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The Battle for Freedom and Liberty

By Evan Bayh

(Note: The following remarks were delivered at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. at an event promoting the release of the Progressive Policy Institute's new book "With All Our Might.", a collection of essays on foreign policy and national security edited by PPI Director Will Marhsall.)

Let me just begin by observing that the world changed on 9/11, and it was a major wake-up call for our country in some pretty profound ways. Perhaps most of which is that the struggle in which we're currently involved, the subject of this book, is much different than previous national security challenges that our country has faced: the struggle against fascism in the '30s and '40s, against global communism in the '50s, '60s and '70s. The struggle against radical Islam and the suicidal terror, which is all too often its chosen instrument, isn't as susceptible to deterrence as those previous conflicts.

This is really in some ways our first post-nation-state war. When you're dealing with nation states, even the more erratic among them, North Korea, for example, they can be affected through deterrence because they're not suicidal. Kim Jong Il is a fairly unusual individual, but as far as we can tell, he doesn't worship death, he does not crave death. As a matter of fact, you can explain a lot of his behavior by the fact that he wants to live, he wants to remain in power. When you're dealing with suicidal fanatics, religious fanatics who want to die in the pursuit of their objectives, it's a lot harder to deter those individuals. And so we have to develop a different strategy.

This is compounded by a couple of other phenomena. First, the consequences of error are much greater in an era in which the proliferation of weapons of mass death is a very real possibility. So the consequences of waiting until it's too late, of not acting in time, can be compounded greatly if there is obviously a nuclear weapon, a biological weapon involved. The number of casualties in our country could make the 9/11 attack pale by comparison.

The second thing that characterizes this new phenomenon, in addition to the consequences of error, is the -- to use the fancy word that they use in the intelligence circles, Will -- the asymmetry of the conflict. As best we can determine, the annual -- well, let me start -- as best we can determine, the budget for the 9/11 attack was about a million dollars or less. Think about that, a million dollars or less for the hundreds of billions in cost it's imposed upon our society, let alone the incalculable cost of the loss of 3,000 lives and the terror that imposed upon our country.

As best we can determine, the annual budget of al Qaeda is somewhere in the low eight figures, and yet we spend hundreds of billions of dollars annually combatting that organization and the threat that it imposes on our country. Now, how can you sustain a struggle over the years when the costs that they are bearing are in the low eight figures, or an attack costs about a million dollars or less to carry out, and it costs us hundreds of billions of dollars to defend. It is an uneven playing field. So we have to try and shift the burden through a different kind of strategy.

And my strategy, and I think it's one that Will would embrace as well, is a strategy of greater proaction, greater proaction to meet this threat; not sitting back in a defensive crouch and waiting for them to come and at attack us, but instead, reaching out to embrace our allies and to try and increase our intelligence capability so that we can better identify who is out to harm us and how they intend to go about that, so we can strike them before it's too late. Working with other countries to dry up the financial sources of terrorist funding is vitally important these days. Having the military capability to fight the insurgents, to dry up the failed states, the collapsed places around the world where terrorists can foment their attacks, having those kinds of forces rather than the forces configured to fight a land war on the Northern European plain, which we still spend too much of our resources on to this day.

The longer-term struggle, Will, involves a couple of other things.

Number one, we can't define America's security only by the strength of our arms. It also must be defined by the strength of our economy, the strength of our finances, our energy independence. There has never been a nation -- you look back -- who was it? -- Paul Kennedy wrote about the rise and fall of great countries -- you look back across the sweep of history, there has never in history been a country that was economically weak or financially weak but militarily strong and nationally secure. But if we don't test -- if we don't change the path that we're on economically and financially, the United States of America may be about to test that proposition. I don't think we should.

So restoring our finances, having a strong economic strategy is very much a part of fighting what will in all likelihood be a generation-long struggle against jihadism and radical, suicidal terror.

Energy independence obviously is a part of this. We find ourselves in the unconscionable position today of funding both sides of the war on radical Islam and suicidal terror, and that must stop with an aggressive energy policy to put this nation on a path toward independence over the next decade to two. That has to be a part of what we're about as well.

A couple of final things. Obviously this has political ramifications as well. If you ask me why we lost the last presidential election, I'd say more than anything else, it was because of our perceived problems with national security, broadly defined, and the war on terror, more specifically. We still have a hurdle to cross with the American people in convincing them that we can be both tough and smart when it comes to securing America.

