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Bipartisan Security?

By Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

August 7, 2001
Copyright © 2001 THE WASHINGTON TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

     Sunday's New York Times featured an article that should serve as a wake-up call to the Bush administration's national security team and Republican political operatives.

     Under the headline "Differences over Vieques Bitterly Divide Democrats," the Times described a rift in Democratic ranks over defense matters that arguably has not been seen since Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson fought with the "Blame-America-First" types in his party over Vietnam, U.S.-Soviet arms control and other defining Cold War issues in the 1970s and '80s.

     It turns out that not all Democratic politicians agree with liberals like Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Robert Kennedy, Jr. and DNC Chairman Terry McAulliffe, who have associated themselves with radical Puerto Rican demands that the United States immediately halt vital military training on Vieques Island near Puerto Rico. Others, like moderate-to-conservative House Armed Services Committee members Reps. Solomon Ortiz and Gene Taylor have strongly disassociated themselves from what Mr. Solomon described as "anti-military" attitudes and Mr. Taylor called "pandering of the worst sort" to Hispanic voters.

     Even the Democratic chairman of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, Rep. Silvestre Reyes -- while sympathetic to the people of Vieques and critical of the Navy's handling of the islanders' concerns -- has warned, "We can't afford to send our men and women into harm's way without the proper training."

     This development presents George W. Bush with a potential problem. It also has the makings of a terrific opportunity.

     The problem is that his policies on Vieques (which President Bush has decided to stop using in 2003, irrespective of whether another facility for properly training our men and women in uniform can be found), on the overall budget for defense and on ending the crimes against humanity being wrought by the odious government of Sudan invite his Democratic opponents to "run to his right" on many security policy matters.

     On the other hand, by adopting a more robust position on these issues, Mr. Bush can both avoid a political liability effectively exploited against his father by Bill Clinton in 1992 (when Mr. Clinton cynically adopted for the purpose of the campaign harder-line stances than Bush-the- Elder had on Russia, Iraq, China and Slobodan Milosevic) and build strongly bipartisan support for his defense and foreign policy positions.

     For example, Mr. Bush should join sensible Democrats in insisting that the armed forces cannot stop training in Vieques unless and until there is someplace else for them to garner equally realistic preparation for combat. He should welcome bipartisan efforts on Capitol Hill to provide something approaching what the military needs in the way of funding for modernization, maintenance and world-wide operations -- an amount considerably in excess to the $18 billion plus-up the Bush administration has requested.

     President Bush should also shift course on Sudan by embracing an approach to stopping the Khartoum regime's genocide, slave-trading, proliferation and support for international terrorism that enjoys wide and growing support, not only among conservative-to-moderate Democrats but across the political spectrum. This approach calls for blocking access to the U.S. capital markets for foreign oil companies whose exploitation of Sudanese energy reserves is providing revenue streams used by Khartoum to underwrite its predations.

     The use of such limited capital market sanctions approved by the House of Representatives last month by a vote of 422-2 but strenuously opposed by the Bush team -- makes all the more sense since James Buckee, president of one of the most egregious offenders, Talisman Energy Inc., recently made it clear his company would sooner pull up stakes from Sudan than risk losing access to the American investors' money: "I don't think anybody could afford not to have access to the U.S. capital markets. No asset is worth that."

     Happily, President Bush has as well an opportunity to pick up critical Democratic support for his top national security priority: quickly protecting this country, its forces overseas and allies against ballistic missile attack. According to yesterday's New York Times, "a Democratic union representing defense industry workers has . . . begun urging its 750,000 active and retired members to push for missile defense. 'To my Democratic friends on Capitol Hill, I would urge them to forgo the short-term, tactical, partisan advantage,' R. Thomas Buffenbarger, the president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers said recently. 'Can our party really afford to be seen as weak on the defense of America's cities? I think not.'" Would-be presidential candidate and Sen. Joe Lieberman is one of a number of Democrats who agree.

     While Mr. Bush is vacationing this month, he would be well advised to do a little summer reading that could pay off, as Dick Cheney says, "big time" this fall when critical congressional votes take place on missile defense, Pentagon budgets, Vieques and Sudan. Last year, Robert Kaufman published a superb biography titled "Henry M. Jackson: A Life in Politics" (University of Washington Press). It describes the myriad, extraordinary contributions Scoop Jackson made to this nation's security, environment quality and social well-being.

     More to the point, the Kaufman book offers a salutary reminder of what can happen to a Republican President when national security-minded Democrats get to his right on defense and foreign policy (as Scoop and his colleagues did to Gerald Ford, with devastating effect on the Ford-Kissinger detente agenda). It also describes the enormous contributions sensible and public-spirited Democrats can, alternatively, make when they have a robust president and sound Republican security policies to support (as Jackson did for Ronald Reagan, until the former's untimely death in 1983).

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. served on the staff of the late Sen Henry "Scoop" Jackson. He is president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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