When introducing Sen. Evan Bayh, Democrat from Indiana, former deputy secretary of defense and CSIS President John Hamre rightly noted that America is long overdue for an earnest debate on national security. And this quintessential New Democrat did not disappoint — but not in the way even the senator himself intended.
The thrust of Bayh's remarks centered on his flagship theme: that America needs leadership that is both "tough and smart" in the pursuit of our national security objectives. As the leader of the new centrist think tank, Third Way, however, a very obvious triangulation between the right wing mantra of being "tough on defense" and the left wing concept of "smart security" may come back to haunt him if he doesn't define clearly what "tough and smart" mean. In this speech, at least, he didn't hit his mark. In fact, he inadvertently hit a different one.
Bayh's preamble contained sharp but fairly commonplace criticism of the president for his failed policies. In signature style, the senator also criticized those leaders and advisers in his own party who perpetually seek to run on domestic issues alone. This is a hallmark of Evan Bayh. A former chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council and a past recipient Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Award for Distinguished Service from the neoconservative security think tank JINSA, Bayh has been running to the right of his Democratic colleagues on foreign affairs for a while now.
To be fair, Bayh is reported to have serious second thoughts about his fateful vote in 2002 to authorize the president to use force in Iraq. His formal comments, however, still demonstrate that his positions are calculated for the 2008 presidential race. Bayh ducked two hot-button issues where the field is more crowded and where the White House has already shaped public opinion. For instance, Bayh chose not to challenge conventional (and misleading) wisdom that, as he said, "nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat facing the nation," analysis that places him in agreement with the 2004 election-season positions of both George W. Bush and John Kerry. His prescription for Iraq, too, was muddled for minimal public scrutiny. Bayh disdains those who would either stay the course or cut and run, but admits there are no good solutions to Iraq and that the matter is in the hands of the Iraqis.
That said, the senator did distinguish himself by staking out two new positions: one on Iran and the other on the size of the U.S. military.
On Iran, the second-term senator unveiled one iteration of his tough-smart equation. Bayh believes it is fruitless to continue never-ending talks with Iran when the Islamic republic is not paying any real price for its defiance of the West (tough). At the same time, he is not prepared to advocate military action (smart). Therefore, Bayh believes that it is essential to impose a real cost on the Iranian leadership. Accordingly, he announced a "tough" set of proposals to show the Iranian regime that the U.S. is serious. First, we should impose a robust sanctions regime on Iran; second, we should pinch Iran's supply of refined petroleum products; third, we should seek global diplomatic isolation of the regime; and fourth, we should deny Iran outside investment in its energy sector.
Tough talk indeed, but is it a smart prescription? Most serious analysts say that Iran is five to 10 years away from having enough fissile material to make a bomb, and there is no evidence to conclude that Iran has workable plans for a device. Under such conditions, is it smart to choke and gag the fourth-largest oil supplier? Is it smart to back into a corner a state that may well have the capability to shut down all the oil from the Persian Gulf as well as incite full-fledged civil war in Iraq and possibly Afghanistan? Richard Clarke thinks not. Obviously, Bayh's behavior may just be pre-election positioning. And indeed, Gen. Wes Clark, with nothing to prove in terms of national security credentials, is calling for direct U.S.-Iran dialogue.
The second noteworthy element of Bayh's speech was his call for increasing the size of the U.S. military by 100,000. Bayh believes this will cost $20 billion dollars and would relieve the pressure on the National Guard and Reserve, while increasing our capacity to respond effectively when needed. However, when questioned about whether he would back a draft in order to support that increase, Bayh said he did not think it was necessary. Just how the military will be able to attract an additional hundred thousand young men and women when they are already unable to attract and retain their target force remains a major unanswered question. Given the senator's own opaque pronouncements on what can be done in Iraq and the daily reports of traumatized Iraq veterans, it is hard to see just what will inspire so many young Americans to join up.
But Bayh's most interesting comment, at least for this national security observer, was made during his response to a question at the end. In his prepared talk, Sen. Bayh remarked rather broadly that our energy dependence on the Middle East and our fiscal dependence on China were damaging our overall security. As Bayh walked through his answer to a question looking for more of the senator's opinion about China, Bayh said something different. He said, "a comprehensive national security policy must include [domestic economic policy]."
And in that unscripted moment, Sen. Bayh showed that regardless of what his advisers were willing to put onto paper, the man himself may just see the bigger picture. He would do well to heed his own counsel, too. More than tough talk and smart tactics, America needs to align our economic engine with our national security strategy. We can no longer afford to fix the dysfunction (energy insecurity, debt, climate change) our economy produces.
Now we have two likely 2008 Democratic presidential candidates, Wesley Clark and Evan Bayh, on the record saying that, in effect, America ultimately needs a grand strategy in which our domestic economy and our national security strategy work in harmony.
Now they just need to convince their advisers.
| Friday, February 3, 2006 10:17 AM