Advocating on Behalf of the American Military and Defense on the War on Terror

Victor Davis Hanson on Democrats who were for the war, before they were against the war, before they were FOR the war.

 

We can learn a lot about ourselves from the looking glass of Iraq.
American losses in November were 36 dead - the lowest of any November of the war.
Once violent places like Fallujah and Ramadi are now quiet. Whatever is happening in
Iraq - reasonable people can differ over the prognosis - all agree that the violence
is abating at an astonishing rate. 
Oil revenues are at all-time high with $98-a-barrel oil. The Sunni insurgency is not
just tired, but tired of losing to the American military and being exploited by
al-Qaeda in the bargain. Since bad news alone is news from Iraq, there is now very
little about the war on our front pages or the evening network lead-ins.
But as House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) presciently warned last July,
such good news could present a "problem" for antiwar Democrats. And now it has. 
They invested in the failure of the surge, having successfully tapped into
widespread public unhappiness over the absence of prior clear-cut victory. Some
change in their position is now on the horizon and it won't be the first time
Democrats have had to adjust en masse.
Most in the party voted in October 2002 to authorize George Bush to remove Saddam
Hussein. Why exactly did the present group of antiwar Democrats line up for the war?
Was it just legitimate fears of weapons of mass destruction, or the other
twenty-some congressional writs they passed as casus belli and haven't changed a
bit?
Perhaps - but they were also still giddy over the unexpected seven-week defeat of
the Taliban, and the inspired efforts to fashion an Interim Transitional
Administration, with the suave Hamid Karzai as its president. 
Because we had already defeated Saddam in 1991, and since pundits had proclaimed
that a secular Iraq would be more malleable to reconstruction than a primordial
Afghanistan of warlords, Democrats signed on for another war that might prove even
easier to wage and quicker to win. Support for an easy victory in Iraq would only
further confirm their reputation of being tough on national security in a post-9/11
world. 
When - in the manner of Sen. Clinton - they warned that Saddam had weapons of mass
destruction and was connected to al-Qaeda, they were only reiterating the standard
Bill Clinton line throughout much of the 1990s. Indeed, most Democrats saw George
Bush's post-9/11 focus on the dangers of Baathist Iraq as simply the natural
escalation from Clinton's own policy of occasional bombings, embargos, and no-fly
zones.
But as the post-Saddam elections lined up - 2004, 2006, 2008 - and the
reconstruction of Iraq proved bloodier than anticipated, the politics changed. 
The Democrats became the antiwar party. Prominent pro-war pundits flipped and cursed
the effort. Journalistic exposés were published in serial fashion. Michael Moore
reigned supreme. And disillusioned former administration officials and generals
wrote supposedly brilliant opeds about how the war was lost, and how and why
Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Wolfowitz - fill in the blanks - had not listened to their own
inspired advice about reconstruction. It was time to pile on. Almost all Democrats
did.
Still, there were two caveats here. One, what to do about those embarrassing
speeches on October 11 and 12, 2002, given by the likes of Hillary Clinton, John
Kerry, and Harry Reid? 
The answer? Mostly ignore the past ('that was then, this is now'). Or claim they
were misled by the intelligence. Or at least remove that albatross by insisting that
they never really expected a reckless George Bush to take them up on their sober and
judicious authorization. 
The second problem was the nature of the growing antiwar mood in the country that
after the pullback from Fallujah in April 2004 became frenetic. Democrats rashly
fanned this national wildfire. By 2006 the conflagration had finally led to their
return to power in Congress. 
Unfortunately, many Democrats saw the change-of-heart in the electorate as a blanket
endorsement of their own alternate universe. But it wasn't necessarily so. The
voters were not necessarily interested in new ties with terrorist Syria, restoring
diplomacy with Iran, gay marriage, abortion, minority-identity politics, new
spending programs, open borders, closing down Guantanamo, an end to wiretaps of
suspected terrorists, or the repeal of the Patriot Act. 
The people were mad at the war not because they felt it was amoral or unsound
policy, or that they hated George Bush, or that they wished liberals instead to end
it in defeat - but simply because they felt frustrated that we either were not
winning, or not winning at a cost in blood and treasure that was worth the effort. 
That Pattonesque national mood ("America loves a winner, and will not tolerate a
loser") is not quite entirely gone, and was entirely misunderstood by most
Democrats. Somehow instead they saw their new popularity as connected to the appeal
