National Security and the Midterm Elections

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From NPR News this is WEEKEND EDITION. I’m Liane Hansen. Two years ago, as the 2004 presidential election campaign came down to the wire, the war in Iraq was still a winning issue for Republicans. This year the war is widely seen as a liability for the GOP, possibly a substantial enough liability to threaten Republican control of Congress. Brookings Institution senior fellow Michael O’Hanlon and Kurt Campbell of the Center for Strategic and International Studies write about the influence of national security on domestic politics in their new book, Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security. Michael O’Hanlon is a frequent visitor to NPR’s studio and he joins us now. Welcome back, Michael.

Mr. MICHAEL O’HANLON (Brookings Institution): Hi, Liane.

HANSEN: The Republicans are in an unaccustomed position on national security and military issues, aren’t they?

Mr. O’HANLON: They are, and they deserve to be in one sense because they haven’t done very well on Iraq. But our book is not about playing that issue too far. There’s a lot of political spin on both sides, and our message is really more towards Democrats, to say, listen, Democrats got to get in this game, because the country needs them to, and for their own political good they’re going to have to. This is going to be one of the top two issues – national security probably (unintelligible) one of the top two, three issues for the rest of our lives.

HANSEN: Elaborate a little bit on why the Democrats have had so much difficulty getting support on military matters.

Mr. O’HANLON: Well, it’s been very hard within the military, where most polls now show about a five to one ratio Republican over Democrat among officers in particular. I think part of it goes back to Vietnam, no doubt. That’s where the gap between the two parties emerged across the country as a whole on national security. And that’s certainly a war that Democrats deserved, or at least received more criticism for than Republicans. Democrats I think lost a lot of their luster in the eyes of military personnel in that period of time. And surprisingly, even Al Gore and John Kerry couldn’t turn it around. Bill Clinton did a better job as a draft dodger than these two Vietnam vets were able to do, in part because I would submit they were listening to their strategists. The strategists were wrong.

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See also: Hard Power: The New Politics of National Security