The Democratic candidate for President, whoever that turns out to be, needs to credibly make the national-security issue against the current administration. Saying “I won’t be a war President” is a loser. Saying “I won’t be only a war President, but I will be a better war President than the hero of the carrier-deck photo-op” is a winner.
The argument that their diplomatic ham-handedness makes the security problem worse rather than better is probably true, but probably not especially credible to the voters who need to be convinced. (I liked Clark as a candidate in part because I thought he could make that argument work for him.) The argument that the intelligence failures leading to mistakes about Iraq will be hard to punch through the static about whether that war was a good idea or not.
But Mr. Bush is vulnerable on at least three issues:
1. Bioterrorism and defense against it. (See, for example, Anne Applebaum’s column in Wednesday’s Washington Post.) The current Administration has failed to either persuade people to take the existing smallpox vaccine or to develop a new vaccine with fewer side-effects that people can be persuaded to take. It doesn’t even have in place a high-pressure research program to produce such a vaccine.
2. Homeland security and domestic target-hardening.
3. Getting tough on Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
Those aren’t issues well-calculated to appeal to Democratic primary voters, but they’re dynamite for November. Time to start talking about them now.