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War Strategy

The Journal Editorial Report

Paul Gigot: This week on "The Journal Editorial Report," the politics of national security. Republicans stake the fight for Congress on the war on terror, while Democrats attack the White House over the war in Iraq. Which strategy will win in November? Plus, the president stumps for an extension of his tax cuts. But at least one top Democrat said the cuts could be history if his party wins in November. Those topics, plus our weekly "Hits and Misses," but first these headlines.

Gigot: Welcome to "The Journal Editorial Report." I'm Paul Gigot. With fewer than 40 days to go until the 2006 midterm elections, both parties are betting that issues of national security will turn out the vote at the polls. Joining me now to talk about the politics of national security, from U.S. News and World Report, is Michael Barone. Michael, thanks for being here.

Barone: Good to be with you.

Gigot: Let me ask you, first, about the president's strategy, the Republican strategy, to frame this election as a choice on national security. How do you think that's been working so far?

Barone: I think they have had considerable success in framing the issue that way. One of the rules of political consultants is that he who frames the issue tends to determine the outcome of the election. President Bush gave that series of speeches earlier in the month reminding people that we face real enemies abroad who want to destroy our system. We have been reminded of that by things like the London terror bombing arrests in August, and by the appearance on the world stage of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez at the United Nations. So I think that he's made significant progress in reframing that issue over the last six weeks.

Gigot: But Michael, I saw a memo this week from a couple of Democratic strategists, James Carville and Stan Greenberg, who said this may be helping Bush and boosted his approval rating, but that strategy is not helping Republicans in Congress because it is reminding the voters about Iraq, which is a net negative for Republicans. What do you think of that argument?

Barone: Well, I think that Carville and Greenberg, who are astute political strategists, can point to some of the current poll numbers in the seriously contested Senate and House races and say accurately that the upticks that we've seen for President Bush and the Republican Party generically in the polls haven't been translated into significant gains over the last six weeks for Republican candidates, and Democrats continue to have a chance to win majorities in the House and the Senate.

But I think that part of this campaign hasn't played out yet. We've just had a week in which Congress has considered and voted on, in the House at least, the NSA surveillance of suspected terrorists' calls to persons in the United States and terrorist interrogations of unlawful combatants found on the battlefield. In those, a majority of Democrats--significant majorities of Democrats in the two House votes and the one Senate vote--have lined up against the president's position.

Those Democrats are convinced, many of them at least, that that's a politically popular position. They live in a world in which the tone is set by the New York Times and its strident denunciations of the administration policies and proposals here. But I think that's a political miscalculation. I think in most states and districts, the president's position's going to be popular here, and the Democrats have given the Republicans an issue which will they will have time to drive home in the next five weeks.

Gigot: But, Michael, one poll--there's a new Fox poll out showing that--asking would you favor a candidate more who wants to get out of Iraq over one who wants to stay in Iraq? And it is 46% to 36% for the candidate who wants to leave Iraq. That looks like an advantage to Democrats for me.

Barone: Well, that may be an advantage when you phrase it that way. I think the question is ambiguous in that it doesn't state when we would leave Iraq. After all, nobody is proposing that we remain there, you know, till 2075. And I think if the issue is framed in terms of immediate withdrawal or "redeployment" as Congressman Murtha puts it, or remaining there until the situation is stabilized, then I think the advantage swings back to the Republican side.

But it is a matter of framing the issues, Paul. And it's a matter of whether the president can prevail over mainstream media, which is predominantly left-wing and hostile to his administration.

Gigot: Let me ask you about the policy risks here for the president. Because it seems to me he is running a little bit of a risk. If he frames the issue over Iraq, and then the Republicans lose the House or the Senate, the Democrats will think, You know what? Iraq is what happened here with--is what helped us win the majority. That would make it a lot more difficult for the president next year to try to maintain American presence in Iraq, would it not?

Barone: Well, I think there is some danger that if Democrats get a majority, they are going to do what the heavily Democratic Congress did in 1975, which is to cut off all aid to South Vietnam when it was facing a major offensive from the communists in the north. And we saw Saigon fall and helicopters take off from the U.S. Embassy. I think the difference this time is that there doesn't seem to be any chance that the Democrats will win a big majority. And I've taken a look at the roll-call votes on the terrorism surveillance issue in the House of Representatives. You saw 34 Democrats vote with the president's position. Twenty-seven of those 34 are from districts that Mr. Bush carried in 2004. Two of them from other districts are running for the U.S. Senate this year, in Tennessee and Ohio, and evidently have made a calculation of which side they wanted to be on.

