Democrats Struggling With Politics of National Security

Why are successful policies so unpopular?

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The politics of national security has become more volatile lately. Republicans are increasingly emphasizing national security in hopes of electoral gains in 2010. Their push has raised fears that existentially important security issues have become too political for the nation's good. Whether or not that's true, Democrats will have to push back, and liberals are worried that they are struggling.

  • GOP Splitting Congressional Dems from Obama  Washington Post blogger Greg Sargent writes, "Congressional Dems have no message or strategy on national security, and they’re getting badly outworked by the GOP on the issue." Republicans have a "very specific strategy" with talking points and all, but Democrats lack such organization. Sargent says the GOP wants to "drive a wedge" between Congressional Dems and the White House, and it's working. "Republicans are framing the debate on these issues, and more and more Congressional Dems are breaking with the White House on them." Sargent quotes a Dem strategist as saying, "On these issues, Democrats inherently believe no one will believe our arguments."
  • 'Crisis in Confidence' for Diffident Dems  Matthew Yglesias thinks the issue "isn't that Democrats are unprincipled. Rather, the issue is that while conservative foreign policy is undergirded by a clear ideological commitment to violence and nationalism, progressive foreign policy tends to be quite muddled. Liberals are actually most comfortable offering national security arguments when they too can be nationalistic." He writes, "the real gap in both convictions and confidence shows itself at a moment of crisis."
  • Dems Should Be Pushing Hard  Spencer Ackerman is dismayed. He asks why Dems never talk about Obama's many high-profile national security successes. "[W]here in the world is the Democratic national security messaging? The Obama administration is racking up wins on the issue like it was a pool hustler." He wonders, "is this going to be yet another unforced Democratic political error, in which the Democrats fold on a winning hand because they don’t have the stomach for the game?"
  • White House Reticent to Push  The New Yorker's Jane Mayer reports that Attorney General Eric Holder's pursuit of Democratic national security policies has concerned the White House about "political fallout." She writes, "Holder’s unpopular positions on terrorism issues have frustrated Obama’s advisers."

[White House Chief of Staff Rahm] Emanuel viewed many of the legal problems that Craig and Holder were immersed in as distractions. “When Guantánamo walked in the door, Rahm walked out,” the informed source said. Holder and Emanuel had been collegial since their Clinton Administration days. Holder’s wife, Sharon Malone, an obstetrician, had delivered one of Emanuel’s children. But Emanuel adamantly opposed a number of Holder’s decisions, including one that widened the scope of a special counsel who had begun investigating the C.I.A.’s interrogation program. Bush had appointed the special counsel, John Durham, to assess whether the C.I.A. had obstructed justice when it destroyed videotapes documenting waterboarding sessions. Holder authorized Durham to determine whether the agency’s abuse of detainees had itself violated laws. Emanuel worried that such investigations would alienate the intelligence community. But Holder, who had studied law at Columbia with Telford Taylor, the chief American prosecutor in the Nuremberg trials, was profoundly upset after seeing classified documents explicitly describing C.I.A. prisoner abuse. The United Nations Convention Against Torture requires the U.S. to investigate credible torture allegations. Holder felt that, as the top law-enforcement officer in the U.S., he had to do something.

Emanuel couldn’t complain directly to Holder without violating strictures against political interference in prosecutorial decisions. But he conveyed his unhappiness to Holder indirectly, two sources said. Emanuel demanded, “Didn’t he get the memo that we’re not re-litigating the past?”

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.