Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Draft Zinni for US Senate (Pennsylvania) in 2006!

This was originally posted at Young Philly Politics, I am posting it here to get this blog started.

In the United States Army you never have a party, at least most of us didn't as far as I know. You just voted for people that were strong for national security. When Bill Clinton ran in '92 and I listened to him and I had of course known of his record from Arkansas, I found him extraordinarily inspirational and I voted Democratic. I later ended up working around the White House when I was at the Pentagon. I was back and forth across the Potomac for various staff meetings and so forth. And I was impressed with the people in the Clinton administration . . . . That's when I learned that the old myths were wrong. That it wasn't that the Republicans were tough and strong on defense and the Democrats were soft and blame America. It was really that the Republican Party had become shrill and partisan and isolationist and the Democrats were working mightily to craft a new strategy to take us into a new world. And that's where I found myself.
Gen. Wesley Clark on why he chose to join the Democratic Party.

Like most Democrats, I’m sick of losing. Losing, however, is a symptom of much greater problems for Democrats and Progressives. A major part of the problem is structural—we lack both an effective and efficient party organization and the complementary structures (think tanks, a real “liberal media,” etc) that could effectively distribute our Party’s message. But the more pressing problem that plagues the Democratic Party stems from its inability to control its image in the minds of voters and to frame issues in a way that benefits Democrats. There is also the additional failure to field candidates who embody the frames we’re trying to put forth.

With that in mind, I am putting forth this suggestion: In the biggest race of 2006, the race for Rick Santorum’s Senate seat, it is insufficient to put forth a candidate who will simply win. Instead, we should aim to begin the process of transforming the battle field. This is why I am advocating that we Draft Anthony Zinni for US Senate in 2006.

Before you ask “is Zinni even a Democrat?” The answer is “no”. Zinni voted for Bush the first time, and has called himself a “Lugar-Hagel-Powell” Republican. But then again, Wes Clark voted for Reagan and Nixon, and possibly the first Bush, yet he inspired many in the grassroots as he attempted to become the Democratic Presidential nominee in 2004. But, and this gets to the heart of what I’m trying to say-- we need to reframe what it means to be a Republican and a Democrat, especially when it comes to the subject of National Security.

Zinni doesn’t seem like a social conservative, or at least he doesn’t seem in favor of shoving his values down other people’s throats. When discussing why he though the Bush Administration had made so many mistakes in Iraq Zinni said:
“I have spent my life as a U.S. military man in the Caribbean, in the Far East, in Africa, in the Middle East, in Southwest Asia, and in Central Asia, in Europe, Eastern Europe. Our biggest flaw is that we never take time to understand the culture. Some things we do that make perfect sense to us do not make perfect sense in another culture.
This open-mindedness seems to indicate that Zinni is not a so-called values voter, but then the question is—why in the world would this incredibly intelligent and open-minded, working class guy, who has selflessly given his life to his country, align himself with religious extremists, neoconservative fanatics, and the corporate-greed lobby? My guess is that, like Wes Clark in the above quote, and like those “security moms” that voted for G.W. in 2004, Zinni felt that the Republicans were the stronger party on national security issues.

The most persuasive arguments that I have seen for why John Kerry lost to George W. Bush had to do with Bush’s advantage over Kerry in the perception of national security abilities, especially amongst married women. That Kerry couldn’t beat Bush, even though Bush had invaded another country on false pretexts, presided over the first net job losses for a sitting President in almost 100 years, and watched as the dual deficits grew (three if you include personal debt), says a lot about the power of national security as an overarching issue. And when I look at papers like this, which show how the shift in women voters correlated closely with their views on who was stronger on security issues, all doubt is removed from my mind- security issues are killing us and we absolutely must take them back.

My hope is that, like Clark before him, Zinni will see that the image of the Republicans as the national security party is an illusion. Zinni saw first hand how the Bush Administration “cooked the books” to gain support for the invasion of Iraq, and he also noted the numerous follies that the Bush Administration made once the war was under way. He saw the way that the radical ideologies of the Neo-Conservatives overrode rational decision making, and the chaos that resulted. Zinni should know better than almost anyone else just how wrong the image of Republicans as strong on national security is. My hope is that Zinni will do as Clark did; survey the current landscape and make a rational decision to switch to the Democratic Party. Moreover, my hope is that by bringing Zinni into the big tent of the Democratic Party that we can convince security voters in Pennsylvania and across the country to join him.

