Why Nation-Building Matters

Peter Beinart has a very good piece in The New Republic on the Democrat’s waffling on the issue of nation-building in Iraq. In 2000 the Democratic message was that nation-building was absolutely essential to American national security – an argument that was proven correct in the post-September 11 period.

Yet Beinart points out that the Democrats are now turning against their own good advice for partisan political advantage:

In fact, at the very moment Democrats are swooning over Clark, the party’s views on Iraq are growing even more confused. Throughout the summer, Democrats rightly slammed the Bush administration for minimizing the difficulty of rebuilding Iraq. "It’s been hide the ball every step of the way", fumed Senator Kent Conrad in July. "They’ve consistently understated the cost by a factor of several-fold." Two weeks later, Office of Management and Budget chief Joshua Bolten’s refusal to estimate the costs of occupation led Senator Joseph Biden to ask, "When are you guys starting [sic] to be honest with us?"

Biden got his answer on September 7. In his speech that night, President Bush did what Democrats had been demanding: He abandoned the fiction that Iraq could be rebuilt on the cheap. His $87 billion request even included new money for Afghanistan, where Democrats had hammered his insufficient commitment to nation-building.

You’d think Democrats would have applauded the president’s conversion, perhaps even claimed credit for it. Instead, leading Democrats responded to Bush’s U-turn with one of their own. With the polls showing that a majority of Americans, and a huge majority of Democrats, don’t want to spend more money on Iraq, prominent Democrats decided Bush was too committed to nation-building. Almost overnight, it was Democrats who wanted to reconstruct Iraq on the cheap.

The Democrats clearly are thinking of November 2004 rather than September of 2001. It is clear that the United States cannot afford to simply leave the Middle East to become a massive petri dish for terrorism. The only way to fight terrorism is to ameliorate the conditions that breed it – which means that our national security is directly tied to creating a wave of democratization in the Middle East as we once did in Eastern Europe. However, the Democrats simply don’t seem to have the common sense or the political will to do the right thing and join with the President in doing what must be done. If the Democrats want to be viewed as a party that takes national security seriously, they have to start putting their money where their mouths are. As Beinart states:

These three nonresponses to Bush’s budget request expose the shallowness of what passes for Democratic national security doctrine. If Democrats had a distinct post-September 11, 2001, vision, it was partly that the war on terrorism required a Marshall Plan as well as a Truman Doctrine; we needed to build schools in the Muslim world, not just crack skulls. Yet, now, with the Bush administration finally recognizing that defeating terrorism requires making sure Iraqis have electricity and clean water, the Democratic presidential candidates are looking for any excuse to avoid saying yes. Pandering to public isolationism may make short-term political sense, but, in the long-term, it will simply confirm what many Americans already believe: that you can dress up the Democratic Party in whatever uniform you want, it still doesn’t have a strategy for the defining challenge of our time.

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