Posturing — as the party did this week in the Senate, trying to pass nonbinding resolutions that condemn the war but offer no alternatives — will end up only reminding voters what they distrusted about Democrats. You can see the temptation, of course. Antiwar sentiment is now so strong in the country that all the Democrat contenders for the presidency are being pushed farther towards outright opposition. Hillary Clinton is busy modifying her previous modifications to position herself closer to the clearer antiwar stances of Barack Obama and John Edwards. On current trends, the three will soon be wearing bandanas, camping out in front of the White House, and openly considering signing Jane Fonda on to the ticket in 2008.
But there is a real opportunity for Democrats if they handle the next year or so correctly. Serious-minded foreign policy specialists in the party are trying to craft an approach that will not simply exploit antiwar sentiment but will align it behind a new strategic vision for the US. They say that Washington needs to relearn the lessons of the Cold War. The War on Terror will only be won, they say, in the same way — partly by military action when necessary, but even more so by victory in an ideological struggle. That requires demonstrating to the world, in this struggle for civilisation, that America’s way — what we used to think of as the West’s way — is the superior way, not simply by military means, but by winning the famous “battle for hearts and minds”.
These Democrats argue that the US is losing that struggle. And, glancing at the esteem in which America is held in the world, it is hard to dispute that. Of course that would matter less if America were not losing the military struggles, too — but it is. This is a view that resonates with many Americans, including Republicans, and could easily be a winning message.
The question is whether enough Democrats are willing to go down this difficult route of seeking engagement and compromise, or whether the instant satisfaction of indulging noisy antiwar sentiment will win out once again.
My guess is that they're so filled with a spirit of "stickin' it" to the GOP and George Bush that they'll be unable to focus their mind on doing the right and smart thing. At the current rate, it won't be long before the Blue-Dogs and the Pelosi wing start fighting with each other.