By David Keene - 06/05/07 06:47 PM EDT
The debate over whether the United States should have chosen Iraq to make a stand against international terrorism is perfectly legitimate, as is the argument about the Bush administration’s conduct of the war and its aftermath, but Democrats today find themselves making the very same mistakes that destroyed their party’s national security credentials decades ago.
They have allowed partisanship and the need to placate the demands of ideological extremists within their coalition to lead them to question not whether Iraq is the place to confront our enemies or the competence of the way we have waged the war, but the need to even be concerned about an enemy that many of them are gradually concluding doesn’t even exist.
Presidential hopeful John Edwards’s conclusion that the “war on terror” is but a “bumper strip” figment of the Bushian imagination is a leading indicator of where the Democrats are headed and is remarkably similar to the process they went through in the debate over Vietnam in the ’60s and ’70s.
Early critics of that war — like the late Eugene McCarthy, who became the symbol of the anti-war movement in 1968 and helped drive Lyndon Johnson from office — were under no illusions about whether we were engaged in a life-or-death struggle with Soviet communism. They felt, however, that Vietnam wasn’t strategically all that important or that the Johnson and then the Nixon administrations mucked things up because they just didn’t understand what was going on over there.
As the debate began, they questioned the wisdom of where and how to stand up to the Soviets, but as time passed, their arguments changed. First, they began to wonder about the legitimacy of what was then known as the “domino theory,” which held that if Vietnam fell to communism, other nations would follow. Then they began to question whether we were in fact fighting a communist enemy at all or whether we were really simply taking sides in a civil war that had little to do with our strategic interests.
In the end, many of them concluded that since the war was “wrong,” we must be the bad guys. This led to the lionization of North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh, a rejection of the need to stand against the Soviet Union and her puppets generally and the demonization of American leaders and the nation’s fighting men as heirs of Hitler.
Finally, they took the position that our allies there simply weren’t worth saving anyway, arguing that the “whole damned place wasn’t worth one drop of American blood.” The South Vietnamese were, after all, corrupt and disorganized — not real democrats anyway.
All of this should sound familiar to anyone following the Democratic candidates on Iraq.
Those who oppose a war should but don’t always realize that it is all too easy for their opposition to their own nation’s policies to morph into something far different and much, much uglier. It is all too easy to slide down that slope and conclude, as the Democratic left did in the ’70s, and as Democrats like John Edwards are doing today, that if we just refuse to fight and bring our troops home all will be well because the enemy really isn’t them … it’s us.
If they are right, our withdrawal will lead to peace and we can join John Edwards in tearing those bumper stickers off our cars as we simply forget those mythical terrorists, who will vanish into the mists of history.
The problem for the Democrats will come if they’re wrong .What political future will they confront if they work their will in Iraq, declare victory and wake up with one of their own in the White House confronting a revitalized terrorist threat with nuclear weapons?
The Reagan campaign once ran a commercial that subtly reminded voters that Democrats of the era didn’t appreciate the dangers of the world in which they lived. It suggested that Reagan’s opponents were convinced the woods were safe because they harbored no bears, but asked a simple question of those watching it: What if they’re wrong, and there are bears in the woods?
The left won on Vietnam in the ’70s, but the American people developed real misgivings about a party whose leaders couldn’t conceive that there might be bears in the woods. That legacy has been with them since and may be reinforced by today’s Democratic leaders, who seem to have forgotten that they’ve been down this road before.
Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, can be reached at Keeneacu@aol.com .