Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Democrats urged to challenge Bush on security

Democrats urged to challenge Bush on security
By John Whitesides, Political Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Moderate Democrats led by two potential 2008 White House contenders, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh and former Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, urged the party on Tuesday to challenge Republicans on security issues and prove it can do a better job.

Democrats should embrace a security debate with President George W. Bush, who they said had been a failure in fighting terrorism, conducting the Iraq war and containing Iran and North Korea's nuclear ambitions.

"We can defeat Republicans on their own ground," said Bayh, a former Indiana governor who has called for a more muscular Democratic foreign policy approach. "They have been a lot better at national security politics than policy."

Republicans have traditionally enjoyed an advantage over Democrats on military and foreign policy issues. It remains the lone issue on which polls show Americans favoring Republicans over Democrats, even as Bush's overall approval ratings continue to drop to record lows.

Warner, who has been trying to bolster his foreign policy credentials before a likely presidential run after one term as Virginia governor, said Bush's "almost unprecedented" list of mistakes in Iraq threatened to turn that country into a terrorist stronghold.

He ridiculed White House political adviser Karl Rove's contention this year that Democrats were trapped in a "pre-9/11 mindset" that limited their ability to fight terrorists.

"I don't need to be lectured by Karl Rove ... about what is needed to keep America safe," Warner said at a news conference launching a new foreign policy book by the centrist Democratic Leadership Council's Progressive Policy Institute.

"This administration is caught in a 19th-century mindset," Warner said. "A 19th-century mindset that says well, a major military power can act unilaterally and to heck with the consequences."

Bayh and Warner said a stronger economy and energy independence would lead to greater security and endorsed the PPI's call for building global alliances and bolstering and restructuring the military to increase its flexibility.

Bayh said the Democratic election loss in 2004 was caused in part by a "perceived problem with national security broadly defined, the war on terror more specifically."

Democrats will not be able to win over voters to their domestic proposals on the economy, jobs and health care without winning their trust on security, Bayh said.

"They are not going to trust us on those things if they don't first trust us with their lives," he said.