The Democrats' national-security plan is bland and banal—but the Republicans' is worse.
In today's Washington Post, Fred Hiatt—head of the paper's editorial page and a strong supporter both of the war in Iraq and of Bush's campaign to spread democracy—criticizes the Democrats' document on the grounds that its authors "do not find space to mention democracy even once. … There is no discussion of a broader threat of a 'global war' or a long Cold War-struggle. … There is no mention of preemptive action. … There is no discussion of values, of liberty or generosity. … The pollsters may be satisfied, but John F. Kennedy would not recognize his party."
First of all, John F. Kennedy's Democratic Party—if, by that, Hiatt means the party that pledged to go anywhere and fight any foe—died in the rice paddies of the Mekong Delta long ago. Second, George W. Bush's quest to liberate the world has met so many serious setbacks as to call into question, if not to discredit, the whole doctrine.
Hiatt is right that, at some point, a Democratic candidate will have to delve into the morass, untangle the dilemmas between American values and American interests and determine to what extent our foreign policy should reflect one or the other. But there's no reason for the Democratic Party to declare a formula now, especially since President Bush hasn't come up with a clear policy on the question either; hence his friendly dealings, some of them appropriate in terms of national interests, with Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and Pakistan, to name a few.
The real contest will begin when both parties nominate their candidates, at which point this document may or may not be a dead letter. For now, though, the Dems have hoisted a banner: real security vs. rhetorical security; tough and smart vs. tough and, well, not so smart. Let that debate begin.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of Howard Dean by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.