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(The author is a Democratic senator from Connecticut, was his party's vice presidential candidate in the 2000 elections.)
Since a few of my fellow Democrats raised questions last week about the conduct of the war against terrorism and a few Republicans challenged their patriotism, Americans may be worried that their political leadership is dividing before their eyes. Worry not. We remain united behind the president and the war against terrorism -- and, in fact, can grow even more united if we learn how to draw strength from an occasional respectful disagreement. We all need to appreciate better the difference between reasonable dissent and partisan divisiveness. Those who were "disgusted" by Tom Daschle's sensible questions about the war should recalibrate their outrage meters. The last thing we need while at war is partisan hyperventilation in the name of patriotism every time someone raises a question. A better response would be to answer the questions and for the White House to consult more with Congress. The Bush administration has begun to do just that, and I hope they continue along this path as the war proceeds.
The real issue is not whether we have a right to disagree, but what we disagree about and how we express those disagreements. For example, I disagree with those of my colleagues, including some Democrats, who are already pressing for a plan for withdrawal from Afghanistan. We need a victory strategy, not an exit strategy. Our military should only start planning to leave the region when it has killed or captured the last of the terrorist forces, and when peace has been secured under Afghanistan's new national government.
At the same time, I take issue with the administration's unwillingness to provide American forces for international peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan. Leaving the country with a negligible security force at such a vulnerable moment will make it harder for the new government of Hamid Karzai to survive. If we fail now to commit to the long-term stability of Central Asia, we may, in Churchill's words, snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
There should also be no doubt that we will pursue terrorists wherever they may seek refuge.
In this case, I disagree with some of my fellow Democrats who complain about what they view as expanding war goals. If we are serious about eradicating this many-headed monster, we must be ready to root out al Qaeda and other terrorist groups in the mountains of Afghanistan, in Yemen, in Georgia, in the Philippines and wherever else they may seek refuge. That's just what President Bush has proposed to do, and he's right on target in his choice of targets. This is going to be a long struggle against many enemies. Less than six months after the Sept. 11 attacks, our will to do what is necessary to protect our security must not start wavering.
That certainly goes for Iraq, where we must deal decisively with the threat to America posed by the world's most dangerous terrorist, Saddam Hussein.
I am encouraged that President Bush appears to have turned the corner on Iraq, and now seems committed to changing the regime in Baghdad. When and how we accomplish that is up to our military and our commander-in-chief. Congress should be consulted more on strategy toward Iraq -- but we should also respect the president's need to employ surprise, if necessary, in carrying out his plan.
It will be very expensive to execute all these facets of the war against terrorism, but the Constitution makes it our solemn responsibility -- and primary duty -- to provide for the common defense. Some Democrats are challenging the president's proposal to raise spending on our military by $48 billion next year. I disagree, and would urge them to take a hard look at the current and future needs of our armed forces, which will make clear that this increase is imperative for our national security.
In fact, I would advocate even more strategic spending on defense -- because just one-fifth of all the new money the president is proposing will add purchasing power to buy new weapons, modernize existing systems and meet other critical needs. The longer we wait to transform our military for the new world of high-tech, unconventional, asymmetrical warfare, the more it will cost us down the road, in both dollars and dangers.
A long-term victory against terrorism must include not just the use of our military might but a broader engagement with the Muslim world, specifically stepping up our support of the moderate Muslim majority that seeks economic modernization and political freedom. While our military drains the terrorist swamp, I would like to see the administration focus more on seeding the wider garden.
Those are my opinions; each will probably draw criticism from some in both political parties. That is okay because in a democracy -- even a democracy fighting against vicious foes -- no person, policy, or party should be granted immunity from dissent in the name of national unity. After all, we are fighting this war to protect not just our security, but our freedoms -- including our precious freedom of expression.
America is smart enough and strong enough to carry on a civil discussion about this war while fighting it successfully. In fact, I'm confident that such a conversation can and will help guide us to a greater victory.
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