Center stated in 2005. "Attitudes relating to religion and social issues are not nearly as important in determining party affiliation."
Given the actual record of the two parties since 1993, the Republicans' advantage is richly ironic. Although the first three years of President Bill Clinton's administration included foreign policy disasters in Bosnia, Somalia, and Rwanda, Clinton steadily gained in confidence and ability. When he left office, the United States sat alone on the commanding heights as the world's only superpower and was also, according to contemporaneous Pew polls, the most admired and respected country in the world.
The current administration still has more than two years left, and for the most part, its record is bleak. George W. Bush and his team came to office proclaiming that they would restore the United States' leadership role in the world. They have since diminished it. After 9/11 (which the Bush administration sought to blame on its predecessors), most of the world rallied in support of the United States, and the U.S.-led military campaign in Afghanistan received the widest international and domestic support of any U.S. military action since World War II. But the 2003 war in Iraq caused a stunning decline in the United States' international standing, and not just among the tired, old, left-wing intelligentsia. Besides the war and its fallout, many other factors
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