of their politics rather than their shared anger at the mismanagement of the war. 
So in their exultation, they welcomed in extremists and fringe groups - as if the
worldview of a Michael Moore, Moveon.org, or Daily Kos might further resonate with
the American people. The result was a Harry Reid now declaring the war lost and Gen.
Petraeus disingenuous; a Hillary Clinton all but suggesting Gen. Petraeus - soon to
be the most popular American general since Dwight D. Eisenhower - was untruthful
("suspension of belief"); and Moveon.org ads alleging that Petraeus was a near
traitor. 
Despite the self-destructive nature of such extremism, the frenzy at least kept up
fixation on the war - and not on the Democrats' own political agenda. After all,
this November voters were supposed to hear of Congressional timetables, forced
withdrawals, and a cut-off of funds - not presidential candidates backing away from
just those erstwhile demands to ponder driver's licenses for illegal aliens.
As always happens in war, the pulse of the battlefield had changed again. By
September 2007 things suddenly had become as good as they had suddenly gone bad in
early 2006 with the destruction of the mosque in Samara. Yet, if the public - once
angry over the bad news from Iraq - had forgiven the Democrats their initial
flip-flops and forgotten those 2002 war speeches, they may well not be so kind this
third time around. Voters will blame those who don't bring them victory, but they
will not support those who will defeat.
On the eve of this war about twenty percent had strong feelings to begin the
fighting, while twenty percent opposed it - and the vast majority in between had no
strong views other than a desire to be on the winning side. Although the Democrats
grasped that truth about human nature, and thus all during the last four years
adjusted their politics to mirror what they perceived 51 percent of the people
believed, they forgot one central truth - evident in the careers of all great
statesmen from Pericles to Churchill. 
While the people are expected to be fickle, they are uneasy when their own leaders
prove even more so. A voter has no problem changing his position to reflect the
apparent popular consensus, or even seeing a wishy-washy politician reflect his own
displeasure about perceived defeat. But when the scent of victory is in the air,
suddenly the citizen gives little leeway for a politician to be as opportunistic as
himself.
When the perception of Iraq changed unexpectedly from an unpopular quagmire to a
brilliant recovery, replete with real heroes, the Democrats, like deer in the
headlights, were caught frozen. After all, who wants to see next October attack-ad
clips of an Iraqi politician praising the United States, or a quiet walk through
smiling crowds in Ramadi juxtaposed with Senators declaring our defeat and slurring
the savior of Iraq? 
So what to do?
At first, silence followed for much of the autumn. No more pronouncements of defeat
from Harry Reid; no more ads alleging treason; no more John Murthas thundering about
war criminals in our ranks; no more orations from Sen. Durbin about our troops being
Nazi-like; no more quips from Sen. Kennedy that we were the new Baathists at Abu
Ghraib. 
But where does all this leave us since one cannot remain entirely mum about one of
the most transformative events in recent American history? If Iraq stays quiet, then
the Democrats will have to make yet a third adjustment, either suggesting that a
victory is still not worth the cost in blood and treasure (e.g., 'how many children
went uninsured while we wasted a trillion dollars?'), or that they are due credit
for the turn-around (e.g., 'our pressure got the necessary changes from the
administration'). Ignoring or denying the good news is simply not a sustainable
strategy.
It gets worse, since the Democrats are not quite sure of the permanence of the
upswing from Iraq. Why make that third flip just yet, and give up a Watergate or
Iran-Contra-like gift, especially when a sudden spike in violence might start the
entire ying and yang all over again? And if you abandon the idea that the war is
lost, and that Iraq is the worst something in the history of the United States, does
the attention then by default turn back again to Democratic ideology and politics -
and if so, is that necessarily good news?
We are a long way from a Sen. Joe Lieberman of liberal Connecticut who voted for the
war, stuck through it, and is pleased that his country has finally stabilized the
country. We are a long way too from principled critics like a Rep. Brian Baird of
even more liberal Washington, who was skeptical of the war when most were not, voted
against it when most did not, but once the surge was implemented, supported the
American effort to win the war when most of his colleagues did not.
Once you live by the daily polls, and mortgage lasting principle to transient
popularity, then you become enslaved by them as well. So all eyes once again turn to
the looking glass of Iraq. 
The drama is not whether the Democrats once again will make the necessary political
adjustments here at home just in time for an election - but whether it will work yet
a third time.