I was a little disappointed in the chapter on “National Security” in James Carville and Paul Begala’s Take It Back: Our Party, Our Country, Our Future (copyright 2006). The chapter had strengths: its argument (based on the concerns and actions of Al Gore and the Clinton Administration) that a President Al Gore would have prevented 9/11; its argument that the Bush Administration did not address certain vulnerabilities even after 9/11; its critique of George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraq War; and its explanation of how the outing of Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent put people’s lives at risk and damaged certain U.S. intelligence projects throughout the world (i.e., if Valerie Plame is pretending to represent a company, and that company is revealed to be fake through her outing, what happens to the other agents who are pretending to represent that company, or the foreigners who act as if they are working with it?). My problem with this chapter was that it did not adequately detail what should be done instead.
On some level, this is understandable. If a number of Democrats were not too crazy about the Iraq War, then expecting them to come up with a solution to win it may be too much to ask. As Bush asked about John Kerry in 2004, how would Kerry convince other nations to help the U.S. in Iraq, if Kerry publicly believes that the Iraq War was the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time? Or, as Carville and Begala say on pages 118-119: “Democrats should set the bar for Bush in Iraq: victory. They should support any request for funding for our troops in the field. But they need not be shamed into silence merely because they don’t have a silver bullet for a problem that has no obvious solution.”
The thing is, Carville and Begala (at least in this book) don’t seem to have a silver bullet for the War on Terror, period. They offer good insights, but (as far as I can see) they provide no proposals as to how to utilize those insights to meet a coherent goal. They mock Bush’s simplistic view that radical Islamic terrorists hate us because they abhor the American way of life (which, in my opinion, is part of the reason that they hate us, but not the whole reason), and they refer to Michael Scheuer’s statement that the Royal Family in Saudi Arabia steals a lot of oil revenues from its citizens. But what do Carville and Begala want us to do with Scheuer’s analysis? How would they use that analysis in a coherent plan of action?
On pages 124-126, Carville and Begala advance good reasons for multilateralism: that our allies (even France) have helped us in catching terrorists, and that we need other countries in order to defeat Al-Qaeda, which is a global network. But then Carville and Begala go on to say that “Democrats cannot be the party of the permission slip”, that is, asking the rest of the world for permission to defend our country’s security. But what if we want to undertake a project to defend our security and other countries won’t back us up? Should we go it alone, or abandon the project altogether? Carville and Begala probably don’t believe that the Iraq War was necessary for the United States’ security, but do they think that unilateralism would ever be justified? They don’t adequately address this. They say that Bush lacks clear thinking on the War on Terror, but I wish that their thinking had been clearer in this chapter.
Overall, though, I’d say that the Democrats have recovered from any perception that they are inept on the War on Terror. President Barack Obama was part of the capture of Osama Bin-Laden, he has authorized drones to take out Al-Qaeda members, and he has continued some of President Bush’s surveillance policies, even while pursuing a policy of withdrawal from Afghanistan. President Obama has also rebuilt relationships with other countries, such as Russia. Detractors can argue that there are weaknesses to Obama’s foreign policy, such as the disappointment that the Arab Spring has wrought, as well as the disaster in Benghazi. And many leftists are concerned that drones have taken the lives of innocent people. But, overall, Obama has had a strategy of fighting the War on Terror, something that Democrats seemed to lack for many years (or such is my impression).