I also think that the Democrats need to embrace the military and what they stand for. It may surprise some people, but there are a number of areas where military and progressive themes are interwoven, which makes me even more convinced that the switch of this sensible general (and hopefully sensible Americans) makes sense.

First of all, Military Officers are usually not very gung-ho about starting wars, in fact most of them are extremely reluctant to resort to arms, with the full and personal knowledge of the hellish nature of modern warfare. Though it would be a stretch to call four-star generals “pacifists” or “anti-war”, I think that most could be classified as “anti-stupid-war”. To me this is the only sensible position for those who abhor war to have, ignoring the cruel and aggressive nature of man might make some feel good, but it certainly isn’t going to protect us from that aggressiveness.

Zinni, in particular, has also made it clear that he believes in speaking up when our leaders bring us into a war using a faulty strategy. Here’s one quote that coincides with how many Democrats feel about speaking up against Bush’s strategic and tactical blunders:
Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else, and that's the idea that when the troops are in combat everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning and troops were dying as a result. I can't think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what's the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that's getting just as many troops killed?
It’s also important to note that military thinkers, a group that certainly includes Zinni, recognize that the non-traditional security threats we face today require a readjustment of our domestic and international policies. Non-traditional security basically refers to any threat not coming from another large nation state on the traditional battlefield (thus they can either be threats from non-state actors, or asymmetric threats from states). As Zinni observes:
We have a very real danger of many failed or incapable states that are sort of hot beds or sanctuaries that breathe instability in regions like Afghanistan and Somalia. We have the threats of international terrorism and extremism. We have the tremendous humanitarian catastrophes the could be out there, either man-made or natural, threats to the environment, international crime, non-state entities like Osama Bin Ladin and others who pose threats that were only posed, basically, by nation states before. The asymmetric threats of weapons of mass destruction in the hands of fanatics, not in the hands of accountable nation states, so that you could hold something as a counter-value --that you could strike, but maybe instead, we are dealing with people without state power, like terrorists, and we lack the means to act against them.
So how can this shift help Democratic causes? Well to begin with, Zinni can help us talk about building a strong national health care system as a national security issue. As Zinni has noted:
We will eventually see a weapon of mass destruction used in a terrorist act. And, I would say we had better start thinking about how we're going to be prepared for the threat, because we're woefully unprepared for that event, and that's inevitable.
And as this study by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)- a semi-governmental non-partisan defense think tank- points out:
The US and its allies also need to rethink internal security planning, public health, response, and defense efforts to deal with the broad range of CBRN threats. This requires us to refocus homeland defense on attacks using each type of CBRN weapons, and covert means of delivery.
Within the United States, we need to examine the full range of options for defense and response, make hard trade offs between them, and develop an integrated mix of federal programs to deal with them. The most urgent effort, however, should be in dealing with biological attacks, simply because they combine high potential lethality with greater ease of acquisition and use. This means developing new detection, characterization, and warning systems where these can be proved to be cost-effective. It also means rethinking the national stockpile of vaccines and medical goods, and our investment in public health services and surplus medical capacity.
As Ron Brookmeyer, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, noted (sorry, the link to this is now dead):
Strengthening the public health infrastructure to improve early detection and rapid response is going to be a better use of resources to improve disease surveillance and to get drugs out to people quicker than a mass pre-attack vaccine program
So a strong national defense equals a strong public health system. I believe we have a lot bigger chance of getting hit with a biological agent than a nuclear one--due to the much lower restrictions on production, acquisition, transportation, and delivery-- so why are we investing in Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems that don't work instead of building up a dual-use public health system?

