The two American political parties are splitting into four camps on how to handle the Terror War. With the defeat of Senator Lieberman in the Connecticut Democratic primary, and the possible takeover of both Houses of Congress this Fall by the Democrats, the Left-Liberal wing of that party is in the ascendancy across the country. Representative John Murtha busted the Iraq issue loose for them, and will be a strong candidate for Majority Leader should the Democrats take the House of Representatives (they only need 15 seats to do so). This camp also has several presidential contenders including John Kerry, and maybe Al Gore. Their critics believe they will take the party back to anti-war “McGovernism,” but the unpopularity of the Iraq war has given their views strong traction with the electorate, at least in the near term.
A more centrist Democratic camp has formed around Hillary Clinton and Richard Holbrooke (the hawk wing of the party pretty much disappeared even before Lieberman’s defeat). They are committed to the Afghanistan war, but will take a more diplomatic and internationalist approach to the broader terror problem than the Bush Republicans and would draw down quickly from Iraq. They are, however, worried that the Democrats could become so passive in their approach to terrorism that the White House will remain beyond their reach once again in 2008.
The centrist position in the GOP, if you can believe it, is represented by the Bush Republicans. They are taking a step by step approach to rolling back the terror threat, and of course have found it rough sledding as Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon have proven to be difficult missions. Despite the broad-based swing against the President among Democrats and independents, there is an actual hardening of support for Bush and the Iraq operation in the GOP voter base, even as things have gotten militarily and politically tenuous for the president’s strategy. It is a good bet that a Giuliani, McCain or Allen presidency would take a similar approach to the jihadists as Bush has.
Perhaps the most interesting political development in recent months is the emergence of a position to the hawkish right of President Bush, as represented by the budding presidential campaign of former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Gingrich assumes that the relatively incremental approach being pursued by the President will not work. He expects successful, horrific terror attacks on U.S., European or Israeli cities, with the likely use of weapons of mass destruction. He believes that a much larger military operation involving more countries will be required in order to protect the American homeland. His top concerns are Iran and North Korea.
It has been almost five years since the continental U.S. was attacked, and over three years since American troops entered Iraq. The ascendancy of the Left-Liberals will probably continue unless and until there is another serious terror attack on American soil. If the terror threat is negligible, and the jihadists are actually “inflamed” by American military actions in the Middle East, this camp’s policies may turn out to be correct and popular. In the meantime, the Bush Republicans might plausibly argue that the success of their aggressive, controversial counter-terror policies, at least in the absence of follow on attacks on America, helped elevate more dovish leaders into Congressional and White House leadership positions in 2006 and 2008. Waiting in the wings is Newt Gingrich, who is well positioned to pick up the pieces should the current war policies prove to be too modest to handle a jihadist movement with access to mass terror weapons.
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