I think that you are still going to have the reality principle that the Democrats will have a slim majority, and they've still got 20 or so members, mostly but not entirely from the South, who are not going to take a cut-and-run position, in my view, in the next Congress.

Gigot: All right, Michael, thanks so much for those insights. And thanks for being here.

Barone: Thank you.

Gigot: When we come back, were President Clinton's comments on "Fox News "Sunday part of the Democratic strategy for November? Plus, the president and congressional Democrats spar over extending the Bush tax cuts, our panel weighs in on those topics. And our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

Gigot: Welcome back. Former President Clinton's response to Chris Wallace's question about Osama bin Laden may have been an effort to fire up his party about the war on terror. His colleagues in the House also had the chance to weigh in on a major national-security issue this week. The House approved extensive new rules for questioning and trying terror suspects on Wednesday, and 160 Democrats voted against the measure, including the party leadership and its most outspoken voices on military and intelligence issues.

Joining the panel this week, Wall Street Journal columnist and deputy editor Dan Henninger, Wall Street Journal editorial board member Rob Pollock and John Fund, who writes for

Dan, we had the big, noisy debate this week over the National Intelligence Estimate, which was first leaked to the New York Times, selectively it turns out. And the president decided to declassify some of the major findings in that NIE. What do you make of this debate? What did you learn from it?

Henninger: Well, I think one thing we learned from it is that the intelligence analysts are basically doing something--there were 16 intelligence agencies involved in this analysis. I don't think most people could name eight of those intelligence agencies. And supposedly this is a consensus of their views? So it was no surprise that when the document actually came out, it was basically on one hand, on the other hand. It was something that you might have seen in a Foreign Affairs symposium on what is going on in Iraq. And, you know, I think most people think that the intelligence agencies' job is not to do this large geopolitical analysis, but to do small-bore intel that prevents this country being attacked again, not for doing geopolitical analysis.

Pollock: Yeah, I mean, the interesting thing about it is the Democrats and the New York Times tried to spin the NIE before everyone knew what was in it. They tried to say that this says Iraq has made the overall terrorist problem worse. It's become a cause cÃlÃbre for jihadists.

Well, yeah, it is kind of a one-hand-on-the-other-hand document. But if there is one big take away point from the NIE, it's that leaving Iraq would probably be the worst thing we could do for the war on terror because the jihadists would perceive it as a victory.

Gigot: But the Carville-Greenberg memo that I asked Mike Barone about, John, says that this strategy is backfiring because it's focusing the debate on Iraq, which is a net negative for Republicans. Most Americans want to get out of Iraq at some point. Is that wrong?

Fund: Well, we have seen now five leaks of national=security importance in the last few months.

Gigot: Only five, John?


Fund: Major ones. Money laundering, the eavesdropping program and all of that.

Gigot: Sure.

Fund: This is part of a concerted campaign within the government to undermine the Bush foreign policy. Now, it used to be that if you disagreed with the foreign policy inside of the administration, you either expressed your disagreement privately or you resign. Now, you leak to the media. This is a fundamental change. Curt Weldon, who is the Republican from Pennsylvania who's slated to become the next Armed Services chairman if the GOP keeps control of Congress, told me we almost have as much of a threat from the insurgency inside our government sometimes as the insurgency in Iraq because of all of these leaks.

Gigot: John, Curt Weldon, who's from a seat outside of Philadelphia, is in trouble. He is having a very tough race. How is he doing?

Fund: It's a tough district. And guess who is contributing to his opponent? Mary McCarthy, the CIA official who leaked some of these reports, and Sandy Berger, Clinton's former national security adviser.

Gigot: OK. I want to ask you about this roll-call vote of Democrats this week. I'll just read some names, Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson of Florida--Ben Nelson of Nebraska--Robert Menendez of New Jersey, Harold Ford of Tennessee, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan. You know what they all did? They all voted for the detainee interrogation act.

Henninger: Yeah, I think there is an underlying reality here. You mentioned the Greenberg memo. Now, the Greenberg memo is based entirely on opinion polling showing that the Democrats are gaining an advantage on this subject. I think the problem for the Democrats is that they have basically tried to use these events, capitalize on public events, to push a perception that Iraq is failing.

