Bad policies, vague politics in the wake of Sept. 11

Coffee, the Today Show’s coverage of smoke billowing from the World Trade Center and phone calls home – these are my memories of Sept. 11, 2001.

The fact that 19 hijackers could alter American foreign policy so drastically is still a bit overwhelming. These attacks created a new era – a War on Terror that would root out terrorists and their appeasers.

But the nation’s success in this endeavor is highly debatable. Violence in Afghanistan – you know, that place the United States originally invaded seeking to crush the Taliban and Osama bin Laden? – is escalating. The Iraq war has cost too much in terms of American lives and money, and the Iranians continue to defy calls to halt uranium enrichment (though a hefty dose of skepticism is warranted for intelligence estimates of anything).

Oh, and don’t forget those North Koreans; they round out the “Axis of Evil” of unresolved crises.

So with upcoming mid-term elections in November and posturing for the presidential election in 2008 already in its infancy, the Democratic Party must be in a good position, right? Just think – with Republicans in control of Congress and the presidency, all these perceived mistakes can be blamed on them.

For example, Vice President Dick Cheney has given Democrats a political gift in his crazed 2003 assertion that the United States would be “greeted as liberators” in Iraq. In the same year, President George W. Bush stood in front of the infamous “Mission Accomplished” banner – a dubious statement, especially to all of the soldiers who are returning to Iraq for another tour this year.

Yet like the Bad News Bears, it seems likely the Democrats will find a way to lose. Their strategy of being against the administration without a plan of their own and a willingness to isolate members of their own party over the Iraq war is political suicide. Sure, the House of Representatives may shift the Democrats’ way in November, but for long-term success it needs to add more substance to the political debate.

To understand the failure of the Democratic Party to capitalize on the political climate in America, consider the Senate race in Connecticut between Ned Lamont and Joe Lieberman. Garnering considerable national attention, Lamont beat Lieberman in the Democratic primary, which largely focused on Lieberman’s support of the Iraq war.

But what’s shocking about the outcome is that Democrats turned on one of their own. Lieberman was a good enough Democrat in 2000 to be Al Gore’s vice presidential nominee, and he ran for president in 2004. Democratic leaders such as Connecticut senior Sen. Chris Dodd have gone from campaigning for Lieberman in the primary to supporting Lamont in the general election against Lieberman, who is now running as an independent.

This situation is not only awkward for Democrats with bigger political aspirations, but a sign that they lack a unified vision. As a frequent viewer of the Sunday news shows and reader of news magazines, I find it difficult to understand that party’s plan for America.

The Democratic Party Web site states it has a plan “that is comprehensive – from repairing our military, to winning the war on terror, to protecting our homeland security, to ensuring success in Iraq.” But is the plan to begin withdrawal of troops from Iraq supposed to take place at the end of the year or sometime next year, or does it suggest that troops would simply be staged in Kuwait in the event they are needed?

The argument that Democrats do not need to offer a plan because they are not in power will only succeed as a self-defining prophecy. Those of us who see American policy since Sept. 11 as deeply flawed and in need of a course correction desperately want to believe in a viable alternative.

This alternative should recognize the American need for strengthened relationships abroad to fight terrorism and not hollow assertions that the War on Terror has made Americans safer since the United States hasn’t been attacked domestically since Sept. 11. After all, Americans probably thought they were pretty safe on Sept. 10, 2001.

Aaron Hill is a senior majoring in economics