The mainstream media and political pundit/activist class has, for the last few years, been focused on the need for politicians to appear "strong," especially on national security. That word has been distorted by both political parties into a euphemism for "essentially ignoring the people who killed 3,000 Americans on 9/11, and instead supporting a war in Iraq - a country that had nothing to do with 9/11."
Despite all of this, we have seen a few courageous politicians step up and talk openly about how ridiculous this oxymoronic definition of "strength" really is. Back in 2004, Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) opposed the Iraq War on the grounds that it was taking the military's focus off the more pressing problem of al Qaeda. Earlier this year, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) made the case for a target timetable for withdrawal, noting that it would be in America's national security interests to get out of an ever-worsening and mismanaged situation.
Now, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) is making the case that unless we put withdrawal on the table, the Iraqis will never have a real incentive to take responsibility for their own country's security. Just look at an excerpt of his op-ed in today's Washington Post:
"The administration has been sending the opposite messages with repeated statements that we will stay in Iraq as long as we are needed. We should not mislead the Iraqis into thinking they have unlimited time to reach a settlement. As long as they think that way, they are less likely to make the necessary compromises. Gen. Casey acknowledged that that message is not being communicated forcefully to Iraqis...The administration should tell Iraqis that if they do not reach a political settlement by year's end, we will consider a timetable for our withdrawal. Making that clear to them will insert a healthy dose of mind-focusing reality that is their best hope for defeating the insurgents and becoming a nation."
Levin's statements could be (hopefully) the beginning of the Democratic Party as a whole finally getting up the guts to support an exit strategy/withdrawal, and do it in a way that makes clear their position is a stronger national security position than the Republicans' stay-the-course nonsense. And, if polls are any indication, making such a case will have a receptive audience among Americans, who believe the Iraq War is hurting America's national security, and damaging the overall War on Terror.
We live in era where "toughness," "strength" and "machismo" are portrayed as the uber-political asset of our time (no matter how these qualities have mutated into pigheadedness and arrogance when it comes to the pro-war neocons running our government). We also are living in a time when everyone who purports to be a political "expert" bloviates and hyperventilates about needing a "narrative" or a "frame." Without going into how overly simplistic both of these facts of life are, let's just put the recent developments in the political fight over Iraq through this prism: Democrats may be finding their way in properly "framing" a position on the Iraq War in terms of "strength" and "toughness." No matter what, that is a good thing, because it means some coherence on the most pressing national security issue facing our country.
There's just one little problem: it's going to take more than just framing. First and foremost, it will take leadership like Levin showed today (and others have previously shown) in having the backbone to actually stand up and fight for a real, concrete, easy-to-understand national security position. The real "strength," in other words, is not just presenting a case for withdrawal that stresses its "tough" national security tenets. That's easy. The true "strength" will be in Democratic politicians actually for once finding the backbone to go up against Republicans on national security and make the case in the first place.