Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Democrats Opening Assault on Bush Security Policies

The New York Times
Democrats Opening Assault on Bush Security Policies

WASHINGTON, March 28 — Seeking to capitalize on President Bush's troubles overseas, leading Democrats in Congress are unveiling a broad attack this week on the administration's security policies at home and overseas along with a set of proposals intended to demonstrate that they have a credible alternative.

In a set of policy papers titled "Real Security: Protecting America and Restoring Our Leadership in the World," Democratic leaders in the House and Senate plan to join with leading figures in the party, including former Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and Wesley K. Clark, the retired general and former presidential contender, in presenting the plan on Wednesday.

Their purpose, Democrats say, is to rebut the Republican accusation, echoed in some editorial columns, that with Mr. Bush's approval ratings sagging eight months before the next election, party leaders and candidates have not laid out a coherent set of alternatives, especially on Iraq and on dealing with nuclear proliferation.

The Democrats' material asserts that in combating terrorism, party leaders want to increase financing for Special Operations forces and interdicting terrorist financing and to spend more on economic development in troubled areas like the Middle East and South Asia.

Democrats also want to give greater powers to the office of the national intelligence director and to investigate accusations of abuse and torture of detainees. They say they want increased financing for screening containers at ports and securing nuclear and chemical plants and training emergency health workers.

Most of the proposals are not new. Many echo arguments put forward by Democrats and by their 2004 presidential nominee, Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, including a demand for more military equipment and body armor for troops and improved veterans' benefits.

In the diplomatic field, the proposals say Democrats will "redouble efforts to stop nuclear weapons development in Iran and North Korea," but they offer few details that differ from the Bush administration's effort to get cooperation from allies in Asia, the Middle East and Europe to pressure those countries to abandon their nuclear programs.

"In these times of unprecedented challenge and change, real leadership demands preparing for the threats that exist today and those that will emerge tomorrow," said Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House Democratic leader, who will be appearing with Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic leader.

"It demands tough and smart policies that recognize that a stronger America begins at home," Ms. Pelosi added.

In a statement to be released on Wednesday, Mr. Reid is to say: "Over the last century, Democrats have led America through two world wars, have stared down threats to our security at home and have defeated the ideals of Communism and Fascism. Today, Democrats are here to build on that record."

But Republicans, anticipating the Democratic attack, were already circulating their own counteroffensive on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said he had just obtained a copy of the Democrats' plan and added, "It's taken them all this time to figure out what we've been doing for a long time."

Mr. Bond said that while Democrats sought to showcase their support of national security, they had tried to block renewal of the antiterrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act and the administration's program of wiretapping without warrants.

Democrats say that while their policies lack detail in some respects, they were able at least to put together a package of proposals to which all members of the party could subscribe, calling for more money to be spent on a broad array of items, including port security and foreign aid.

Meanwhile, the manifesto skirted divisive issues like whether the United States should set a timetable on the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, as advocated by Representative John P. Murtha, Democrat of Pennsylvania, but opposed or not endorsed by other members of his party.

Instead, it calls for making sure that 2006 "is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for securing and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces." Beyond "redeployment," no mention is made of whether American troops should be taken out of Iraq.

The Democrats' paper also calls for the United States to achieve "energy independence" by 2020 by increasing production of alternative fuels.