Democrats are going toe to toe with Republicans on national security in the final months before November's elections, calling for the ouster of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and claiming that America is less safe today than before the September 11 terrorist attacks.
"Under the Bush administration and this Republican Congress, America is less safe, facing greater threats and unprepared for the dangerous world in which we live," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said yesterday.
Republicans responded that Democrats simply want to "cut and run" from the war in Iraq and pointed out that there have been no terrorist attacks on U.S. soil in nearly five years.
"We are in a very serious war with an enemy who wants to end our way of life," House Majority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, said yesterday. "The 'Defeatocrats' want to bring the troops home, want to put their tails between their legs. What message does that send to terrorists all over the world?"
Mr. Boehner and other Republicans accused Democrats of simply picking apart Republican strategies for fighting the war on terror without offering any of their own solutions.
But House and Senate Democrats yesterday endorsed a national security report penned by the Third Way National Security Project, a group founded by Democrats who support gun control. The report, which Mr. Reid called a "stunning indictment," concluded that the Bush administration's foreign policy has failed in Iraq, the war on terror, Afghanistan and other countries. The number of terrorist attacks and terrorist recruits is up worldwide, many enemy countries are now stronger and have better weapons, and America's influence with allies has weakened, according to the report.
While the report offered no specific suggestions for fighting the war on terror, the Democratic leader said it "makes a clear case for the new direction we need." At a press conference yesterday, Democrats said the administration should use more diplomacy and fully implement the recommendations by the September 11 commission.
Mr. Reid and Senate Democrats will introduce today a resolution voicing no confidence either in the administration's Iraq strategy or in Mr. Rumsfeld.
"Time and time, he's been wrong about Iraq. And time and time again, he's responded to his own mistakes by playing politics," Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Democrat, said yesterday in a stinging floor speech on Iraq. "He needs to go."
She said Mr. Rumsfeld downplays problems and missteps in Iraq and attacks anyone who questions him.
Also yesterday, Mr. Reid and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, offered an amendment requiring the administration to report every three months on the extent to which Iraq is now in a state of civil war and issue a response plan.
Mr. Kennedy said sectarian divisions are increasing, violence is increasing and the number of Iraqis fleeing is increasing. "Instead of attacking those who want to change the course, President Bush ought to deal with the hard cold facts," he said, noting that even a recent Defense Department report discussed the threat of civil war.
Sen. Robert Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat fighting for re-election, laid out a plan yesterday to bring the troops back from Iraq within one year.
With the stepped-up attacks on Republicans over national security, Democrats hope to win on an issue that has long been the strong suit of Republicans.
"They believe that they can scare the American people into continuing to support their disastrous policies," said House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat. "Democrats have no doubt that America will win the war on terrorism. But we believe that we need a new direction."
Republican leaders will focus heavily this month on security issues. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, Tennessee Republican, said yesterday he hopes to hold Senate votes on a bill that tightens oversight of the administration's warrantless surveillance program and another bill that sets up a system to try terrorist suspect detainees.
He said the Senate will also address Democrats' Rumsfeld proposal, if necessary, but he called it "a political game." He dismissed the Democrats' "cut and run" mind-set and insisted the country is indeed safer now. "The bottom line is that there have been no terrorist attacks in the United States since 9/11," Mr. Frist said.
"We are safer now here at home because of the aggressive effort to find and kill terrorists where they live," said Senate Majority Whip Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. "It's not an accident. It's not a quirk of fate. It's been because we've been on offense, while maintaining a strong homeland defense."