WASHINGTON – Democrats on Wednesday proposed a wide-ranging strategy for protecting Americans at home and abroad, an election-year effort aimed at changing public perception that Republicans are stronger on national security.
Republicans, for their part, criticized the national security policy statement as a stunt.
"We are uniting behind a national security agenda that is tough and smart, an agenda that will provide the real security President Bush has promised, but failed to deliver," Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said.
His counterpart in the House, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Democrats were providing a fresh strategy — "one that is strong and smart, which understands the challenges America faces in a post 9/11 world, and one that demonstrates that Democrats are the party of real national security."
They spoke at a news conference at Union Station, near the Capitol, in front of banners reading "Real Security." They were flanked by some of the Democratic Party's top authorities on national security, including retired Gen. Wesley Clark and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
In the strategy, Democrats vowed to provide U.S. agents with the resources to "eliminate" Usama bin Laden and ensure a "responsible redeployment of U.S. forces" from Iraq in 2006.
Republicans refused to let Democrats portray themselves as stronger than them on the GOP's signature issue.
"Their behavior has been totally inconsistent with what they're now promising to do," said Vice President Dick Cheney. Interviewed on Fox News' "Tony Snow Show," Cheney said he did not believe Democrats had a credible plan for tracking down bin Laden and that their plan to move U.S. forces out of Iraq this year "would be a strategic retreat."
"It makes no sense at all to turn Iraq over to the terrorists," Cheney said. "We can succeed in Iraq, we can complete the mission."
Indeed, the Democratic statement lacks specific details of a plan to capture bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chief who has evaded U.S. forces in the more than four years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But Democrats suggest they will double the number of special forces and add more spies to increase the chances of finding Al Qaeda's elusive leader.
Democrats also do not set a deadline for when all of the 132,000 American troops now in Iraq should be withdrawn.
They say: "We will ensure 2006 is a year of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with the Iraqis assuming primary responsibility for security and governing their country and with the responsible redeployment of U.S. forces."
The latest in a series of party policy statements for 2006, the Democrats' national security platform comes seven months before voters decide who will control the House and Senate.
Bush's job approval ratings are in the mid- to high-30s, and Democrats consistently have about a 10 percentage point lead over Republicans when people are asked who they want to see in control of Congress.
With the public skeptical of the Iraq war and Republicans and Democrats alike questioning Bush's war policies, Democrats aim to force Republicans to distance themselves from the president on Iraq and national security or rubber-stamp what Democrats contend is a failed policy.
Democratic strategists say their polling shows Democrats leading in all other areas — such as the economy, health care, education and retirement security — and having closed a gap in polls with Republicans on national security.
Overall, the Democratic position paper covers party policy positions on homeland security, the war on terror, the military, Iraq and energy security. However, it contains many of the same proposals Democrats have offered over the past year.
For months, House and Senate Democrats have tried to craft a comprehensive position on national security, but they have splintered, primarily over Iraq.
Republicans have sought to use that division to their own political advantage, claiming that Democrats simply attack the president and his fellow Republicans without presenting proposals of their own.