AMAC Exclusive – by Seamus Brennan
Even despite Democrats’ rapid shift to the far-left on domestic issues in recent years, their greatest political Achilles’ heel has remained remarkably consistent—and is again resurfacing in the aftermath of President Biden’s calamitous surrender in Afghanistan.
For decades, Democrats and progressives have been politically vulnerable when it comes to national security matters. A 2015 Pew Research poll found that Americans favor the Republican Party on terrorism and national security matters more than any other policy issue, and for good reason: the national memory of Democrat weakness harkens back many decades, starting in the early 1960s.
Even though President John F. Kennedy attempted to steal Richard Nixon’s anti-communist positioning during the 1960 presidential election, his foreign policy appointees consisted of Cold War doves who ultimately influenced Kennedy’s own approach to foreign policy. This disjunction was most vividly demonstrated at the 1961 Vienna Summit, at which Kennedy showed that he clearly failed to understand the threat posed by the Soviets—and thus failed to understand the malign relentlessness of Soviet intentions.
In response, conservative voices like the National Review and then-Senators Barry Goldwater and John Tower emphasized that Democrat weakness on foreign policy issues would embolden the Soviets and inevitably lead to crisis, a prediction that turned out to be true, most dramatically culminating in the Cuban Missile Crisis—a scholarly treatment of which can be found in Donald Kagan’s On the Origins of War: And the Preservation of Peace.
In the late 1970s, the deference to America’s foreign enemies demonstrated by the administration of Democrat President Jimmy Carter led many prominent Democrat diplomats and academics to openly support the Reagan campaign in 1980. Among these voices was Jeane Kirkpatrick, whom Reagan appointed as his Ambassador to the United Nations. Kirkpatrick’s remarks at the 1984 GOP Convention, during which she spoke in strong defiance of the Soviet Union and called out Democrats for their tendency to “blame America first,” were widely applauded by the American public and strengthened the Republican Party’s image as the most trustworthy party on foreign policy and national security.
The foreign policy failures of the Kennedy and Carter administrations led to the first grumblings among the American public that Democrats were primarily responsible for nearly every national security misstep for more than half a century. That fact was only made more evident by President Bill Clinton’s inaction against growing threats posed by al-Qaeda, a decision that would have tragic consequences for Americans in the years since he left office.
Bill Clinton’s record of weakness on national security subsequently trapped him and his fellow Democrats in political corners. In attempts to regain their foreign policy credibility following the September 11th attacks, more than half of Senate Democrats and more than a third of Democrat House Members voted to authorize the Iraq War. In the fall of 2003, National Security Advisor for President Clinton Sandy Berger stole classified material related to terrorism from the National Archives prior to testifying before the 9/11 Commission—indicating that he (and possibly others who served in the Clinton administration) were desperate to hide information that could have potentially implicated them in the rise of al-Qaeda. Then, in the 2004 presidential primary, Democrats nominated John Kerry, who voted in favor of the war in Congress, rather than Howard Dean, who Democrats feared might solidify their party’s image as anti-war and weak on terrorism.
Now, as the Biden team continues to grapple with the far-reaching consequences of its Afghanistan disaster, the familiar narrative of Democrat weakness in national security is reemerging. During the Trump years, Democrats gambled that they could appear strong on national security by relentlessly focusing on fabricated allegations of Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 election—a move that, however deranged it was, perhaps partially reduced the longstanding impression that their national security platform is feeble.
But following Biden’s exit from Afghanistan, the already-faltering Biden presidency has reached all-time lows in approval rating, and most Americans blame Biden for the catastrophe. The overwhelming majority of Democrats have remained conspicuously silent in the days and weeks since, presumably yielding, for the time being, to Biden’s faltering response.
Since the end of August, Biden has made a concerted effort to politically “move on” from Afghanistan and refocus his administration’s efforts on his domestic agenda—even as Americans remain stranded in the Taliban-controlled country. As a result, Congressional Republicans are increasingly confident that the long term fallout from the debacle could deliver them majority control of both chambers in next year’s midterm elections.
As the 2022 midterms approach, and Biden struggles to recuperate from the ongoing Afghanistan mess, some Democrats may feel compelled to return to a stronger foreign policy platform, as they did in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. Should that be the case, it could succeed not only in proving that Democrats are keenly aware of their own platform’s weakness and fecklessness, but also, at least temporarily, in realigning American national security policy to the Reagan-Trump ‘peace through strength’ and candor-based approach.
In the months and years ahead, however, national security weakness and the left’s ‘blame America first’ approach could prove to be the least of Democrats’ concerns. As Joe Biden continues to embrace the far left on social, cultural, and fiscal matters, Democrats may be inadvertently paving the way for even more massive political vulnerabilities that could pose an existential threat to the progressive movement and the Democrat Party. The brand damage inflicted by Biden onto the Democrats in just eight months might very well eradicate the Democrat Party as it currently exists and, if Republicans play their cards right, to forge a new center-right majority.
For the sake of American strength both at home and abroad, let us hope it doesn’t take yet another national security catastrophe for Democrats to learn from their mistakes. The risk is far too great.