Now, this is a kind of politics that you play with things like Social Security or Medicare reform. I think the American people understand there's an underlying fundamental problem with terrorism, and that it is not susceptible to merely pushing the electorate one way or another on these issues. And so that Menendez vote and what went on with the detainees shows that when crunch time comes, even Democrats in close races understand they have to go with the underlying reality of the war on terrorism.

Gigot: It's fascinating to watch, you know, in contrast, those senators in close elections or, at least, competitive elections voting for the detainee act, with Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, Joe Biden, Russ Feingold, all the potential presidential candidates for 2008 voted against it.

Fund: You know, Paul, it's almost as if it'll be amusing to see if they think the same way before the elections, as they think after the election. Because I think there'll be some adjustments.

Henninger: Russ Feingold, this week--Russ Feingold gave an interview saying I am not a pacifist. I am not an anti-war Democrat.

Gigot: So how do you think this is going to play out among Democrats, John?

Fund: I think the Democratic base is very energized, largely over the war in Iraq. We've seen that in the primaries. The question is what about the independent voters? And I think there has been some movement to the president since the 9/11 anniversary, and since the realizations that Democrats don't have an alternative plan.

Gigot: All right, John, thank you very much. We will be back after this short break. President Bush is stumping for an extension of his tax cuts, but Democrats say they can't keep the tax cuts and balance the budget. That, and our "Hits and Misses" of the week when "The Journal Editorial Report" continues.

President Bush: If the tax cuts are not extended, your taxes go up. It is kind of like an employer saying, "You know, I'm not going to extend your pay raise." You see. And so they're going to say, "Well, we're just not going to extend the tax cuts." That means they're going to run up your taxes. Running up your taxes, would be wrong for our economy, and it'd be wrong for the working families of the United States.

Gigot: That was President Bush arguing in favor of extending his tax cuts last week. But Congressman Charlie Rangel, the ranking Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee, said this week that he would not rule out scrapping all of the president's tax cuts if his party takes power in November.

Rangel: I'm not picking and choosing what we have out there. I want to work with the president to say that tax reform, tax simplification, necessarily means everything is on the table, and nothing, but nothing, is sacred.

Gigot: Rob, big tax-cut debate, too, other than national security in this election. And the president's out on the stump saying we're going to make those tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 permanent. But if Republicans couldn't do it the last two years, what makes you think they're going to be able to in the next two years?

Pollock: Well, good question, Paul. And voters could be forgiven for wondering if the Republicans weren't actually more worried about building bridges to nowhere in Alaska--


--and doing other forms of pork-barrel spending than they were about cutting taxes. But the fact of the matter is the Bush administration did cut taxes early on. The results have been quite impressive, and voters are seeing that now as the stock market flirts with an all-time high. We've had 19 consecutive quarters of GDP growth. This is almost the fourth--it's going to be soon the fourth-longest expansion in postwar American history.

So, you know, there are real--he does have a record to run on. And the Congress has a record to run on.

Henninger: And on that point, you know what's interesting about what Bush is doing,k both on national security in Iraq and taxes? Rather than being defensive and push back, he's totally on offense. He is shoving both of these issues into the faces of his opponents and forcing hem to debate the substance of it, as Rob has pointed out.

Gigot: Hey, John, explain to me something. Why would Charlie Rangel, who's a very savvy, smart guy--you know him. He's been around Washington a long time. Why would he volunteer that taxes might go up? Because this is exactly what Republicans are saying might happen if, would happen if Democrats took over. Why play into that if you're Charlie Rangel?

Fund: I think he meant to send a different message to the K Street lobbying community. Everything is on the table. I'm going to be the chief operator in the bazaar.

But I think the Democrats have really stepped into it here. Because if taxes become the defining domestic issue, Republicans usually win. Because I'll tell you something. You have a soft real estate market now. Democrats raising taxes. You will see a recession in 2008. And that is going to be something Democrats will have to explain.

Gigot: All right. Viewers need to understand, I think, that if the tax cuts are not made permanent, there will be a tax increase in 2010, because that is baked in the cake, because those tax cuts do expire in 2010, even for middle-class families, with the child-care tax credit. And the estimate of the Treasury is about $2,000 per family.

Henninger: Yeah, people forget that in 2001 we included a tax break for the marriage penalty and the 10% tax bracket, a lot more people moved into that. Now, the politics of this, I think, are really fascinating. The Democrats have, in recent years, said the main reason for addressing this is the deficit.