And we're not going to be able to have a dialogue with the American people on all the other issues that we do so well on -- health care, education, the environment, jobs. They're not going to trust us on those things if they don't first trust us with their lives. And so that is a place that we need to get to. We can be both good on domestic policy but also strong and smart on national security policy. The two must go hand in hand.

Too often, members of our party, Will, try and change the subject when the subject of national security comes up. They kind of -- there's almost a -- almost a perceptible cringe in some ways. They know we have some ground to make up, but we can't do that. Neither events nor the other party will allow that. There will unfortunately continue to be incidents like the one in London, Madrid, Amman, Bali, elsewhere. God forbid there might be something in this country that will remind the American people that it is a dangerous world. And we need parties and leaders who are prepared and capable of dealing with it, not a world as we wish it is -- as we wish it was, even though we work toward that objective -- but a world as it is that regrettably has evil people in it who wish us ill, and we have to be prepared to do -- to deal with that.

And we shouldn't try and change the subject, because frankly, Will, I think I think we can defeat the Republicans on their own ground. The truth of the matter is that they've been a lot better at national security politics than they have at national security policy. They may have won a few elections, but the American people have lost important ground, and we need to point that out.

It's been on their watch that North Korea has substantially increased their nuclear capability.

It's been on their watch that Iran continues to move inexorably toward achieving a nuclear capability. The president denominated them as part of the "axis of evil" several years ago and then proceeded to do nothing about it. They are unlikely to respond to empty rhetoric like that. We need a more muscular policy toward Iran.

It's been on their watch that our alliances have been frayed, it's been on their watch that our armed forces have been brought to the fraying point, and it's been on their watch that the conflict in Iraq has been tragically, tragically mismanaged.

To my way of thinking, Bruce, there's no greater test of a commander in chief than how they manage a war, and by that definition, this administration has been an unfortunate failure. We can do better, as Democrats, and we always have.

And so in some ways, this book and our challenge are all about reclaiming our legacy, a legacy of being both tough and smart when it comes to providing for America's security.

Harry Truman -- rather, let's start with FDR -- led the fight against fascism in World War II. Harry Truman, who you mentioned, reclaiming our inner Truman, drew the line in the sand against the spread of global communism. He was both tough and smart. John Kennedy went eyeball to eyeball with the Russians on Cuba until they blinked. It's that heritage, that legacy that we must reclaim today, as Democrats, if we are to be entrusted by the American people in this time of national security challenge.

And in the long run -- let me end with this -- if you look across the years, regrettably, this challenge has been some time in coming. And there are no quick fixes, even though, as -- we must move quickly to defend ourselves. The roots of radical Islam and suicidal terror, I believe, really have -- find themselves in the dysfunction of too many societies across that part of the world. And there's a coming demographic tide of young people. You look at the average age of people in Egypt, in Saudi Arabia, in Jordan; it's very young, much younger than our country, 20 years and below. And as these young people look at their futures, what do they see? They don't have much in the way of economic prospects, unless they're born to great wealth. Those societies do not function very well in the globalized economy of today. They don't find any political outlet for their aspirations, because these societies are not democracies. They are filled with some resentment about our culture and the impact it has on their more traditional societies.

Many of them are being inculcated with a radical interpretation of their own religion, and too often they review us as hypocrites because we claim to stand for freedom, but then we support regimes that are anything but. And so this frustration, this angst, leads many to lash out at us. And we must, working with forces of moderation and reform in those societies, provide for them a better path, a better outlet for their energies and their aspirations than killing themselves and too many of us in the process.

This will be a long undertaking. But more than anything else, I think it involves standing for what the title of this book mentions, and that is liberty -- the liberty to enjoy the fruits of your own labors, the liberty to associate with individuals of your choosing, the liberty to choose your own government, liberty to speak your own mind. And when we stand for that, I think we put the United States on both the right side of human history and the right side of human nature.

And I'll just conclude by saying this. Another president, not a Democrat -- I'm convinced he would be, if he were alive today; actually, a founder of the Republican Party, Abraham Lincoln, in his great speech about the house divided against itself, Lincoln mentioned that our nation could no longer endure half slave and half free. In a world of globalization in which information spans the planet with the click of a button, in which money flows transcend national borders, in which individuals and armaments can do the same, it is no longer possible for our nation to enjoy the fruits of our liberty while so many across the planet live under the yoke of tyranny.

So in the longer term, the battle against radical jihad and suicidal terror is very much the battle for freedom and for liberty. I think that is the ultimate answer. And I'm delighted that that has been included in your book as well, Will. Very far-sighted. Thank you for having me today.

Evan Bayh is U.S. Senator from Indiana.

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