But health care isn’t the only area where military thinkers can add authority and perspective to Democratic causes. As I noted Zinni has mentioned environmental catastrophes, ethnic conflicts, and trans-national crime, all issues which should concern progressives, as a security issues. Outside of the strictly non-traditional area, the military has firmly supported affirmative action. Zinni was a signature, along with many other generals on the of the 'friend-of-the-court brief' to the Supreme Court in defense of Affirmative Action. Zinni could also help to promote a more cooperative and less confrontational foreign policy, as he is a Distinguished Military Fellow at the Center for Defense Information, a group who’s mission statement indicates that it is:
dedicated to strengthening security through: international cooperation; reduced reliance on unilateral military power to resolve conflict; reduced reliance on nuclear weapons; a transformed and reformed military establishment; and, prudent oversight of, and spending on, defense programs.
But, there is one frame that I think could help Democrats the most. If I had to use one word to describe the current Republican Party it would be “deceit”. Throughout many of the most important political debates—from justifications for Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy, to the Social Security debate, to the debates around Medicare, to energy and environmental policies, to the justifications for starting a War with Iraq—Republicans have turned time and time again to deception, knowing all too well that the American People would flatly reject their agenda if it were argued on its own merits. I firmly believe that the Republican Party would find it hard to win many elections if the issues that affect the lives of ordinary Americans were debated openly and honestly. For a democratic state to function properly it must ensure that voters receive truly “fair and balanced” information instead of partisan propaganda. Because our current government relies almost exclusively on misleading or lying to the public in order to push its radical agenda, our Democracy, and with it the American way of life, is at risk.

It is my belief that what Progressives need most, definitely more than someone who is “ideologically pure” to Progressive causes, is someone who will seek and speak the truth themselves and who will demand the same from government, no matter which party is in charge. This is the biggest reason that I think Anthony Zinni would be a perfect candidate to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate. He has proven in his numerous assignments around the world, and especially with his outspoken criticism of the Bush Administrations rationales for invading and occupying Iraq, that he is unafraid to speak the truth even in the face of blistering personal attacks.

I especially think that this line of attack could be used effectively against Rick Santorum, one of the senior members of the deception wing of the Republican Party. I doubt it will be hard to find Santorum’s hand in many of the lies or misrepresentations surrounding policy debates such as Medicare, invading Iraq, and the tax cuts for the wealthy. I also think that a man of honor and integrity like Zinni could really hammer home the point that Santorum and the rest of the Republican leadership are lying to the American Public to push a radical agenda which threatens American Democracy both through the lies used to pursue the agenda, and through the agenda itself. Rick Santorum and his Republican colleagues represent arrogance, corruptness, recklessness and fantasy. And who can contrast this better than a one time Republican, four star General, brought under the big-tent of the party that represents opportunity, innovation, strength, and sensibility?

But, before I finish, it’s important to note that there’s another problem with drafting Zinni to run for office, other than the fact that he hasn’t left the party that turned its back on national security. Zinni has stated unequivocally that he would not run for public office. Here’s one episode where he was asked about the possibility:
At the end of an appearance by Zinni before the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington on Tuesday night, the event’s host, Washington power broker, Aspen Institute president, and former CNN head Walter Isaacson turned to Zinni, a registered Republican, and suggested that Kerry might call him and say, “You should run with me on a ticket of national unity.”
The audience of 200 retired State Department officials, Washington lawyers, and foreign policy think tank experts burst into applause.
Zinni replied, “I’m not interested in any political office in either party.” When Isaacson persisted, Zinni said, “Do you have trouble with the ‘N’ or the ‘O’?”
And as this piece notes: Zinni vows that he has learned a lesson. Reminded that he endorsed Bush in 2000, he says, "I'm not going to do anything political again -- ever. I made that mistake one time.

Maybe it’s just my imagination, but I have faith that if we drafted Zinni to run that he would actually consider it. I mean nobody has been more outspoken about the internal threat faced by the Neo-Cons. Nobody has had a better seat to watch as the Bush Administration guts the military, state, and intelligence agencies. And I believe that Zinni understands the unique threat we face from this revolutionary administration, so why wouldn’t he, in the face of a great threat to our nation, heed the call to once again protect and serve the United States of America?
Anthony Zinni promised himself that in the hills of Vietnam that he would speak up and talk honestly with the American people if he witnessed the government lying to support a war, and to a large degree he has done this. But the American people are being lied to on every political front, and we desperately need someone who can go into the halls of government and demand that the American people be told the truth. What we need to do is draft Anthony Zinni for US Senate in 2006!