Now, the problem--and they propose a grand compromise, right?, with the Republicans. Entitlement spending is going to go up to something like 30% of GDP in 2030. They argue that to get that under control, we have to put everything on the table, and that includes taxes. The problem is, with these revenue feedbacks we've been getting from the tax cuts, the deficit is shrinking. So that argument is becoming weaker. I think the window is closing, quite frankly, for the Democrats to raise taxes.

Gigot: On that point, let's put up a chart. I think we have a--that shows that, in the last two years, tax revenues, fiscal 2005 and fiscal 2006, which ends at the end of September, revenues will have gone up by $500 billion, almost 15% last year, almost another 12% this year. That's extraordinary. Even in a $2.7 trillion budget, that is a lot of money. Is that going to affect the politics of this debate, Rob?

Pollock: Well, I think reality always has to affect the politics of a debate, sure.

Gigot: Sometimes.


Fund: Remember, Democrats will trot out class warfare. It doesn't matter how much revenue comes in.

Henninger: Exactly. Why don't they take the money and run, and acknowledge the tax cuts produce income for the government? They don't, for precisely the reason you're saying, they need the class-warfare issue.

Gigot: You know, one of the reasons Republicans want to fight on taxes is because their spending record is so lousy. And if you look at some of these red-state Senate races, where Conrad Burns, for example, against Jon Tester in Montana, Tester sounds like a fiscal conservative when he's hitting them on spending. And the only recourse Conrad Burns has is taxes.

Fund: If Republicans lose the House by two or three seats, it will be because fiscal conservatives were frustrated, stayed home.

Gigot: I couldn't agree more, John. All right. We have to take one more break. When we come back, our "Hits and Misses" of the week.

Gigot: Winners and losers, picks and pans, "Hits and Misses." It's our way of calling attention to the best and the worst of the week. Item one, Dan, could it be possibly be true, a hit for Eliot Spitzer?

Henninger: You bet. Folks, you're about to see the equivalent of a solar eclipse with The Wall Street Journal editorial page. We're going to endorse something Eliot Spitzer said. He was in his gubernatorial debate with John Faso the other night. And Faso was pressing him on taxes, and Spitzer said there will be no tax increase in a Spitzer administration. I about jumped out of my chair when I heard this. There will no tax increase in a Spitzer administration. Now, this is a read-my-lips pledge. And this is New York. He'll probably renege on it. If he does, The Wall Street Journal editorial page will be back here to talk about it.


Gigot: All right, Dan, thanks. Next, a hit for 7-Eleven. Rob?

Pollock: Yes, Paul, 7-Eleven decided to stop selling Citgo gasoline. Why does that matter? Well, Citgo is the Venezuelan state oil monopoly, i.e., Hugo Chavez's gasoline company. Now, Hugo Chavez, of course, is our public enemy No. 1 in the Western Hemisphere. He is the biggest supporter of the Iranian nuclear program. He goes on al-Jazeera encouraging jihad against the United States. In fact, he just came to New York and gave a speech encouraging jihad against the United States and calling President Bush the devil.

Well, apparently, that was the last straw for 7-Eleven, which decided to stop selling the gasoline. They claim it wasn't just that. But a company spokeswoman said, "Certainly, Chavez's position and statements over the past year or so didn't tempt us to stay with Citgo," which has to be the understatement of the year. I say kudos to 7-Eleven. Look, I'm under no illusion that Chavez isn't going to be able to sell his oil elsewhere. But it's nice to know that there is public relations price to paid for siding with people who want to commit mass murder.

Gigot: All right. Thank you, Rob. Finally, no more McDonald's french fries. John?

Fund: Well, New York City's Health Department, the food bullies, are going to tell every restaurant in the city, you can no longer use trans-fats, which is a way of cooking a lot of food. Now, over half of New York restaurants don't use it already. But they're going to take away the consumer choice and say no more flaky pastries, no more crunchy french fries. Chicago is about to do the same.

I simply say this is what's going to happen if we ever have national health care. We are going to see a lot of behavioral modification because it's the only way the government is going to be able to cut down on health-care costs. This is the first step.

Gigot: So when the government pays for health care, it's only a matter of time before government starts telling you how to live and how to eat?

Fund: No health care unless you lose that weight.

Gigot: OK. All right. Thank you, John. This is going to be intimidating living in New York.

All right, that's it for this week's edition of The Journal Editorial Report. Thanks to Dan Henninger, John Fund and Rob Pollock. I'm Paul Gigot. Thanks to all of you for watching, and we hope to see you right here next week.

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