- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 28, 2005

Dating back to Richard Nixon’s victory over Hubert Humphrey in 1968, the Democratic Party has lost seven of the past 10 presidential elections, and polls have shown the party lagging behind the Republicans on the question of foreign-policy leadership. So, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid — picking up essentially where John Kerry left off in November — have embarked on a campaign to persuade the American people that they’re tough (or can at least can make ideas like negotiations with rogue regimes sound tough) on national security.

In a USA Today Op-Ed on Wednesday, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid complained that the Bush administration “has sat by for years and let others deal with the threat” posed by Iran and North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programs and had not done enough to work with Russia to secure loose nuclear weapons. “If Iran and North Korea continue on their course, their actions could set off a nuclear arms race,” they added. “The Bush administration needs to do more to guard the USA from a nuclear attack.” Mr. Bush, they wrote, needs to move to a policy of “partnership” with Russia (something the two lawmakers failed to clearly define) to protect nuclear weapons and materials in the former Soviet Union from theft. Rhetoric aside, they overlook a comprehensive series of anti-proliferation steps taken by the Bush administration in this area, including efforts to persuade other countries to enact tougher export controls and the Proliferation Security Initiative, a global effort to interdict shipments of WMD materials to hostile countries.

But the Democrats’ approach should not come as a surprise: Since September 11, this has evolved into the Democratic Party leadership’s foreign-policy template. During last year’s presidential campaign, the Democrats, led by Kerry advisers such as Richard Holbrooke and William Perry, tried to differentiate their candidate from Mr. Bush by attempting to sound forceful on issues like nuclear nonproliferation without offering any alternative course of action aside from empty throwaway lines about the importance of negotiations, engagement, etc.

Although this political strategy failed last year, the Democrats still seem to believe that it will permit them to discredit Mr. Bush’s foreign policy without coming across like George McGovern or Jimmy Carter. In their Op-Ed, Mrs. Pelosi and Mr. Reid cite a report issued last month by something called the National Security Advisory Group. But they neglect to inform the readers what the NSAG is: a group formed in 2003 to assess national security issues on behalf of then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle. The NSAG is a veritable who’s who of senior officials in the Clinton administration, among them Mr. Perry, who served as secretary of defense; former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger; former Assistant Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter; former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman John Shalikashvili; and Gen. Wesley Clark; former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta; Amb. Wendy Sherman; and former National Security Council official James Steinberg. Its report, “Worst Weapons In Worst Hands: U.S. Inaction On The Nuclear Terror Threat Since 9/11, And A Path Of Action,” and emblazoned with subtitles such as “Three Years After 9/11, Sleepwalking on WMD,” can accurately be described as a Clinton administration report card on the Bush administration’s handling of proliferation issues.

It purports to show that while the Clinton administration “actually stopped plutonium production in North Korea,” weapons production went forward during the Bush administration (the reality is that Mr. Clinton’s Agreed Framework of 1994, which was supposed to have stopped North Korea’s nuclear program, failed, and that Pyongyang has continued its weapons efforts during both the Clinton and Bush administrations.) The report mischievously notes that Iran’s nuclear program has moved forward during the current Bush presidency, but overlooks the failure of Mrs. Albright’s detente policy with the mullahs and the fact that it has only been under the Bush administration that the United States (led by the much-maligned John Bolton) has fought to get our European allies to hold Iran accountable for its cheating.

If the Reid-Pelosi-Daschle-Clinton-NSAG material is the best the Democrats can come up with, the party’s foreign policy credibility problem is likely to worsen.

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