By MARA LEE
Scripps Howard News Service
February 03, 2006
Remember "Bring 'em on"? That was the quote President Bush delivered during a July 2003 press conference, assuring reporters that the United States didn't need more allies in Iraq to secure the country. The quote came in the context that the men attacking U.S. troops were wrong to think that violence would force the United States to withdraw from Iraq.
Bayh had a "Bring 'em on" moment of his own in the speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, where he responded to reports that Karl Rove, the architect of Bush's re-election victory, wants to make the 2006 Congressional elections a referendum on which party can keep the country safer in a post-9/11 world. Rove believes Americans see Republicans as tough, Bayh said, and Democrats as weak.
"To Mr. Rove, I say we are ready. Ready to have this debate any time, any place you'd like to have it."
One of Bayh's new contributions to that national security debate: a proposal to increase the size of the active-duty Army, from 490,000 to roughly 590,000. This would cost $20 billion a year, he said, less than 5 percent of the Department of Defense's annual budget.
Philip Coyle, a senior adviser for the Center for Defense Information and a former assistant secretary of defense, said Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has opposed increasing manpower, preferring to save the money for weapons systems and missile defense.
But Coyle said it would be feasible to increase the size of the Army over several years, despite recent recruiting shortfalls, if enough recruiters were deployed and enlistment bonuses were large enough. Coyle believes that the numbers in Iraq are not enough to prevent the insurgency from continuing, and that the size of the Army does need to be bigger.
The largest chunk of Bayh's speech was on the war in Iraq. He said the war had been led "with stunning incompetence," giving examples - the shortage of Humvee armor, the decision not to give side plates for body armor, the decision to disband the Iraqi army and to dissolve the federal government.
"Plenty tough. Not very smart," he said, shaking his head like a disappointed father who's caught his son breaking curfew.
Bayh, who voted for the war, took no position on the invasion in the speech, but implied that a chaotic Iraq is more of a threat to the United States than Iraq was before the war.
"Iraq was not a haven for foreign terrorists before March 2003, but it is now," he said.
He also implied that Iran is more of a threat today than Iraq was in 2003. And, as he has repeatedly, he took a tougher stance against Iran's mullahs than the Bush administration has. He thinks the United States should ask the U.N. Security Council for sanctions against Iran. Russia has been resisting calls for sanctions, and a Russian reporter at the speech reminded Bayh that his country has many economic ties with Iran.
If sanctions don't stop Iran's nuclear ambitions, "there will be consequences . . . including the use of force," he said.
As Bayh often does, he connected economics and energy policy with security. He said we cannot be strong with a soaring deficit - when the IOUs are held in Asia.
Just as the president did in the State of the Union speech Tuesday, Bayh linked national security with the need for alternatives to oil imported from Saudi Arabia, Russia and Venezuela. Bayh said the president "finally acknowledged" this argument the senator has been making for years, and called on him to endorse a bipartisan bill already proposed in the Senate that tackles this issue
Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics, said much of this speech echoed John Kerry in the last campaign. On the "tough and smart" line, he said, "I remember (Kerry) saying almost precisely that."
But just because attacks that Kerry was weak-on-defense worked doesn't mean Bayh would face the same fate, Sabato said, if he were to win the presidential nomination. It all depends on the candidates and how aggressively the nominee responds to negative campaigning, he said. Bayh has not officially declared that he will run for president in 2008.
And Sabato said Bayh was right to say that Democrats can't play to their strengths - education, health care and retirement - without first convincing Americans they can keep the country as safe or safer than Republicans.
Distributed to subscribers by Scripps Howard News Service, www.shns.com
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