Jewish World Review Dec. 31, 2002 / 26 Teves, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Dem Dummies | The Democrats are putting out the word: They intend to defuse charges that they're soft on national security by being tougher than President Bush on domestic terrorism.

Who comes up with this stuff?

The Democrats may be correct when they argue that the United States isn't significantly safer from terrorist attack than it was before Sept. 11. But the party has precisely no chance of making homeland hawkishness its issue, because its far-left wing adamantly opposes the single most necessary component of any internal security policy: identifying the enemy.

Far-left Democrats sometimes put their objection in practical terms - they argue that profiling young Arab and Iranian men isn't an efficient way to look for terrorists. In fact, there is no other way. Fighting domestic terror means finding the bad guys and their enablers. They will not be found at the local Elks Lodge. The usual suspects are usual for a reason.

The administration has the Patriot Act. To get to Bush's right on this, the Democrats will need a Patriot Act Plus. Today's Democrats aren't there, and until they get there, homeland security belongs to the Republicans.

So does Al Qaeda. When a Democratic senator like Patty Murray of Washington says Osama Bin Laden is popular in the Arab world because he builds day care facilities, and nobody in the Democratic leadership begs to differ, that's pretty much the end of any liberal claim to muscular credibility on Al Qaeda. Give it to Bush.

And Iraq, too. The Democrats had their chance during the congressional debate on the war to get a half share of Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and they blew it. Most of those who voted with the President let it be known that they didn't really see how Saddam posed much of a threat, but hey, it's an election year. The no voters - including incoming House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi - added that while Saddam may be bad, there's no proof he's got anything to do with international terrorists.

As the Democrats learned in November, a majority of voters have no problem seeing the threat from Baghdad. And even absent courtroom-quality proof, they get the essential way in which Saddam and Al Qaeda are connected. Saddam himself recently underscored it by declaring his dispute with Washington to be a holy war. So much for the theory that secular Saddam couldn't possibly be linked to fundamentalist Bin Laden. So much for the expertise of the Democratic foreign policy establishment.

What the party of Truman and Kennedy needs is a security threat it can actually understand and honestly embrace. Fortunately, the counterjihad is just getting under way, and the Islamic Middle East is an enemy-rich environment.

For several months now, Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, has been focusing on Hezbollah and its two state sponsors, Iran and Syria. He calls them a greater threat to America than Saddam or Al Qaeda, and he could be right.

The Republicans are aware of the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah threat, of course. Bush included Tehran in his axis of evil. Secretary of State Powell's deputy, Richard Armitage, calls Hezbollah "the A-Team of terrorism." If it turns out - as Israel charges - that Syria is hiding Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, Damascus, too, goes on the White House enemies list.

Still, the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah front is not at the moment a Republican priority. The Democrats have a chance to get ahead of the curve. Besides, they have a score to settle with the ayatollahs, who wrecked the presidency of Jimmy Carter. There is poetic justice in using Iran and its friends to elect a new Democratic President. This is a thought that possibly has occurred to Graham, whose name has begun to surface on the media list of possible primary contenders.

An even more promising Democratic target is Saudi Arabia. It has ties, real and imagined, to the Republicans through Big Oil. It offends nearly every Democratic principle and constituency. And - except for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, American-Arab groups and some academics and ex-diplomats on the take - the House of Saud doesn't have many local admirers.

Even the most dedicated peaceniks would have a hard time turning the Saudis into a Third World victim of American imperial aggression. The kingdom is a fascist police state that represses women, homosexuals and Jews (and Christians, although that isn't a Democratic concern). Its petroleum products are a major international polluter. Capital punishment is a form of public entertainment. They are even rumored to be anti-choice. Republicans like incoming House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Indiana Rep. Dan Burton and Arizona Sen. John McCain would like to make Saudi Arabia a GOP issue. But they have been frustrated by the administration, which for reasons of oil and bureaucratic timidity doesn't want a break with the kingdom.

This opens a Democratic door of opportunity. Watch for Joseph Lieberman, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, Richard Gephardt and other Democratic worthies to come charging through it, swords flashing.

Will Democrats be able to reconstitute themselves as warriors? They're late, but not too late. The fight against the jihad will be a long one, and the Democrats can have a part in winning it.

Or they can stay on the sidelines, making excuses for the enemy and secretly - but transparently - hoping the Republican war, which is the American war, turns into a disaster.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

12/19/02: Saudis still play Santa to Arafat
12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

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