A major arm of the progressive foreign-policy establishment in Washington has come out with its strategy and messaging blueprint for Democratic candidates in the 2012 congressional and presidential elections, meant to counter the time-honored GOP claim that Republicans have the edge on national security.
Members and friends of the Truman National Security Project convened Monday evening to release the "Truman Security Briefing Book," a comprehensive collection of suggested messaging, issue framing, and policy options for Democratic officials and candidates to use this summer and fall.
The book is only one component of Truman's broader strategy for influencing how Democrats talk about foreign policy during this election season. Other efforts include foreign policy "training" for members of Congress and candidates, military education training for staffs conducted by veterans, weekly nation-wide messaging calls, and access to the 400-plus network of experts that Truman has assembled.
"This is a tool to win this very important conversation and debate that we have as a nation every four years or so about our role in the world, about what values, principles, experiences, and lessons will drive American national security and foreign policy in the next four years," Truman Vice President Michael Breen said at the launch.
Although it clearly leans to the left, the Truman National Security Project does not self-identify with either political party. The group's mantra is "Training a new generation of progressives to lead on national security." Its board of advisors includes Clinton era Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Carter era official and CFR President Emeritus Leslie Gelb, former Democratic Senator Gary Hart, Clinton era Defense Secretary Bill Perry, Former Clinton Chief of Staff John Podesta, and former Policy Planning Director Anne-Marie Slaughter.
Fellows include several other current and former Obama administration national security officials, including Janine Davidson, Suzanne Nossel, Anika Binnendijk, Phillip Carter, and more. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Matt Spence is the co-founder of the group, along with executive director Rachel Kleinfeld.
House Armed Services Committee ranking Democrat Adam Smith (D-WA) spoke at the release event and characterized the briefing book as a tool to get candidates on the same message during the election season.
"People are always wondering when you're running for federal office, do you know enough about national security and can they trust you? What the Truman project has put together is a great blueprint for every candidate so they can understand how to talk about these issues," he said. "Whatever we are saying collectively, we own it together. So the more people we have who can go on cable [television] and present a strong national security message from a progressive perspective, the better we are."
Smith referred to the GOP foreign-policy message under President George W. Bush as "Speak incoherently and hit somebody with a stick." He said the GOP foreign-policy message since the 1990s has been, "The whole rest of the world fears us and does what we want because we are simply more powerful that anyone else," a philosophy he described as "moronic."
"We have to let the rest of the world know that we want to use our power and influence not only to protect and advance our interests, but also to protect theirs," Smith said.
He advocated a national security policy based on a balance of military, diplomatic, and development. He also said that the messaging should be focused on President Barack Obama's killing of Osama bin Laden and other terrorist leaders as well as Obama's focus on reducing America's military footprint around the world.
"[Obama] will keep us safe but he won't have our military fighting wars all around the world. Isn't that just the best combination?" Smith said.
In contrast, Smith painted the Republicans as too eager to use the military in foreign conflicts.
"If John McCain was president, how many wars would be in, if we hadn't won in 2008? How many wars will the next Republican president stumble into if we lose this one?" he asked.
"Yes, the economy s going to be No. 1, but if you don't have a strong message on national security, that could be the difference in a whole series of congressional races and a positive difference in the presidential race."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.