In an apparent bid to restore bipartisanship in the framing of defense policies, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) last week released a “bold security agenda” that echoed virtually every defense theme articulated by candidate George Bush on the campaign trail in 1999. The new agenda was accompanied by a statement from DNC Chairman Howard Dean asserting, “The failed policies of President Bush and the Republican-led Congress have undermined the safety and security of our country… Today, Democrats are offering a new direction by providing a bold agenda for keeping America safe.” But aside from two sentences about energy independence, the agenda the DNC proposes is eerily similar to what Bush said was needed seven years ago.
Bush’s agenda was set forth in a speech at the Citadel in South Carolina on September 23, 1999. Therein he decried the Clinton Administration’s indiscriminate use of military forces and “open-ended deployments;” condemned the failure to adequately compensate active and reserve forces for their sacrifices; warned of the need to bolster homeland security and human intelligence; and pledged to make the investments necessary to build a modern military. The Democratic agenda, entitled “Real Security,” says pretty much the same thing. Here are some examples.
On global terrorism, the Democrats in 2006 pledge to double the size of special forces, increase human intelligence capabilities, and redouble efforts to halt the spread of nuclear-weapons technology. Bush stressed the same needs in 1999. On homeland security, the Democrats say they will secure borders and transit, train first-responders, and protect against biological attacks. Bush in 1999 said “homeland defense has become an urgent duty.” Citing the threat of chemical and biological terrorism, Bush said he would “put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil” and insisted, “the federal government must take this threat seriously.”
On military personnel, the Democrats pledge to enact a “GI Bill of Rights” that guarantees troops “the pay, healthcare, mental health services, and other benefits they have earned and deserve.” Bush in 1999 said he would “renew the bond of trust between the American President and the American military,” starting with “better pay, better treatment and better training.” On military modernization, the Democrats say they will “rebuild a state-of-the-art military by making the needed investments in equipment and manpower so that we can project power to protect America wherever and whenever necessary.” Bush in 1999 promised to tap into a “revolution in the technology of war” to produce forces that were “agile, lethal, readily deployable, and… able to project our power over long distances, in days or weeks rather than in months.”
Just as Bush was eager to extricate U.S. forces from the Balkans in 1999, so the Democrats in 2006 are eager to extricate U.S. forces from Iraq. And although the two agendas are rather oblique in making the tradeoff, both are more than willing to cut big-ticket weapon systems in order to handout more entitlements to active-duty troops, reservists, veterans and their dependents (most of whom vote). Bush gets extra credit for having anticipated new security needs years before 9-11 and Iraq. But what really comes through when you compare the Bush security agenda of 1999 and the DNC agenda of 2006 is how alike they are — and how similar their complaints are about the way the opposition party behaves towards the military when it holds office.
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